We should warn you right now, we’re very pleased with ourselves this morning.
“Let’s start with the opening several minutes, where Clara is depicted frantically running from one life to another (and giving her “real” life, including her job and relationship, short shrift), until she’s sweaty and exhausted in front of her own mirror, reassuring herself over and over again that things are under control. That she can handle this. Look at those scenes for what they’re really showing; what kind of classic dysfunctional behavior is being depicted here.
Clara is a TARDIS addict.”
Fist pumps all around on the T Lo couch last night! Yes, this is a little braggy, but when you review a show like Doctor Who every week, you’re bound to throw out some theories as to where it’s going or what it’s trying to say. And because Doctor Who is the kind of show that seems designed to frustrate its fans (and Steven Moffatt the kind of showrunner who seems to take great delight in screwing with and/or disappointing said fans), the likelihood of you getting it wrong is very high. And if you’ve written about more than a dozen episodes, then you probably got it wrong many times, which we did. So the fist-pumping is a bit of next-day bragging, but in truth, when Clara used the word “addiction” to describe her relationship with the TARDIS, we blurted out in surprise, “Ohmigod, we got it right!” because we really had no reason to think we did before that moment.
The signs of Clara’s addiction and deeply dysfunctional relationship with the Doctor have been there all season, but the show has never been this subtle about characterization before, let alone this dark. And Moffat, as we’ve noted many times, doesn’t have a good track record of exploring the emotional consequences of his stories. As much as we wanted to be right about this (not for bragging rights, but because it’s a direction for the show that leaves us highly intrigued), we really weren’t sure it was going to shake out that way.
Now granted, this episode tacked an on-the-surface happy ending for these two. Clara claims she just had a “wobble,” and she wants to keep going and the Doctor reacts to the news with pure, impossible-to-hide glee, which was all very charming and heartwarming. But once that word – “addiction” – is put out there, it’s impossible to take back. And let’s bear in mind, that after two straight episodes of Clara being furious with the Doctor for lying to her, she turned around and lied to the Doctor, claiming that Danny told her he was fine with her running off again. The point has been made more than once this season that, like a lot of the best companions, Clara’s picking up some of the Doctor’s traits. Unfortunately, she’s picking up some of the less savory ones.
It’s not just that it’s a lie. It’s a lie told to cover that which Clara and the Doctor both know to be true: she needs to say goodbye, but can’t. The Doctor looked sad but pleased when he heard her say “I love you,” to Danny on the phone. They both know that she’s built up a life that she can’t keep running away from. Remember when the Doctor met her and she was living in someone else’s house raising someone else’s kids and had an empty travel journal with an old leaf in it? Now, she’s got her own home, her own career, and she’s seriously in love. It’s rare to see a companion progress so much in their own life while still being a companion. Actually, scratch that. It’s never happened before. Sure, Amy and Rory got married and got older in their decade+ with the Doctor, but the circumstances of their lives remained mostly the same throughout. Even their house was a gift from the Doctor.
But Clara is being pulled in two different directions because of the two men in her life and she’s going to have to make a choice soon. And let’s also note that one of the men in her life has been pretty okay with her choices, so long as she’s not put in danger and doesn’t lie to him, while the other man in her life rarely gives her a choice and constantly puts her in danger. One of these relationships is good for her and the other one clearly isn’t. There’s always this sense – especially in modern Who – that being with the Doctor is one of the best things to ever happen to a companion. This was very true for Rose, Donna and Amy, whose lives would have been much emptier had they never been whisked away. But with Clara, we’re not so sure hanging around the Doctor has really been to her benefit. She’s become much angrier and more controlling over time, and we’ve seen her learn to lie like a champ without so much as blinking an eye.
And it’s funny, because we actually had a moment of disappointment when she stepped off that TARDIS in flapper gear. Sure, she looked ridiculously good (they’ve had a lot of fun with Clara’s costumes this season, smartly taking advantage of the fact that Jenna looks so amazing in period wear), but we’d hoped she meant it last week when she told him to go far away. Similarly, when it looked like she really did have the strength to leave the TARDIS for good this week, we were disappointed to see her jump back into the fray. What does it tell you when your reaction to a companion that you genuinely like is disappointment that she hasn’t left yet? But enough about her. Let’s talk about the source of her problems.
“So you were pretending to be heartless.”
“Would you like to think that about me? Would that make it easier?”
Sure, the Doctor “pretended” to be heartless. Let’s go with that. Of course, he really did lie to her about the danger on that train and the fact that it wasn’t a random vacation. And he really did force her to look a woman who was about to die in the eye and send her knowingly to her doom. That he saved her later doesn’t negate the terrible thing Clara was asked to do. That Clara had fun doesn’t negate the fact that he lied about the danger.
And look at the vast differences in the Doctor’s affect, depending on Clara’s choices. When she called this trip a last hurrah for the two of them, he immediately shut down and became very cold to her. Worse, he all but stated outright that if you don’t ride in the TARDIS then you don’t get a relationship with the Doctor, the ultimate in emotional withholding as a way of control. When she changed her mind, he lit up like a Christmas tree. Classic pusher behavior.
The question of this season has been about whether the Doctor is a good man or not. Obviously, the show isn’t going to claim that he’s a bad man. The train engineer who declined a companionship saw the Doctor for what he was: a hero who has to make very bad choices all the time. Clara doesn’t appear to want to see it. She knows it, and she’s even mentioned it, but an addict will tell themselves all sorts of lies to get their fix. And an addict will see the truth every time they crash. It’s just a matter of how many times Clara crashes before she sees the truth permanently. He is going to put her in danger and lie to her again and they both know it.
As for the Doctor himself, yes he’s a good man. But he said something that surprised us this episode. When Clara referred to her addiction, the Doctor implied that he had the exact same addiction himself. He’s made his problem her problem as well. He’s not just a pusher. He’s on this ride for good and he keeps seeking out Companions to make it more bearable. It’s “Sid & Nancy on the TARDIS” – and we LOVE that.
[Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, ©BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014]