Conventional wisdom is odd. It’s hard to say whether it’s rooted in obvious fact or a carefully circulated Chinese whisper started by people with an agenda.
Take the Star Wars prequels; conventional wisdom has them as turkeys slightly above Batman & Robin and just below Plan 9 From Outer Space. To me, they’re nowhere near as tragic as the virulent hate makes them out to be.
Aspects of Doctor Who can be the same. ‘Love and Monsters’ suffers from orchestrated conventional wisdom that it’s a panto runaround when it’s far more subtle and clever than it looks. Martha Jones – a lovely, rounded character with a genuine story arc – got rubbished by Rose Tyler fangirls, generating some unpleasant ‘conventional wisdom’.
Clara Oswald is, seemingly, getting the same.
Everyone fell in love at first sight with Souffle Girl in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ (an affair consolidated in ‘The Snowmen’), but she’s been bashed at every opportunity since her official debut in ‘The Bells of St John’ – even acknowledged by Steven Moffat: “When I looked back on her [in Series 7], I thought she was much more fun when she was the governess trying to be the barmaid”.
‘No character’ has been the most common complaint. But Clara is far from characterless. She’s perky, proactive and brave, riffing off the Eleventh Doctor perhaps better than Amy Pond did. Jenna Coleman is a sunny, adorable presence.
Another ‘conventional wisdom’ is that to preserve the mystery of the ‘impossible girl’, Steven Moffat held aspects of her development back. This to an extent is true. Her family are thinly sketched, key life events unexplored and it’s been argued that the positives I mentioned are those every companion have; the ‘generic companion’ tick list. I don’t buy that theory. But certain things can be looked at:
One thing Clara hasn’t shown much of is fallibility. In some ways she took time travel in her stride and was largely unfazed by the fantastical situations she encountered, such as taking command of the troops in ‘Nightmare in Silver’. As Steven Moffat himself puts it: “She’s quite sort of bright and shiny and lovely and it’s all going well for her.”
An exception came in ‘Cold War’ and her encounter with Skaldak, but there weren’t enough of those moments. Only the recent prospect of losing the Doctor in ‘Time of the Doctor’ and her horror at his unleashing the Moment in ‘Day of the Doctor’ show her outside her comfort zone.
How this might be solved: Place Clara in more perilous situations. Don’t have her breezily dancing through danger. She is the audience’s identification point; if she isn’t in fear of her life occasionally, neither is the viewer.
We briefly met her parents in ‘Rings of Akhaten’. We know she lost her mother when young. She’s from Lancashire (all the best people are). She was a nanny and is now a teacher.
But Moffat, like the Ninth Doctor, “doesn’t do families” and we lose the effect travelling in time and space has on those who love her. The children in her charge accept her life and the loss of her mum never gives context as to why Clara is what she is.
How this might be solved: Her dad could be an interesting character in terms of showing suspicion towards the rival ‘father figure’ about to appear. The moments with her gran in ‘Time of the Doctor’ were lovely and could make for a nice Wilf-esque dynamic. RTD’s companion families never got in the way of the story; they were part of it. There’s no harm in trying again.
3. Travel patterns
This pick-up/drop-off thing is a strange story device that started at the end of the Pond era. You can’t have a fantastical life in the TARDIS one moment then pop back to your 9-5 job the next.
Once travelling with the Doctor you’d never want to go home. I know it makes Clara look independent and assertive, not in thrall to any man (even a Time Lord), but it’s darned annoying.
How this might be solved: Clara travels with him full-time. Please.
There are promising signs. A new, older Doctor and a new relationship for Clara to forge with him (Moffat teases: “We’re going to give her a Doctor … who leads her a merry dance”). The mysterious Danny Pink – a boyfriend in the Rory/Mickey vein or something more complex? The impossible girl arc cast aside and other traits coming into play a bit more.
There’s little wrong with Clara Oswald and less wrong with Jenna. But a few tweaks could turn a very good companion into a great one.
How do you feel about Clara? Let us know below…