Today marks one year since the mystery of the Impossible Girl was unravelled like a multi-incarnation time stream in a giant overgrown TARDIS crypt… After the Doctor’s longest companion was whisked back in time, how did the riddle of the Doctor’s most mysterious companion unwind?
A look at the latest companion entrance… Guaranteed to feature Spoilers.
IT’S A YEAR SINCE TWO MOMENTOUS THINGS HAPPENED IN THE WHONIVERSE: The riddle of the Impossible Girl was solved and a new, yet long hidden, incarnation of the Doctor was born.
The Doctor’s had mysterious companions before of course, but not like this. Amy came with a riddle of her wedding, the Pandorica and went on to spawn the backwards riddle of Melody Pond/River Song. River was the incarnation of Steven Moffat’s correct assertion that a show about time travel should be just that. She was all about the journey, a backwards that provided some great moments but as an inverted stroll it doesn’t quite add up and is unfortunate to sit so roundly during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure. Rose ran out of mystery after one season, but that didn’t stop the Bad Wolf riddle being stretched and redeveloped all the way up to last year’s 50th anniversary special. Rose created herself after all. Further back, Turlough was spy on the TARDIS, but his Faustian pact was revealed from the start and the truth of his alien roots weren’t that compelling…
Companions Only Die Twice
Few companions have had the build-up of Clara warranted; three appearances to join the TARDIS. We’d seen her die twice before… Or had we? That’s what this arc was all about. Whittling down all the Whos, Whys and Hows…
Her first appearance was a wonderful cameo in the Season Seven opener. A bold start to a season that lived up to its claim that it would serve ups a blockbuster a week. Unfortunately, while it was a far cry from the dull, washed out Season Five but never quite reached the heights of the first half of Season Six. In part that was down to the ‘blockbuster’ intention that manifested itself not in boldness but derivation. Slavish copies of actual blockbusters: The Thing, Jurassic Park, Batman packed out the first half as the Clara question set-up in Asylum of the Daleks was left to stew. That was partly because, as with theWar Doctor’s later introduction, it was a riddle on-screen as off. Jenna Colman’s appearance hung on her recently announced casting, not the experiences of the two travelling companions to be. Fans would have to wait until Christmas for a resolution.
Von-Trapped: The Snowmen
“Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember…”
The Snowmen was a wonderful festival special that did everything the show should do at Christmas. Huge guest stars, snow, magic, the return of an old, old monster and utterly gruesome deaths. While it could only improve on the haplessly dull The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe that offended screens the Christmas before, it was weakened by choosing multiple influences rather than the more streamlined plot of A Christmas Carol and The Time of the Doctor. Unfortunately, Clara was right in the middle of that confusion. Moffat dug deep into The Sound of Music, the Ice Queen, Edward Scissorhands and Sherlock Holmes for inspiration; far too many influences to bolster a plot in the right way. While the governess storyline would become a valid red-herring, it wasted the unrequited Von-Trapp love of Tom Ward’s character and rendered Clara’s pub wench role pointless.
In particular, The Snowmen should be applauded for being so horrific. The scared and crying family at Christmas, Clara’s prolonged death, Simeon’s demise… It’s surely the Doctor’s most melancholy festive adventure. And it was an adventure wisely telling its own story, rather than solving Clara’s. Just as well since she faced an uphill struggle bringing this Doctor round from his hermitage after Amy Pond’s considerable efforts to avoid it. But the end of The Time of the Angels was forgotten… Only the Doctor’s dress sense had improved.
Current Clara theory: With the reveal that Clara – or at least one aspect of her – was born on 23rd November, the 50th anniversary was written all over her. She’s nothing less than the show itself!
Wireless: The Bells of St John
“The woman twice dead. And her final message…”
Oh, and now the Doctor is an actual hermit. But not a monk. After three sensational season openers, it was about time to return to the Davies method of ‘season build-up’. For the most part, The Bells of St John trod a very safe road, more Partners in Crime than The Impossible Astronaut. It also took safety in some classic Who tropes – the hidden danger in the every day, the contemporary setting, the evil at the top of the tower as well as some light satire and the chance to kick social media.
As Clara’s third introduction – having already used one great TARDIS line – it’s not surprising that the sails weren’t catching the same wind as previous Smith openers. Those include The Eleventh Hour, the greatest ever companion and Doctor introduction and one that Moffat must have been mulling over for decades. Bells often comes across as a soft rehash of Blink, with Spoonheads that may as well be Smilers or… Whispermen. There are some nice links and further red herrings in Clara’s proper first story though. The computer literacy of Asylum is played with and solved – could we be watching the creation of the girl we saw die on her first appearance? As well as being a modern governess, she also has a book by one Amelia Williams… That it’s the character from the old companion’s book that tries to kill the new one is nice, dark stuff.
The rest is a tonal hotchpotch. The little darkness there is doesn’t mesh well with the comedy, particularly the creep-filled ending and Mahler’s misjudged question to UNIT. But having learned from the Rory misfire, it’s refreshing that Clara won’t be dying every time we meet her. That would have been very tiresome indeed. While Doctor’s tics when putting her to bed recall the nadir of Wardrobe, it’s helps to show that Clara will make a great companion. Let’s hope some smaller questions are tied up in the answers to her conundrum: Just who was the woman in the shop?
Current Clara theory: With GI infused programming skills, Clara’s a giant trap of the great intelligence’s making. Remember: “The abattoir is not a contradiction”.
Space Opera: The Rings of Akhaten
“There’s always a way”
Neil Cross was the writing revelation of the Seventh Season as you might expect. His first episode divided the critics, but there’s a haunting newness to this episode which makes me one of its staunch defenders. It pushed Clara the companion to the fore while the Doctor also got his moment in the sun. For all the Mos Eisley feel and generally effective stabs at humour, it’s nicely alien and quite unlike other recent Who stories. The homage quotient is less than recent episodes, but still include Indiana Jones and religion-baiting and really the only thing that lets it down is some sorry-budget necessitated clumsy editing.
The Impossible Girl? She floats in on a leaf of course. It’s a stretched and whimsical metaphor, but it holds together. It helps highlight the darker side of the puzzle as well: While this ridiculous Doctor could be taken straight out of the Beano he is actually stalking his companion – new and quite sinister territory. But with that kind of start, it also starts to show the strain. “She’s not possible” exclaims the Doctor, quickly reminding us of the Series Six is she/isn’t she pregnant storyline. Perhaps more tellingly for Clara, while other companions had to compete with their predecessors she has the unenviable task of competing with herself. If the basic question of why escorting Clara through time and space will help solve her riddle remains, Akhaten isn’t going to answer it.
The root of this episode is a semantic mistake and great mythical concepts. “Consume the seven worlds” chat is wonderful stuff and as soon as the travellers arrive on that planet, the villain of the piece is in plain sight. Amid the good old fashioned space opera, red herrings are alive and well, along with a sneaky reference to the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, surely not a coincidence in a story about a Queen and a “grandfather”.
The separation of Clara and the Doctor is weak, but that’s not uncommon in five decades of Who. In fact, it allow Clara some time to breathe; her empathy with the young Queen not only develops the companion but also triggers the plot itself. Clara just gets more and more likeable, unless you’re the TARDIS. The arrival of the bads may knock the tone off a bit, but that adds to its off-kilter appeal.
”You don’t walk away” is the clear message here; fate is the undercurrent from the leaf to the religious aspects. Here the Doctor becomes slightly more like his predecessor, defiant but oddly blasé when a chorister is killed. Perhaps when the Doctor exclaims ”We don’t walk away when we are holding something precious…” he’s justifying his stalkerish pursuit of Clara. Although he seems a little fallible amid the tonal shifts, one question really bugs: hasn’t the Doctor met an intelligent celestial body before? Hasn’t he read Alan Moore’s brilliant Mogo doesn’t Socialize? Even with the life lessons and themes Cross builds in here, he would get more right with his second story.
Current Clara theory: She is a mystery in plain sight, and a well known one at that. She could be the TARDIS, or an aberration like Jack Harkness… but no, surely not – she’s Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter– why else would the Doctor have mentioned her!
Frozen Out: Cold War
“We’ll negotiate but from a position of strength”
The next episode was ready-made for developing Clara. And oh dear, what hope rested on a strong, if slightly obvious return of the Who Martians? I’m not a fan of the return of the Ice Warriors, partly because of derivative, desperate plot silliness and partly because they take their kit off. Apart from that they wasted two Game of Thrones actors, unforgivably squandered Doctor Who Unbound David Warner and relied on a misjudged combination of CGI and poorly made rubber hands…
Still, there are moments of great direction – see the (again, wasted) David Warner in the porthole. Just as well considering this plot is pure Thing – with added HADS-type and lost sonic screwdriver contrivance.
After the fate-obsessed Akhaten, Cold War signals the strongest indication that all bets are off when it comes to fixed time. Ironically, that puts it in direct opposition with Waters of Mars. Surely such time-crunching has something to do with the Impossible Girl? The Doctor’s more prominent than his companion in this simple tale, even though they are literally both in the same boat. When Clara does offer herself as a sacrificial lamb, Jenna Colman makes the most of some great moments despite Skaldak’s escape being well signalled. By the end she’s Clara’s role is superfluous as the Doctor appeals to Skaldak and all that remains is a lament for the missing Lego hands of these still cryptically cyber-enhanced Martians. Not a classic for anyone.
Current Clara theory: “Stay here, don’t argue!” “Okay”. Clara is the perfect companion, formed and sent by the universe in readiness for the Doctor’s Day.
Ghostbusters : Hide
“We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing”
Welcome back Mr Cross. Hide is fantastic. On grounds of originality and confidence, content and direction, could it pip The Crimson Horror as episode of the series? Hmm, wait and see. With pop referencing relish, the travellers are thrust into a plot that puts the TARDIS crew in a haunted house with bizarro copy of themselves. If anything that means romance is going to be the main comparison. Hide contains some of the greatest moments of Modern Who, both hard science-fiction meets horror and comedy (“I’m not holding your hand!). While the ending requires a suspension of logic, and certain plot points refuse to make any sense (the writing on the wall, how the other alien arrived…) Cross handles pace changes expertly – particularly the chat between Clara and Emma Grayling.
In the Moffat era, that skill is a must. With some terrifying moments (what a shame it was broadcast in April), the holding hands sequence rates as one of Who’s funniest moments. Love is the main concern here, but there’s always that “sliver of ice in his heart”. The empath works both ways of course, and the Doctor has the chance to ask about his companion. So, Clara is a perfectly normal girl – it’s just coincidence their equivalents were made for each other all along. .? We’ll see.
This isn’t the first time that Clara’s been made innocent of her riddle and allowed to be a companion in turmoil. But it’s one of the most effective. Special praise must go to the neat links built in, from the use of Ten’s orange space suit to the new pronunciation of Metabelis III. Regarding the past, there’s another confirmation that the Whoniverse’s treatment of time has changed – could it have been after The Big Bang’s reset? “Paradoxes resolve themselves by and large” says the Doctor at one point – a strange thing to say the more you think about it. In any other episode, that wasn’t quite so good, that comment would have jaws on the floor. Don’t event try to rationalise that with The Angels Take Manhattan just a few episodes earlier in the series. Even worse, the Doctor later mentions fixed points in time which clashes horribly with with the previous episode.
If one dramatic balance comes a cropper it’s the level of fear the Doctor shows. That’s why companions are there, so the Doctor can go on the hunt for a solution rather than be petrified. Overall though, it’s astonishing what’s packed into Hide; brilliant sci-fi and an undeniable love story on many levels… It’s just a shame that, in the year Jessica Raine played Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time, there couldn’t be a neat 50th anniversary link up here…
Current Clara theory: Simple – She’s just another companion head over hills in love with the Time Lord.
Did Clara find her purpose? Did the Doctor chill out? Well, if it’s good enough for a Who Series… See how the series concluded in part two of The Dawn of the Impossible Girl!