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Companion Cannon Fodder: The Doctor Who Finale

Oh, gentle readers, do let’s discuss Clara the Impossible Girl and the thrilling or perhap insipid conclusion of the seventh season, which just aired on televisions ‘round the world. We were promised a resolution to the Mystery that is Clara, and we certainly got it, and, shocker, it went along the same lines as all of Moffat’s usual misogynist garbage, as Ted Kissell pointed out in his withering review at The Atlantic.

We’ve been taunted throughout the season by visions of a woman who seems to slip back and forth through the Doctor’s timestream, someone who flits over and over again onto the scene just in time, and someone who dies over and over again, the words “run, you clever boy, and remember me” on her lips. She’s tormented the Doctor, who’s spent the entire season grappling with an understanding of who she is while Clara insists that she’s simply an ordinary girl.

Moffat has been criticised before for his limited way of writing female characters and his tendency to ultimately destroy them, making their entire existence about the Doctor; River Song was perhaps the most marked example, but he ruined Amy Pond, and let us not forget What Happened to Donna. So watching Clara’s story unfold—what story there was to unfold, at any rate, in a season that felt more like watching the Doctor on a hamster wheel—was really more like waiting for the other shoe to drop. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when.

And on Saturday night, Clara’s moment arrived at last: yet another chance to sacrifice herself that the Doctor might go on, and a definitive explanation for her character’s seemingly supernatural tendency to show up whenever and wherever. Clara, it turns out, is bound up within the Doctor’s timestream after throwing herself into it to undo the sabotage done by the Great Intelligence (note to Time Lords: perhaps you should secure your blobs of timey-wimey lightness better in the future so as to avoid this sort of thing). Which means she’s sentenced to die over and over again for the greater good.

This puts her in the same sort of company as the rest of the Doctor’s female companions, women who are doomed to constantly live in the shadow of the Doctor, and to live effectively for the Doctor. Some viewers seem determined to spin Clara’s ‘choice’ as one made independently, one that shows strength, conviction, and determination, but it’s anything but. She’s forced into a corner by the dawning reality that she’s supposed to be responsible for the Doctor and must be willing to sacrifice herself, tearing her very being into fragments, so that he might go on.

Madame Vastra points out that without the Doctor, the universe would be a much colder, darker place, that he’s been responsible for saving millions and likely billions of lives. Implication: everyone in the Doctor’s party should be prepared to give up everything for him, as he’s a big important man and the sacrifices of individuals are insignificant in the face of that. Thus, there’s no real surprise when Clara ‘selflessly’ plunges into the Doctor’s timestream even though she knows what the consequences will be—in truth, it’s a preordained outcome, as she herself points out, because she’s already done it.

Her entire life is about the Doctor. And we’re supposed to view this as some sort of rah-rah female empowerment storyline somehow? I think not. Not with Moffat’s history, and not with the way it’s played. This is just another case of a woman throwing herself off a cliff for the Doctor, casting aside her own value as an individual human being even though the Doctor’s patronised her, lied to her, and cheated her of an opportunity to truly live.

The Doctor takes advantage of an effective reset button to keep Clara from the truth in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,’ for example, skipping back in time to avoid the ramifications of an uncomfortable and complicated conversation where he tries to figure out who Clara is and how she accomplishes the impossible. He also, of course, evades some vicious salvagers in the process, but at the same time, he doesn’t tell Clara what happened and seems to have no interest in volunteering information to her.

On the contrary, he spends a lot of time acting as though he’s much more capable and important than she is, dismissing her despite the fact that she’s demonstrated her grit on a number of occasions (let’s face it, she’s died many more times than the Doctor has, and without the benefit of regeneration). It’s ‘easy mode’ on the TARDIS for her, and don’t ask questions, girl, because your job is simply to be a companion awed by the Doctor’s presence.

This is a show where a nearly 30-year-old woman is still a girl, and where women are sacrificial cannonfodder provided to feed the story and make the world safer for the Doctor. When are we going to get a companion who truly lives and leaves on her own terms? The closest we’ve gotten is Martha, except that she, like so many other of his female companions, is hopelessly in love with him and that becomes the catalyst for her departure: hardly the sign of an independent woman making choices for herself, but rather the mark of yet another pulled under the Doctor’s spell.

Moffat didn’t just insult women this season: he also made dull television, and that’s simply unforgivable. In a sluggish season that went effectively nowhere, none of his characters developed, nothing changed, and above all, nothing showed us that Moffat has rethought his views on women in society.

One thought on “Companion Cannon Fodder: The Doctor Who Finale

  1. River Song was perhaps the most marked example, but he ruined Amy Pond, and let us not forget What Happened to Donna.

    What Happened to Donna, though, was Russell T. Davies’ doing. Unless you’re talking about the Library two-parter?

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