Clara Oswald: An Analysis of the Character and Where She’s Headed on “Doctor Who”

Let’s backtrack.

The date is September 29, 2012. Amy Pond and Rory Williams have just been ripped away from the Doctor by Weeping Angels, and he has no hope of ever seeing them again. Cue River Song telling him he shouldn’t travel alone because, based on past examples, he can get a little murder-y, and that’s no fun for an all-ages show (on a regular basis, anyway).

So, it’s time for a fresh companion. Who will she be? What does she look like? What does she act like? It turned out, we’d met her all the way back in the series 7 premiere, under the possible alias of Oswin.

Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, had an odd introduction to the show. She showed up twice before taking on the role of companion, and both time it was as seemingly two different people.

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Two people that had incredibly similar personalities. They were both whip-smart and caring, traits which presented themselves differently based on the era they appeared in – whether it was in the future, where she worked in hospitality on a space liner and had a great grasp on technology, or in Victorian London where she popped up as an adventurous barmaid/governess who had the mental faculty to keep up with the Doctor and even surpass him at times.

Though both of these versions died in the name of building up mystery, Clara appeared permanently in the modern era, and that’s when the problems started.

The modern-day version of Clara, the one that all other versions are supposed to be less-rounded composites of, somehow ended up being less of a character and managed to contradict the versions that existed before. It subtly suggests she is less of a character and more of a device that is manipulated for the needs of an episode.

Throughout her original eight episode run with Matt Smith, she is given certain traits that remain relatively intact, but every once in awhile get contradicted in major ways.

Take her stance (?) on bravery for example. In “Cold War” and “Hide” she’s more of a timid character, prone to doing what the Doctor says and mostly staying out of trouble. She forces herself to act when the moment calls for it, such as when the Doctor ends up trapped in a pocket universe. When she is alone, she tries her best and mostly succeeds.

Then we have “Nightmare in Silver”, in which she is made general of an army by the Doctor and told to lead them while he goes off galavanting about with a Cyberman in his head. The Clara we’ve been given so far would totally be able to handle this, however, the way she goes about it seems off. She begins leading an entire army with almost zero reservations. There are a couple throwaway lines that would suggest she’s unsure of herself, but nothing all that substantial. Nothing that jives with the character we’ve met before.

Also, this timidness doesn’t seem to fit with the different versions of the character we meet earlier. Both were incredibly brave, functioning on a level much closer to the Doctor than our version of Clara ever does.

Compared to her splintered counterparts, our version is relatively subdued, less quick-witted, and more introspective.

Despite the traits that are seemingly at odds with each other, in the “The Bells of Saint John”, Clara shows some fresh traits that are very engaging. Particularly, her need to control her situation with the Doctor by insisting that he come back for her the next day. She doesn’t run away with him immediately, and even eventually sets up a day of the week for traveling. Keeps him on his toes.

Then, we come to the finale, which creates the biggest character flaws moving forward. Clara is splintered through the Doctor’s timeline, meeting (or least, witnessing) all his various incarnations so far.

Throughout the back eight of the series, Clara has been a mystery to the Doctor. She hasn’t made sense to him, and most of his adventures with her are an attempt to sort her out.

Along the way, she even learns what he knows twice. She forgets once, but the second time, everything sticks.

And both times, her reactions feel incredibly out of character. The woman who previously decided the terms for traveling with the Doctor doesn’t seem like the type to blindly accept that he’s basically been manipulating her and lying from the very beginning (no matter how benign he seems, that’s essentially what he’s doing). Far too quickly, with almost zero reaction, she accepts this, and is even willing to die for him.

The relationship they’ve got by the end of the series simply doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen from her character or their relationship so far.

And the flirty chemistry they artificially developed by the end continues into the fiftieth anniversary and Christmas specials. Here she is confronted with multiple Doctors and doesn’t even bat an eye.

It’s important to note that she sees them as different people, though.

When the Doctor regenerates, Clara seems to barely know a thing about regeneration. Used as an audience surrogate to introduce the Doctor, the character suffers in the process. Her reactions during the entire episode seem especially weird in that regard.

The idea that she sees the Doctor as different men based on incarnation sticks, though, which, frankly, doesn’t make any sense. She’s the one woman who has tripped through time and met them all, and even if she hasn’t seen a regeneration personally, wouldn’t she have amassed enough evidence to know they’re the same deep down?

And that’s the main problem with her whole arc so far. We don’t know. Everything about her timeline is so splintered and hazy at this point, it’s hard to tell what she knows and doesn’t know, how her traits were split across the universe. And because she was introduced in this convoluted way, it’s hard to know who she is at all.

Which makes the fact that she’s the focus of the series 8 premiere all the more interesting. I didn’t clock either of the screen time, but it sure felt like Clara was featured more. She was definitely the protagonist, at the very least; and with the beefed up role, came more solid character development than we’ve seen in the past.

Steven Moffat seems to have taken the most interesting bits of Clara that we saw before and sort of rebooted the character. Now she’s quick-witted but timid, prone to action only when forced, and still great with kids.

Some of these traits contradict old ones, and it looks as if her Impossible Girl arc might be swept under the rug completely, which, honestly, at this point is fine.

“Deep Breath” was a doozy: we got a new Doctor and essentially a new companion in the process. But, based on the fresher chemistry from the two leads compared to Eleven and Clara, longer takes and dialogue scenes, and the best version of Clara yet, things seem to be looking up.

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My main issues coming off of the premiere though, is this: Is it best to just sort of start over with Clara’s character as they have seemingly done, or should the writers have stuck with continuity and tried their best with the Frankenstein’s monster they created back in series 7?

I’m torn, to be honest. All I can say is I really like this new version. The way she handled the Clockwork Droid’s threats was just superb.

If nothing else, I think it’s great that we’ve been left with hope for the character’s success.

Well, I’ve given you my two cents, what do you guys think? Old Clara, New Clara, Continuity Clara? Hit the comments below and let us know!

All Photos: BBC