It’s taken me quite a lot of to wrap my head around Clara. She went from my favorite guest star, to least favorite companion, to my top ten favorite characters in the space of three seasons. And any character that can do that definitely deserves some attention, especially when she leaves the show.
With ‘Doctor Who’, it’s hard to have an original exit. People marry off, suffer from PTSD, get back to their home planets, enter parallel worlds, or just realize that their own lives are worth living outside of the Doctor. Sometimes they die, sometimes they lose their memories, and sometimes the Doctor just leaves them.
It’s been fifty years. It’s hard to think of something original, and Clara’s departure from the TARDIS definitely qualifies as that.
I’ve been thinking about Clara’s death, and then non-death for a few weeks now, trying to articulate the quandary she has put me in.
Part of me loves that she finally runs away. Part of me thinks that it doesn’t fit her character at all. Part of me wishes for the poetry of her death would have.
It’s easy to think of the companions as all people who are trying to run away from the dullness of their lives, especially in the new series. Rose pushes herself because the adventure excites her, Martha travels because she loves the challenge, Donna explores because her desire to see the new, and Amy runs because she’s frightened of the banality of her life. But it wasn’t always that way. Some of them just wanted to get to the damn airport so they can start their new job.
But Clara? Her echoes were always running to the Doctor, not away from her life. In fact, she tries to compartmentalize her worlds, almost as if she’s afraid to actually run. Unlike Martha who simply just takes a jaunt around space and time, Clara insists on being back at certain times, and being undisturbed as she works at moving up from being a nanny to becoming a teacher. She’s almost like a Wendy, leaving with Peter Pan until she becomes too old to go to Neverland.
But let’s be frank, Clara is too afraid to run for real. So having her run from her death with Ashildr at the end almost feels incongruous to her character.
Clara’s problem is that she rarely runs. That’s why she dies in the first place. She takes increasingly stupider risks, not because of a death wish like she thinks, but because she loves the thrill of it. While she enjoys her quiet, domestic life as a teacher where she helps students reach their potentials, she also longs to go out and save worlds in other ways. Having her avoid her death, after telling herself that she can face her death like Danny Pink does almost feels contradictory.
But at the same time, if Clara had the opportunity to go out and save other worlds, wouldn’t she do it?
Naturally, it makes me feel ambivalent toward it all. It also makes me think that perhaps having her die would have been the more poetic end.
After all, the entire last two seasons is Clara putting her life in more and more danger. It’s the Doctor constantly having to deal with the thought of her death. She’s even put in a Dalek suit, which is reminiscent of her very first death in “Asylum of the Daleks”. It would have the finality to something the Doctor has been trying to avoid since he met her.
It would also establish the consequences of traveling with the Doctor that we haven’t seen since Adric.
My mind wrestled with these things, and really all it did was lead me to another conclusion on a completely different path: Clara is complicated. So damn complicated. What we think of are inconsistencies in tone, narrative, or character development is really just Clara being human.
She’s dynamic, and changing. She wants it all, and she tries to have it. She faces the consequences of her actions and deals with them. She doesn’t hold on to what should be, and rolls with what she has. In this case, she has an immortal body (and lucky her to look like Jenna Coleman for an eternity), and a chance to explore unfettered by the constraints of her old life. Perhaps an old life she didn’t want to give up, but one she had to because of her death.
And it’s only in that that I can come to grips with losing Clara as a companion. With Amy and Rory, it was the fact that they lived happily together, even if it was not with the Doctor. With Martha, it’s that she continued to have her own adventures without the Doctor using her and taking her for granted. She basically becomes her own version of the Doctor, while being a doctor. For Rose, she gets to be with the man she loves. And Donna… okay, let’s not talk about Donna, but at least she seems happy without her memories… This is Clara’s happy ending because Clara has always been to take lemons and make lemonade. She would have probably loved to keep her old life as Ms. Oswald while still traveling the stars with the Doctor. But absent that, traveling with Ashildr is the next best thing, and she’s going to take it. Clara seizes opportunities (reversing the polarity on a mind-wipe, for example), and of course, she would seize this one.
It’s also important to note that she sort of likes being the Doctor herself, as evidenced in “Flatline”, which you should note is the episode we first meet Rigsy. Rigsy is the catalyst for the episode “The Raven”, which leads to Clara’s death, so has a sort of literary beauty to it. It’s almost as if Clara is being shown the consequences of what it means to be the Doctor (though, she should have known it because of Danny Pink’s death).
Honestly, Clara had a good run. A shaky one at first, but a good solid two seasons of being amazing. We all know we have to say goodbye to the companions at some point, and this was the way it was going to be for Clara. It fits her in a convoluted way.
The real tragedy is that we will no longer have her and the Doctor together. Ranking up with Donna and the 10th Doctor, the 12th Doctor and Clara had the most interesting, mutually-respectful relationship (and by that, I mean Clara pushes back when the Doctor tries to take advantage of her) in the ‘Doctor Who’ canon, and I’m going to miss that. I really am.