(Cont) that the companion’s lives revolving around the doctor is a common theme in Doctor Who but with the others it seems like they had more substance and character than just being with the Doctor, but not Clara. At least, not yet. Thoughts?
So, so many thoughts.
The main theme of Clara’s tenure so far has been “potential.” Her potential was an enormous part of her narrative arc in Series 7. We (the audience and the Doctor) knew that Clara was somehow an extraordinary individual, but when we properly meet her for the first time in London she’s just your average girl. This drives the Doctor to obsession, as he tries to figure out exactly who Clara is and how she exists at different points throughout time and space. All along she was just your average, ordinary girl, but she had the potential to do something extraordinary under the right circumstances.
Potential was a recurring theme in many of her episodes. There was that tortured souffle metaphor based off of her mother’s saying that “a souffle isn’t a souffle; a souffle is a recipe.” The recipe is the potential souffle, and how you apply it changes the final end product; the original Clara was the recipe and the potential for the other Clara’s, and due to her sacrifice and the various conditions under which the other Clara’s lived, they all were just a little bit different.
Then there was the recurring leaf motif. The leaf was potential. Thanks to the exact right sequence of events, it brought her parents together, which allowed Clara to be born so that one day she could commit an extraordinary act to save the Doctor. It also symbolized her mother’s missed potential, after she died tragically young.
Unfortunately, missed potential is the phrase I’d use to describe Clara. Her characterization lurches from one episode to the next, and every time she obtains a unique ability or special knowledge, she immediately loses it.
There’s very few character traits that carry over with Clara from episode to episode. The most prominent are her mothering tendencies and her bossiness. And, yes, I know we’re supposed to “ban bossy,” but I use the word “bossy” because I think her controlling, assertive tendencies are specifically written to be grating and/or cutesy, rather than positive. I’m thinking specifically of the time she argues with the TARDIS (something specifically written to be catty—at one point Clara calls the TARDIS a cow), her self-characterization in “The Time of the Doctor” as a “bubbly personality masking bossy control freak,” and Steven Moffat’s off-putting eagerness to "mess her around" and put her in a situation she can’t control.
But most of the time, I find Clara lurches from trope to trope. At first she’s the super-genius computer geek, then the self-sacrificing mother figure, then the Independent Girl calling the TARDIS a “snog box,” until finally she’s the jilted girl with an unrequited romance.
Now, I’m not a big believer in suddenly giving a character magic powers and saying that’s the only thing that makes her special. I’m a big fan of the companion’s discovering their own strength in extraordinary circumstances and putting their existing skills to use (even Donna Noble, best temp in Chiswick, who never thought her skills would be useful). But I’m equally disturbed by the plot giving Clara super-special skills and then removing them immediately from her when it’s no longer convenient for the plot, or so that they can just get her to say a line for a promo piece.
This has happened three separate times that I can think of. First she gets the super-tech skills in “The Bells of Saint John” that surpassed even the Doctor’s own skills, but she doesn’t get to keep those once the episode is completed. Then in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” she discovers the Doctor’s identity just long enough to get fans riled by the line “So that’s who,” but she doesn’t get to remember that knowledge. Finally, she walks into the Doctor’s timestream, splintering herself along the Doctor’s life, and seeing him in all of his past regenerations. For a brief moment in “The Name of the Doctor” she appears to indicate that the original Clara has recollection of these past lives as she’s falling through his timesteam, but in “The Day of the Doctor,” she appears to barely remember this experience, and in the teaser trailer for Series 8 we have a distraught Clara saying, “I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore.”
First of all, I don’t even understand how this line is going to come about given what we know to be canon. How completely different is the Twelfth Doctor going to be that Clara, who has directly interacted with THREE of his different regenerations, will be driven to say she doesn’t know who the Doctor is?
But for imagination’s sake, let’s think about how incredible it would be if Clara remembered all of her experiences with each Doctor? What if she remembered all of her alternative lives, and how they worked to save the Doctor? What if she was allowed to remember what each regeneration of the Doctor was like? How incredible would it be if, instead of putting Clara in a position where she will be confused, distraught, and apparently slightly afraid, she feels confident and truly in control of the situation thanks to her knowledge and insight?
Here’s the thing. I want to like Clara so badly. I see a lot of myself in pieces of her characterization. But I’m just consistently underwhelmed by her narrative. There is so much potential in her character that is completely underutilized, and it really disappoints me.