While it’s no secret that Series 8 of Doctor Who has been divisive among the fans, I posited a few weeks ago in my postmortem wrapup of the 12 episodes that what showrunner Steven Moffat was doing was to complicate things with the main characters and actually make the season-long arc be about them and their relationships as opposed to any huge time-bendy plot thing, as had happened in his previous three series. Especially in the last few episodes, it became clear to me that, while other companions fall in love with traveling with the Doctor, or possibly fall in love with the Doctor himself, Clara had fallen in love with the idea of being the Doctor.
Last week, during a conference call interview with several publications, I got the opportunity to ask Moffat about these things and especially about why Clara was the one he felt he could turn into the Doctor over any of the others. The head writer had some enlightening things to say.
“The thing about Clara is she thinks the show is called Clara. She really does. She has no idea she’s number two in the credits, which is why we did that joke in “Death in Heaven.” She’s got a high opinion of herself, not in a conceited way, but in a correct way. She knows she’s extremely clever and capable, and she doesn’t feel like she particularly fits in the world that she lives in. She’s a bit more like the Doctor in the first place. She’s not really very good at living a normal life. The other companions, like most people, like you and me, can be quite good at living normal lives. I’m very happy living my normal life, I’m sure you are too. Going to the shops seems fine for an adventure, but Clara’s not like that.
When I first wrote Clara, I thought, “Oh, this is fun. If the Doctor were a young woman living in contemporary Britain, it’d be a bit like her.” Clever and presentable and funny but also thinking when is something interesting going to happen? The interesting thing between the Doctor and Clara is she can sort of play the same game he does. She can absolutely do that, she’s terribly clever, she’s got a wayward ego. Her botched love affair with Danny is heartbreakingly proof of that. He’s a lovely man with a traumatic secret, and she just screws it up because she doesn’t really give it enough attention. It’s just a little bit less exciting than running off in the blue box. You have to be a bit of a loony to think that way. I think for the first time, the Doctor’s traveling with someone who’s a bit of a loony like him, and that’s quite fun.”
I followed up by asking about the final scene of the series, between the Doctor and Clara in the diner, where neither of them tell the other the truth and go off alone, whether Moffat felt that the Doctor had to be a sad and lonely character and if Clara’s transformation into him could only end with that kind of melancholy goodbye. Moffat didn’t see it as a sad goodbye necessarily, but one very much in keeping with the two characters’ personalities.
“It wasn’t so much the sadness, it’s that both the Doctor and Clara are people who think they know better. That’s what they are. The Doctor always thinks he knows better; Clara always thinks she knows better. So what they do at the end is a perfect summation of their relationship. They lie and endure pain and loneliness in order to protect the other because they think they know better. Amy would never have done that; she’d have told him what happened. But, people who are more controlling than that think they know what’s good for everybody else aren’t like that. So, Clara’s not the Doctor; she’s not the same person as the Doctor, but – the traditional thing is to say the hero and the archenemy are mirrors of each other. Are they? Are they though? Not really. I think it’s more likely that friends are mirrors of each other. If you watch any close friendship, the extent to which they start to duplicate each other is quite interesting, even with Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. While they’re different people, they have similar appetites. So, yeah, it was the perfect way to say goodbye in that episode; each one doesn’t think the other can cope with the truth.”
Perhaps this is why people felt like this series felt off; because we were watching a show that should have been called Clara and not Doctor Who. While I wasn’t sure about the series as a whole, I think from “Mummy on the Orient Express” forward, we’re getting a really interesting dynamic between Clara and the Doctor, where the companion is the most like the Doctor they’ve ever been, and whether or not that’s necessarily healthy. Two Type-A people in one TARDIS. Nothing about Series 8 was the same as it had always been, and after speaking to Moffat, it’s clear that was the whole point.
You can see how Clara and the Doctor resolve this uneasy farewell in “Last Christmas,” written by Steven Moffat, airing on December 25th at 9/8c on BBC America.