I’m glad she died. No, not like that. I’m glad that she went the way she did: death, as opposed to something short of death, as has been the pattern in modern Doctor Who. That’s not just because I feel that it’s about time a companion died, as opposed to succumbing to some faux-tragic ending. I feel that death was the only appropriate way for Clara to go. I feel that death, a really tragic, pathetic death, like the one she got, was the only fitting, logical conclusion to Clara’s story, and that an exit for Clara that fell short of death would have been anticlimactic. The Doctor and Clara together have been through so much. Clara has been more important to the Doctor than arguably any companion before. Clara and the Doctor are inseparable, on a cosmic level, and it seemed inevitable that the only thing that should separate them would be death. Clara couldn’t just walk away like Martha did — it would kill her. Clara couldn’t have been trapped in another dimension, like Rose, or in a paradox, like Amy — the Doctor would have stopped at nothing to bring her back. She had to die.
Moreover, it’s been clear for some time that Clara’s recklessness, her thrill-seeking and disturbing flirtation with danger would ultimately end in tragedy. As far back as Series 8 the show has been dropping ominous hints about the way Clara is becoming more and more like the Doctor. Remember how she couldn’t keep away after she stormed out in Kill the Moon? In Series 9, the hints that Clara’s recklessness would lead to her untimely death have come thick and fast. When she was finally faced with her death, she asked the Doctor, in response to his regret over allowing her to become so reckless, “Why can’t I be like you?”, more a plea than an argument. In those poignant words, layered with plaintive longing and wistfulness, she reveals herself. She reveals how much her dangerous, fantastic life and her association with the Doctor has consumed her as a person. How much of a dream, an unreal fantasy, her life has been for so long. It was inevitable: it was all going to come crashing down sooner or later, the question was only when.
All that said, I regret that I have to say that the actual scene of Clara’s death left me somewhat cold, or at least a lot cooler than it should have. The whole episode was leading up to this scene, and I suppose I expected something more momentous. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel it. I’m not just griping for the sake of it — my regular readers would know I’m the last person to engage in that kind of cynical, self-regarding analysis. I really, truly, viscerally wanted to be moved by the scene. This show’s capacity to make me feel for characters to whom I have an emotional connection is a big part of why I watch it, and these infrequent moments, and the way they make me feel, are what I remember most vividly from watching this show. I remember how intense the feeling was when I watched Donna’s, Ten’s, Amy’s and Eleven’s exits for the first time. This time, I regret to say, it didn’t work for me. I know that it did for many others: my Twitter feed for hours after the episode aired was filled with hysterical bleatings after Clara, and I must have read at least a dozen accounts of people who were left in tears by the scene. Obviously it was effective; it obviously did its job, at least for some.
Is it me? Has excessive reviewing rewired my brain and numbed my capacity to feel in respect of this show? I really hope not. All the elements were there: the emotional farewell between Clara and the Doctor, Clara facing her death so bravely, “Let me be brave”, Clara screaming silently with that maudlin music playing in the background. I should have been moved to tears by all that. But in the end, the only time I felt genuinely emotionally involved in the scene was when the Doctor was raging at Ashildr, which I found really bracing and exhilarating to watch. What does that say about me, I wonder. One substantive criticism I will make about the scene, though, that might’ve affected my engagement with it, was that Clara’s exhortation to the Doctor, moments before she was about to die, to try to cope after she was gone, felt a bit unreal and seemed to reduce Clara in the moments before her death to a narrative device to move along the Doctor’s emotional state. I don’t know, but that was the moment I felt most disconnected from the scene. I did find it very poignant, though, when the Doctor walked back into the room, looking totally forlorn and broken, oddly incomplete without Clara by his side.
Sarah Dollard, the first of my countrymen to write for Doctor Who since the 1960s, acquits herself well in her debut script. It’s brimming with interesting ideas, and I can tell that, if it were a self-contained story without the burden of effecting a companion exit and major arc progression, it might have been an instant classic. Moffat did, after all, choose Dollard’s original, draft script (and a debut script no less) for Clara to go out on, so it must have been impressive. It’s just that, while there are clearly fantastic ideas behind it — trap streets and an alien refugee camp — and it was engaging enough while it was an unassuming story about Rigsy’s tattoo and trap streets, the superimposition of the series arc material onto Dollard’s pre-existing script somewhat compromised its integrity — it’s an awkward edit — and makes it all feel just a bit directionless and messy until the final scene. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good story, though. It was at least as good the episode that came before it (which I liked), it’s just that the awkward way Dollard’s story has been sacrificed for the purpose of progressing the series arc left the end result feeling slightly underwhelming.
Some final thoughts. My critique of the final scene above should in no way be taken as a slight against the acting of either Jenna Coleman or Peter Capaldi. Both were fantastic throughout this episode, and were given meaty material to gnaw into, which they did with gusto. Peter Capaldi, especially, was surpassing. Capaldi was frightening to behold when the Doctor was thundering at Ashildr. At the same time, he portrayed the Doctor’s wordless sorrow over saying goodbye to Clara sublimely. The man has awe-inspiring range. Rigsy was a wonderful addition to this week’s cast, and Joivan Wade’s character is truly a beloved member of the Whoniverse now, if he wasn’t already. Maisie Williams is impressive as always as the ever- morally-ambiguous, untrustworthy Ashildr, now over 1,000 years old. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Ashildr this series. Surely, if she’s in league with the Time Lords and accessory to their plot to abduct the Doctor, we’ll see her again in Hell Bent? I hope so.
Quote of the week:
“Clara, go back to the Tardis. Pick up all my most annoying stuff.”
Absolutely amazing review, and I agree with practicality every word. With Rose, Donna and “the Ponds” I was inconsolable. I can’t watch any of their final (or leading up to) episodes without crumpling in to an utter mess.
I didn’t feel like that with Clara. It was a good episode, granted. It was clever and interesting and I’m so glad they decided to actually kill a companion but my heart wasn’t in it.
The only thing I can think of it that I’m slightly bitter that she awfully stole all the Doctor’s limelight in s8 and I haven’t quite forgiven her. Either way, story wise, it just didn’t feel emotional enough. I’m thinking they left it as quite an anticlimax because she is returning in the finale. I can’t wait to see how they bring her back!
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Thank you! 🙂 I’m glad someone feels the same way as me, I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with me, because it worked for so many others. Perhaps you’re right about it being purposefully left on an anticlimax because of Clara’s return in episode 12. If she returns I’m hoping we’ll get a proper, emotional farewell between her and the Doctor. Anyway, I can’t think how I’m going to make it to next weekend! All this waiting and anticipation is cruel 😦
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Ahhhh I know! I really am curious how they fit Clara back in to the story. I was thinking maybe she’s a splinter version, but then the farewell may not be as emotional as she isn’t the “real” Clara.
I just can’t wait to find out, so many questions!
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I didn’t find anything wrong with her worrying about his emotional state. Almost all of his companions have in the past. Various mentions of him not traveling alone, etc. Although I agree it didn’t reduce me to tears, I thought it was powerful because all she wanted was to die bravely like Danny Pink, and by leaving to room spare the Doctor the pain.
I think she wanted to be like the Doctor in more ways than one: clever (but not so clever as to get herself killed as in this episode), travel more, understand almost anything, have no limitations, and regenerate if possible. Not to mention that despite her agonizing personality last season, she admired the Doctor, and in her own way, really did love him.
I was not strongly emotionally moved either, but then after thinking about it, what would you say to the most important person in your life who’s gone through so much with you and who you’ve always been willing to sacrifice yourself for, who you think you’ve failed in the end? Just “goodbye”? I don’t think so. You’d do whatever you could to ease their mind, make sure they understand there’s more out there than just you, and try to be brave in the end so you don’t destroy the person you love. If you’re strong, then they can be too. At least that’s the running habit in my family.
It just felt to me that Clara was way too cool and composed and lacking in self-awareness for someone who was literally moments away from death. If it were me, I don’t think I’d be making sure my loved one(s) would cope without me, I’d just be hugging them and crying onto their shoulders, telling them I loved them, etc.
It depends on the person. People with long illnesses usually worry about others in their life. And with Clara, even the Doctor thought she was too much. I think she worried about him for 2 reasons. 1. His companions are always the best of humanity in a crisis, 2. I think a part of her wanted to die. She didn’t do it on purpose, but she hasn’t been right since Danny.
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