Part two of a retrospective of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl. She had just over half a season to pose her riddle, so how did the ever so unaware Clara measure up?
The riddle had unravelled over half a half-season so far…
The Sharp Edge of the Roundel: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
“You’re an android. You don’t get bored.”
It was always going to go wrong wasn’t it? It may be the most hyped episode of Series Seven, so it’s no surprise that it’s such a let down. I feel a bit for writer Stephen Thompson. Great episodes of Sherlock, fine plays, Quatermass incoming – and he doesn’t half get a short straw on Who. The pirate episode we shall not name was rushed and edited into nonsense while here he ended up penning a sequel to Castrovalva. Remember the old days? Corridors of the same white roundels? Well in this brave new age of intricate design and multi-million pound TARDISes… Nothing has changed. The claim that we’d go further into the TARDIS than ever before may not be too inaccurate, but it’s like promising Asylum of the Daleks would feature every Dalek. We’re wise to those tricks now. Still, it starts of fairly promising… Apart from the blink and you’ll miss it shoe-horned paradox cutaway and any idea quite how Clara ended up where she did.
Amid the middling dynamics the guest cast have to work with, the only things of interest are glimpses at the swimming pool, a rather familiar telescope and at last the library! Other than that, a curious tone is set by the Doctor’s peculiarly devious, and unnecessary, ruse of a Faustian pact. In an episode where a time limit has no meaning, impalement injuries are brushed off and characters appear from nowhere in an infinite ship the rather effective paradox monsters don’t stand much of a chance. The Doctor’s name signals its intention to steal the Impossible Girl’s thunder soon enough – though quite why the Doctor keeps a reference book on the Time War is inexplicable. Pure sadism.
The companion riddle returns when the Doctor gets the chance to go a little psycho on Clara – he’s really on edge in this episode, are things getting to him? He’s now reached that point that’s strike a chord with many: Millennium old alien meets girl who does twice and refuses to reveal how she’s alive once again. Now needs to prove once and for all whether she’s a deliberate trap or not and the TARDIS has gone to great lengths to create a suitable atmosphere. To be fair to the Time Lord, he had run through River Song and Bad Wolf storylines in the past few hundred years. That joins the well placed misdirection of the console rooms as a high-point: alas few and far between. Somehow during these sex sticks an oar in, pretty much discounting – we very much hope – that Clara is actually Susan (or Jenny) may be his granddaughter.
It soon becomes clear – thanks to a strangely Hellraiser monster and a giant neon sign saying ‘Eye of Harmony’ that we’re back to paradox. You know, those are the ones that we were reliably told generally resolve themselves in Cold War? Fortunately in this instance they intervene to create a convenient plot resolution and repair some family damage in the meantime. It’s a mess, which is a shame for an episode that contributes a fair amount to the Impossible Girl riddle (albeit through negation). Fortunately, it’s sandwiched between two classics.
Current Clara theory: Now the Doctor knows she’s not a trap – she must be a future echo and NOT REAL.
Rockets at Dawn: The Crimson Horror
“The Wrong Hands”
Could this be the time Mark Gatiss lives up to his true potential? Yes, but it takes significant splatterings of Carry on Screaming, Frankenstein, Bond villain, Joker origin, Total Recall, Bioshock and the Doctor’ own previous scrape with The Green Death to get there. Once again in the Moffat era, too much is packed into this one-parter. A lot sticks but thanks to the skill of all involved that it’s not overwhelming. In particular, The Crimson Death is saved by its excellent direction. The flash-back trick – whether it’s down to Gatiss or director Saul Metzstein – works very well indeed. If only it wasn’t quite so derivative. Homage can only get you so far.
On the Impossible Girl front, it’s the first time back in Victoriana since the Doctor actually met Clara for (yes, the second time he talked to her), or the idea of her at least. That brings the potential of reuniting her with the so called Paternoster Gang. Unfortunately for them, they already feel tired after less than a handful of appearances. Even when Jenny makes an emphatically ninja statement of her own… the Doctor has to step in to rescue her. Strax’s humour continues to grate and amuse in equal measure, fortunately not reaching the nadir of the season finale (Repeat mantra: “They’ve ruined Robert Holmes’ Sontarans”).
It’s easy to pick at a fantastically enjoyable adventure. There’s the (deliberately) stilted dialogue, the ‘hilarious fainting gentleman’, the pointlessly anachronistic rocket technology (surely Mr Sweet, a ‘bacteria’ at the time, didn’t pick up the tech from the Silurians), and the fact that everyone survives the rocket chamber during the old school shoot out. But then you also have the Rigg dynasty on top form, gorgeous set design and fantastic quotes. “I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you” – brilliant. Up against that lot, Clara was always going to come a cropper. In fact, it’s astonishing that any danger can be wrung from a girl we’ve already seen die twice. Even more so that the Doctor’s new success in saving her is wonderfully realised. By the time the TARDIS crew board their craft there’s a real sense that the plot’s moved forward– perhaps accelerated by the Doctor’s lost impotence when it comes to this compulsively fatal friend. You know what I mean…
While the Doctor may appear to have more of an idea as to what’s going on with his erstwhile friend, the Paternoster trepidation reinforces that Clara’s still a live mystery and very unaware herself. Fortunately, even in the clutch of a riddle, this Doctor is insistent on having breaks from companions – only seeing Clara every Wednesday we would learn the next episode. And when Clara returns home she finds that of all things… She’s undone by the internet.
And there on the side sits the oddest toy in a house of 21st century children – a mid-1980s Galvatron Transformer. Something’s really not right there…
Current Clara theory: She’s just a bloody Victorian or not of the 21st century anyway – there’s a Galvatron toy in her house!
Upgrading Cyberia: Nightmare in Silver
“The Time Lords invented chess, it’s our game”
After the universally praised The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman may have returned to Who a little too quickly, but what an irresistible draw: make the Cybermen scary again. After all, their non-Mondasian birth in Series Two left them on the back hydraulic foot compared to the Daleks’ first appearance.
It’s reliving to jump straight in without the extra scene explaining Clara’s charges’ arrival in the TARDIS. That’s a welcome theme this half-season. The preceding cliff-hanger had done enough, but really, could the Doctor have chosen a more dangerous place for them? Apart from Skaro about 6,000 years ago or Vulgaria.
The little seen Cyber wars have always held a firm fascination for me. Moffat has touched on them more than most, but here they’re at the heart of the story: and it’s the old phoenix paradigm just a few episodes after the Ice Warriors tested the water. Ramping up the threat and avoiding one of Who’s curious weapons, this time Cyberia didn’t get wiped out by gold: entire galaxies were blown up to rid humans of “The Great enemy” at the cost of trillions. This is big stuff.
When the retooled Cybers appear, Gaiman makes some shrewd decisions. The upgrading instinct and ‘remote detachability’ is a modern and relevant ‘upgrade’ of the spare parts idea that everyone’s clamouring to see on screen. Quite rightly they march and don’t fly, although it’s a shame that the tombs we glimpse aren’t of a more classic design. It’s a wonderfully broad set-up, almost as though he was an expert at setting up entire comic book universes. It’s also suitably biblical for another one of Doctor Who’s great good versus bad conflicts. Time Lord and Dalek skirmishes are increasingly too blurred.
There are some interesting character points for the Doctor here; the suggestion that he can’t be converted, that he could regenerate out of the Cyberplanner tussle. If there are any doubts about the Fenric throwback chess conceit, just look how ham fistedly Terry Nation tackled logical warfare in Destiny of the Daleks. In all, Gaiman’s goals are achieved in a creditable bordering extremely good episode… sadly after The Crimson Horror’s great advancement of the Clara/Doctor’s dynamic, this must be the least important story in the Impossible Girl arc. Not that she does do anything however; in fact Clara’s brush with power shows her rather too comfortable sending her troops to their inevitable doom. She’s quite the leader…
Current Clara theory: It’s all misdirection – she’s destined to become the Doctor’s greatest adversary. Could she be… the Rani reborn?
Standing on the Magic Carpet : The Name of the Doctor
“I’m the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor”
No, no Clara, no you weren’t. Like Rose before you, you created yourself and how much more tiring it must have been. Sat somewhere in the middle, how increasingly tragic does time-strapped, kidnapped and infertile Amelia Pond look…
The excitement when this episode aired on 18th May 2013 was palpable. Or was that just fear when some American DVDs jumped the traps a bit early? In any event, we were possibly minutes away from learning the Doctor’s name (did anyone really think that may happen?), so close to wrapping up Clara’s inexplicable story and just 45 minutes away from the anniversary special. This is when we’d get all the answers, hurling vats of red herrings into the vortex. But which one of these would make the episode memorable?
It kicks off brilliantly, with (logically presumed) Time Lords in the workshop on the day it all began, swearing under their breath at an idiot thief. There follows a ‘rather’ lovely montage of Clara chasing after every Doctor. If you look too deeply into it, it falls apart of course. I mean, she was there during that Dragonfire cliff-hanger? But still, it’s a nice and fan-consciously generous act.
Could there be the slightest bit of Moffat-Gaiman baiting going on here? An episode previously, Gaiman blew apart the Doctor’s attempt to remove himself from the time continuum with some cold logic dressed up as script. Here Moffat returns the grudge by contradicting one of The Doctor’s Wife’ssentiments. If it was Time Lady Clara who chose the Type 40 capsule, why the ill feeling Big Blue Box? Or is she after all a little more connected to the TARDIS than she seems..?
There follows 40 minutes of explaining the why, with the standard season ending rhyme and some outrageously good acting from a rather upset Matt Smith. Overall, this marks the biggest suspension of disbelief this series. Steven Moffat’s desire (or Doctor Who’s need) to reach an emotional peak and move the plot forward seems a little forced, again in a single episode. It doesn’t have the neat, in-built plot device of The Angels Take Manhattan. The few disappointing non sequiturs include how the Great Intelligence mastered space and (presumably) temporal travel without any craft apparent, how the Doctor touches dead and hallucinatory River Song, how the TARDIS crew even gets from a corridors to the ‘exterior’ of the craft’s front door and how everyone instantly recovers from a heart squishing. Again, pointing out plot holes in a work of fiction is sinful, but frankly the list grows like a mourning TARDIS. Only the Great Intelligence’s suicide stands as remotely understandable: Surely because he’d created the cliff-hanging short-cut in Dragonfire in the first place!
That said, there is a resolution and a reason given for the impossible Girl, all wrapped up this single episode. The list of irregularities fades against that and the host of new reveals. Because unlike her predecessors who were robbed of their main function in one season, Clara’s drawn the really short straw and resolved herself in half that. And all the time it was contrived to get her standing there in the quiet recess of the Doctor’s lifetime and unearth a darker, deeper mystery: the only Doctor who doesn’t ignore her, and isn’t a Doctor at all.
Real Clara fact: She’s a superhero, the Impossible Girl, born to save the Doctor on Trenzalore. She’ll never, ever need to have regeneration explained to her. The show-running Bible is quickly updated.
At the end of this preposterous journey it’s a bit of a shock to have a resolution, but it’s an immense disappointment that it’s merely a set-up to a BBC vision mixers wet dream. Ah well. We got a good companion out of it and the following two episodes were classics, so fair enough, right?
Well not quite. The riddle of the Impossible Girl is unfortunately one of the weakest arcs to grace the new show yet. It doesn’t seem to have had anywhere near as much attention as River’s did. Perhaps it’s a shame that so much of it lives extra-diegetically. Clara wasn’t just born into the story, but, nudge, nudge wink, wink her birth date was all part of the anniversary year itself.
In the Whoniverse, any coherent explanation of her story renders it so broad and coincidental as to make it pointless. It’s clearly inexplicable in the context of the show, and that’s accepting, to stress once again, that questioning plot holes in a work of fantastical fiction is totally redundant.
Take that early stop on Gallifrey. She must be a Time Lady, one who stayed on Gallifrey and quite probably is now living on in a pocket universe saved by the Doctor. We know she didn’t fade Quantum leap style when her tasks were complete as we’ve seen her die in timelines twice before. Now that would make more sense. True, it’s not necessarily the case that our Clara was consciously aware of what she did on Gallifrey, but the fact she uses the name Doctor suggests she is, as does the fact she chases all the classic Doctors down. Come on, the classic series didn’t move that quickly! The montage shows a Clara, time specific, actively pursuing the Doctor. All we’d known previously is that she lived entire time spans, unaware – this almost makes her another City of Death-style Scaroth, this time faceted through time and space the universe. In future or alien places she probably bumped into herself so what happened then? If she’s a Time Lady and a Dalek is she also a Weeping Angel or a Fendahl? If she’s actively seeking the Doctor, how does that tie into the Clara of Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen who are unaware. What if on this mission she doesn’t find the Doctor? What if she lives entire lifetimes, starts thousands of families on every known world. Calm down. It’s fine: Most paradoxes resolve themselves remember.
It’s a good thing that he whole and only real, compelling dramatic purpose is to delve into all the Doctors’ time streams, thus exposing his darkest secret: The War Doctor.
It was a relatively short arc, but one that says a lot about the modern show. The need to find a modern equivalent for those classic cliff-hangers is greater than ever; the need to convolute to create viewer involvement so strong that these mysteries need to overlap and spawn each other. No more simple bad Wolf references for us.
Perhaps the Impossible Girl’s main function was extra-diegetic. Perhaps subconsciously it was to confirm that the show’s a phenomenon after all. One Clara may well have broken through to our universe and make that Asylum of the Daleks appearance all the more important on both sides of the camera. That means of course, the Doctor could do the same – all part of that nice world of opportunity opened up by the Land of Fiction and continued through all sorts of meta-fiction, including the IDW comic The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who. PerhapsClara is actually Jenna Colman and it simply makes no odds if she is or isn’t.
When saved from a personal time stream that’s clearly and handily name dependent, that leaves a whole other issue that should, in a right-working universe, create opportunities and challenges for writers: there’s now no surprises left for Clara. She’s seen regeneration, some classic adventures, so perhaps she could become that greatest ever companion after all. That said, having seen all that, I would leave him and the TARDIS right now, wouldn’t you?
A Neater Puzzle
Thank goodness Clara didn’t leave him, even during the drawn out events of The Time of the Doctor. For all the faults and missed opportunities of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl arc, adding bureaucracy to the Daleks, seemingly wiping out one of the show’s most enduring, rediscovered monsters and defrocking Ice Warriors, it also left us with a fantastic companion.
The Dawn of the Impossible Girl had been linked to the Great Intelligence ever since Christmas 2012 served up The Snowmen, in the middle of a very drawn out series. Unfortunately that meant that, much like the Ponds’ fate was rather oddly linked up to the Weeping Angels, she was part of that entity’s story and that proved to be to her and the arc’s detriment.
The “Fall of the Eleventh” had a wealth of plotlines to tie up and miraculously it managed to do so quite well, but it just seems that it could have been so much neater. As the running theme through the Eleventh Doctor’s first two series it seems bizarre to have minimised the Silence/Silents in his last. And if you’re going to create the Whispermen anyway, why not use the Silents? Creatures with ready-made space technology would not only have solved logical issues but also dramatic problems that wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the events of The Time of the Doctor. That would surely have worked out far more satisfyingly and left the Great Intelligence as more than half-season footnote just as the Impossible Girl proved to be to the War Doctor. Intelligence has fallen just doesn’t carry much mustard. There’s a rather disapppointing truth in the new avatars of the GI we see in Name of the Doctor; unravelling and empty.
But then, in this new, brave age of the companion, whoever credited the Great Intelligence with being intelligent.
THE END? OF COURSE NOT…