That was the question on Doctor Who this week. Though it feels like a question that has been asked time and time again, the question was asked again of Clara. Unlike every other time that Clara might have been left to ride on her own, this was the first time that she pushed back.
While the Missy subplot wasn’t advanced this week (though there was opportunity to do so), you don’t need to go back the season-long arc to drive forward the action this season.
If there’s a more plot to this season, it’s the growth of Clara Oswald. Sure, she came in really, really strong last season but that completely fizzled once she actually became a regular on the show. With the time off between seasons, it’s as if Steven Moffat went back to the drawing board to re-envision the Clara character. This year, the change in how Clara acts has been night and day and she’s a much better character for it. That might never have been more clear than this week.
Once again, Jenna Coleman does great work this week. Maybe she needed an experienced actor opposite her to bring something special out of her like I keep saying happens on Game of Thrones when someone is opposite Charles Dance. Peter Capaldi is Coleman’s Charles Dance. Suddenly, she’s become a character worth watching rather than one you wouldn’t mind getting sucked out the front door of the TARDIS and into the void. Some of that’s a credit to the writing but I’d chalk most of that being up to the acting.
That being said, I’m probably the only person in the world who didn’t sympathize with Clara as she reamed out The Doctor. Maybe I don’t have a heart but I side with The Doctor. If a decision about the future of Gallifrey had to be made, The Doctor wouldn’t leave it up to Clara… Okay, bad example. You get my meaning though. The Earth is Clara’s home and she’s going to be living on it 35 years from now. The Doctor lives in a time machine so if everything goes to pot, he can just pop in the TARDIS and never come back. Clara’s stuck there. It’s her home. It’s her future. It should be her decision. I think she’s wrong to vilify The Doctor here. I’m probably in the minority as usual.
My other reservation is that we continue down this path where Clara becomes an indispensable Mary Sue character who is saving The Doctor’s life, charting the course for his existence and now saving the Earth. Companions are supposed to be the layperson’s point of entry to the show. Can we relate to Clara if she’s supposed to be the best that humanity has to offer?
As for this week’s episode, it was a simple and maybe clichéd combination of the standard sci-fi tropes. Something familiar yet mysterious (the Moon), something dangerous (the spiders), a little bit of horror, a moral choice (spoilers) and some lessons learned. They’re all familiar parts of the sci-fi genre but being frequently-used building blocks doesn’t mean that they can’t work if they’re combined perfectly. In this case, critically acclaimed writer Peter Harness knocked his first Doctor Who script out of the park. This might not have been the most Doctor Who script ever but it was still smartly written and well executed.
My biggest problem with this episode was how needless Courtney seemed in this episode. It was as if she was put in to do the screaming and danger scenes so Clara could stay looking strong by not being in danger. With so many strong young female characters in pop culture, it’s a bit disappointing that Harness or Moffat couldn’t find a way to make her more integral to the episode without making her a Mary Sue character.
Overall, though, this was a very good episode. From a purely objective standpoint, this just continues the stretch of strong episodes to start this season. We’re seven episodes into what might be the best stretch of episodes since the series was revived in 2005. I just couldn’t get into this episode. I think if I sympathized with Clara more, I’d feel a bit more strongly about this episode. Without that connection, the episode doesn’t come off as strongly and it will determine the mileage you get out of it.
Other random point of note:
- Maybe I’m a terrible person but I kind of wanted The Doctor to send Clara off by warning her of the dangers of abandoning the TARDIS. Something like, “Nobody that’s left here has gone on to do anything worth mentioning with their lives. Remember Rose? She left the TARDIS and all she did was take her clothes off on ITV2. Amy? Sure, she did Guardians of the Galaxy but she’s about to piss it all away on some shite ABC sitcom. Martha? She’s on the CW doing a Sex and the City prequel. The Americans don’t even know that channel exists!” Something like that. It works if you read it in Capaldi’s voice. And it really doesn’t pay to leave the TARDIS, does it?
Next week, does The Doctor work solo? With Clara mad at The Doctor and not wanting anything to do with him, he’s off on his own to find adventure. And just like the last time a companion voluntarily left him, he’s going on an adventure in the space version of a famous old Earth travel vehicle. Last time, he ended up on the space Titanic. This time, it’s the space Orient Express… with a mummy on-board. There’s no Brendan Fraser but there’s still a Mummy On The Orient Express. The BBC actually pushed the time slot for this episode back because it might be too scary. I can’t wait!