Few would argue Doctor Who series 9 was the show at its best, but this year’s finale finally gave us a Clara Oswald we could love.
I found Doctor Who later than most, but I fell hard and I fell fast. The first season of the reboot era grabbed my attention in a way no other science-fiction show had done before. The Tenth Doctor crawled his way into my heart, but it was Eleven who made me fall in love. Along the way we saw Rose’s beautiful love story, Martha’s daring mission, Donna’s hilarious adventures, and Amy and Rory’s brilliant lives play out on screen.
But that all came to a halt when Clara joined the show.
To be clear, I don’t hate Clara. In fact, when we first met her, I was so excited to see what she would bring to Doctor Who. It’s true I was still drying my eyes after Amy’s departure, but when you become a fan of this show, you know nothing is forever.
Clara was smart and spunky and mysterious. Who was the souffle girl? How did she become a Dalek? What more was going on with her history that kept her coming back in different forms and at different times? The answers to these questions were, unfortunately, overly complex even for Doctor Who. We wanted another companion we could fall in love with, not someone whose presence was more of a headache than an asset.
Of course, when Matt Smith left the show and Peter Capaldi took his place, I was sad. I knew it would happen eventually, but it was the first time I was witnessing the changeover in real time. It was the first time my Doctor had to leave.
To be fair, though, my disinterest in Clara came well before this moment. I don’t blame Jenna Coleman; I think she’s a fantastic actress. Clara was sassy like Donna and spunky like Amy, but she felt more modern and spontaneous than either of them. Unfortunately, each subsequent episode brought us convoluted plot lines and uninteresting twists. I found myself enjoying Twelve far more than I ever enjoyed Clara — something I never thought would’ve happened following Eleven’s regeneration.
There were moments of brilliance, however. We’ve already run through our favorite Clara episodes, and I still think Jenna Coleman’s turn as Bonnie was extremely well done. But nothing compares to Clara’s story in the Doctor Who series 9 finale.
Finally, finally we’ve gotten the Clara we’ve deserved. The episode was emotional, suspenseful, full of twists, and gave us the best gift of all — a companion who was not forced to forget or leave the Doctor, but one who decided her own fate no matter the consequences.
I, and I suspect many others, thought Clara had no idea who the Doctor was when he showed up in that little diner with her behind the counter. It turns out it was the exact opposite. The Doctor didn’t remember Clara, but she would never forget him. It was such a change from the norm on Doctor Who that the possibility had never occurred to me. Yet there it was, and the show is all the better for it.
How did we get to that moment? How were we going to get through this episode? Clara was already dead, technically. She had no pulse because the Doctor stole her from between heartbeats, at that moment right before she was killed. We thought we had already said goodbye to her, yet here she was for one last adventure. I was on the edge of my seat for the majority of the episode wondering what was going to happen and what sort of consequences the Doctor’s actions would have this time.
Therein lay the emotional heart of the episode. The Doctor had been through so much following Clara’s death. He spent billions of years experiencing the same moments and same fears over and over again. He was a more reckless, bitter Doctor than we’ve seen before. He was willing to shatter time for Clara, just so he could have her back.
And though Clara was terrified of dying, she knew she couldn’t let that happen. She knew she couldn’t let the Doctor live with those consequences. But when Twelve suggested they wipe her memory to see if they could reverse this whole incident, Clara put her foot down. No one would take away her moments of triumph, her adventures, her memories of the Doctor. She would rather die than let that happen.
The Doctor was willing to make the same sacrifice. Though he has shared more poignant, emotional stories with several other companions, Clara has held a special place in Twelve’s heart. It had been billions of years since he last saw her, and he didn’t want to lose her again.
But Clara is clever, and fate was on her side that day. She reversed the polarity of his sonic screwdriver, and it wasn’t until the Doctor collapsed that we knew it had actually worked. For once, the Doctor did not have to say goodbye to his friend. For once, his friend had to live on knowing he would not remember her even if they came face to face once again.
And they did come face to face again, in that diner that means so much the Doctor. It holds another memory now, though he isn’t aware of its significance. Maybe one day, after Clara is truly dead, he’ll remember. Even broken bits and pieces of his adventures with the souffle girl would be better than nothing. They had been through so much together, after all.
Perhaps the best part of the episode is Clara’s ending — because it’s not really an ending at all. She knows she needs to go back to Galifrey to be reinserted into her timeline. Her death is a fixed point, after all, and she risked everything to convince the Doctor it wasn’t a moment that could be removed.
But that doesn’t mean she can’t take the long way ’round. As Ashildr and Clara take off in a borrowed TARDIS with no particular direction other than away from the Doctor, we can’t help but hope for more from these two. They’ve lived such fantastic lives, it would be shame not to see what they get up to when the Doctor isn’t there.