And so as we reach the final leg of our countdown to fifty, we’re presented with a very mysterious young woman. Why not? After all, that’s how it all started…
Once upon a time, there was an Impossible Girl. She attended a normal school on Earth – but she had travelled all over the universe…
Once upon a time, there was an Unearthly Child. She could be found all over the universe – but she was just a normal girl from Earth…
We’ve come full circle – but it feels different this time.
How is it different? Perhaps it’s because our relationship with the Doctor has changed out of all recognition. Back in 1963 the First Doctor (the original, you might say), was himself part of the mystery – the biggest part. He may not have been actually impossible (just a bit unlikely), but when it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard he was alien to us, we saw him through Ian and Barbara’s eyes, and we didn’t necessarily like what we saw. He wasn’t someone we could trust. But these days, the Doctor is our hero – yes, we know he’s not a human being and he walks in eternity, but he’s kind and wise and brave and someone the monsters have nightmares about. So here in 2013 we’re inside the TARDIS looking out, sharing the mystery of Clara with the Doctor.
Clara was a living being, and now what is she? A component of a mystery. A puzzle disguised as a person. Can the audience care about a companion who was created to be a plot point? Yes, because the Doctor does. He’s come across (or participated in) a million mysteries without becoming obsessed with solving them, and he’d acknowledged that Clara (or rather Oswin) is an exceptional person right from their first encounter. He’s travelling with her because he wants to and because she’s the sort of brave, intelligent, caring, adventurous person he needs with him (and although she’s a beautiful woman, probably, surely her appearance isn’t a factor, despite the odd inappropriate remark – ‘squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight’? Shame on you, Doctor). And Clara isn’t being used – she’s the one setting the agenda from The Bells of St John onwards. Nowadays the Doctor only takes the best, and Clara is clearly one of the best. (Angie and Artie on the other hand… well, let’s just say that the way Angie reacted to being taken into time and space was an unwelcome flashback to when the Doctor once spent a hell of a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport.)
There are flashbacks aplenty in this half-season, with the Ice Warriors and the Cybermen and the HADS and the voices heard in the TARDIS and a blue crystal from Metebelis 3 and the Time War and – well, there’s probably not room in this article to list everything, and that’s even without the many jaw-dropping moments in The Name of the Doctor. On top of all that, the mix of stories also reflects the past: the present day setting with a threat coming from everyday life, an alien civilisation with an alien religion, the base under siege (not a strictly accurate description, but then it wasn’t a strictly accurate description of all those Troughton stories it usually refers to), a ghost story with a science-fiction explanation, a familiar part of the show suddenly becoming a danger, a black-humoured gothic horror, an old enemy with new powers. Sadly no pure historicals, but then that’s fairly accurately reflecting the majority of the past fifty years too.
But it’s not just reliving past glories (humans, we’re so nostalgic).
The Doctor as conceived of in 1963 was just a selfish old man. Erase him from history and what would happen? Ian and Barbara would get on with their lives, and the Tribe of Gum would probably die in the cold of winter. (Of course, this could have great consequences – you step on a butterfly, you change the future of the human race – but probably not.) But now, the Doctor’s past is erased and entropy increases. The universe collapses.
Back in 1963, the Doctor kidnapped two humans – sacrificing the lives they should have led to safeguard himself. In 2013, a human sacrificed herself a million times over to save the Doctor.
Then the Doctor risked his own life to save hers.
That is how much things have changed.
Clara says: “I’m the Impossible Girl, and my story is done.”
No, Clara. That’s not all you are, and this is not the end. Your destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it.
And incidentally, a happy fiftieth anniversary to all of you at home. Here’s to the next fifty years!
(The 2013 half-season was full of references to past Doctor Who. So is this column! How many quotes – or near-quotes – did you spot?)
1. “Where are my mummy and daddy? They said they wouldn’t be long. Are they coming back?” A chilling moment as the real horror of what happened to Kizlet becomes clear. The Bells of St John.
2. “To you, I haven’t been born yet, and to you I’ve been dead one hundred billion years. Is my body out there somewhere, in the ground?” Clara watches the entire life cycle of Earth and realises the magnitude of time travel. Hide.
3. “Hang on, I’ve got a sonic screwdriver.” “Yeah? I’ve got a chair.” Clara beats the Doctor in the Top Trumps category ‘everyday objects that can be used to foil a villain’s plan’. The Crimson Horror.
4. “Don’t steal that one, steal this one. The navigation system’s knackered, but you’ll have much more fun.” And the adventures begin – the whole of the last fifty years is down to Clara! The Name of the Doctor.