Monthly Archives: April 2013

Clara Oswin Oswald

I’ve been pretty critical of Clara Oswin Oswald of late, and I figured it was high time to try and articulate my issues with the character. First, as one of my readers very astutely pointed out, often one’s reaction to a new Doctor Who companion is predicated on how one feels about their immediate predecessor. In my case, it’s quite obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed the Doctor’s previous companions, Amy and Rory. That said, I have tried to give Clara the benefit of the doubt, but I find that as the episodes progress, this is harder to do.

First, I should say that I adore Jenna Louise-Coleman’s characterization of Clara in all of her incarnations. She is charming, quirky and plucky, which are all the necessary ingredients for a good companion. I love her personality, but I am having difficulty with her storyline.

The first problem is how the character was introduced. We have been effectively given three introductions to Clara; first as Oswin, then as Victorian Clara, and finally as the modern Clara. Of the three introduction stories, the first was the strongest, while the last was undoubtedly the weakest. This is not only in terms of the actual episodes, but of the characterization of Clara. When first introduced, Oswin is by her own words, a “screaming genius and a tad bit sexy”, and the way she goes about her day while marooned on the Dalek prison planet makes you want to root for her from the beginning. Victorian Clara’s investigative skills are at the forefront in her episode, and the scene where she follows the Doctor up the ladder to the TARDIS was nothing short of enchanting.

Unfortunately, Modern Clara is not featured in the best light when the Doctor finally finds her. She is initially confused by a simple thing like the internet, and she is placed in a reactionary role. Rather than initiating the adventure, she reacts to a situation that is thrown upon her. She displays none of Oswin’s cleverness until her mind is enhanced by the Great Intelligence, and takes none of the initiative that Victorian Clara displays. This version of Clara is a character who is thus far someone whom things happen to, rather than someone who gets things done.

This is a major difference from most of the modern-era companions. In her debut, Rose is the character who rescues the situation by saving the Doctor from the Autons. Jack proves himself as a man of action from the beginning, and even Martha saves the Doctor from asphyxiating in her first adventure. Amy’s courage is proven both in her scenes as a young girl and an adult, and she also resolves the situation in her second adventure, “The Beast Below”. Mickey, Donna and Rory all start out as reactionary characters who, like Clara, appear to be simply reacting to the adventures around them, but each eventually proves their worth through individual heroics. The current version of Clara has yet to take the kind of heroic action that made us understand why the Doctor chose his companions. Every one of her predecessors proved that they could be a hero in their own right, but Clara has yet to show her mettle in a convincing fashion.

The interesting thing is that her previous incarnations both demonstrated the kind of characteristics that one would expect from a companion. Oswin’s bravery is self-evident, and she saves the Doctor by deleting his identity from the Dalek mainframe. Victorian Clara passes the tests that Madame Vastra and the Doctor have set up, and shows her determination by following the reclusive Time Lord even after he tries to shake her. While it can be argued that all three versions are supposed to be the same character, this particular version of Clara has yet to earn her stripes. Her back story has none of the frustrated longing of Rose, Donna and Amy, nor does she appear to be growing in the manner of Mickey or Rory. She is, thus far, a passenger and an observer, and even when she has helped, it has mostly been a follow-on to what the Doctor has already done. Her sacrifice of the leaf in “The Rings of Akhaten” simply puts the last nail in the coffin; she does not think of a solution, but is simply following the Doctor’s lead. Ditto her assistance in “Cold War”. Her reliance upon the Doctor in her initial confrontation with the Ice Warrior smacks of dependency, and her final words at the climax are again merely a follow-up to what the Doctor has already done.

Personally, it will be very difficult for me to like Clara, despite her charming personality, until she earns her stripes. Until she demonstrates some independent characteristics, challenges the Doctor or even outright disagrees with him, she will come off as weaker than her predecessors. Hopefully her time will come, but until it does, she will not have proven that she deserves to be in the category of “those magnificent companions”.

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Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: The Rings of of Akhaten

We begin with the Doctor doing some time-stalking of his latest protegee. He visits Clara’s past and surreptitiously observes bits of her life. To all intents and purposes, she seems normal to him, which he finds frustrating. But sharp-eyed viewers will notice some interesting clues about Clara’s origin…things like dates on tombstones, birth dates, and other more subtle references which I will reserve for another thread.

At any rate, the Doctor returns to pick up Clara for her first adventure and takes her to the titular location: the rings of Akhaten. Apparently the Doctor has been here before with his granddaughter (clue) and seems to like the place. In a scene vaguely reminiscent of “The Beast Below”, Clara encounters a child in distress and elects to help her. Clara comforts her by relating how she faced her greatest fear, and how her mother comforted her with a speech reminiscent of Amy’s speech about Rory in “A Good Man Goes to War”.

Did I mention that the girl was dressed in an outfit vaguely similar to the seers in “The Fires of Pompeii”? Either these little touches are deliberate, or the writing crew is getting soft. As the story progresses we are faced with a gas giant planet that feeds on memories, we get an epic speech by the Doctor that is vaguely reminiscent of, oh, an epic speech by the Doctor, and there’s a lot of singing.

In the end, “Rings” is yet another reasonably tolerable episode that does its best to try to be more than what it is. The problems with Jenna Louise-Coleman’s Clara continue. As I said before, I do like Ms. Coleman immensely, but her character has yet to bring the emotional weight that her predecessors did. With Rose, we got a character whose frustrations with her lot in life were palpable. Donna’s life was similarly empty for different reasons, as was Amy’s. Clara’s plight is similar to that of Martha Jones. Both characters were played by good actresses, but both were replacements for beloved companions and struggled under the weight of that prejudice. Martha at least benefited from some good scripts, but Coleman has yet to find her niche.

The problem is that we don’t really care about Clara yet. Her backstory is very pedestrian and lacks the kind of impact that previous companions enjoyed. The only thing that’s interesting about Clara is the mystery that surrounds her, which has nothing to do with her personal character. In the end, this has probably been the most disappointing companion launch in the revived series.

That said, “Rings” does provide us with another epic speech, ably delivered by Matt Smith, but it seems somewhat overwrought and forced. Previous speeches by the Eleventh Doctor were set up to be the culmination of major plot points. In this case, it just sort of happens, and as much as we care about the Doctor, it doesn’t have as large an emotional payoff as it should.

“The Rings of Akhaten” gets Three Acorns out of Five.


Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: Doctor Who “The Bells of St. John”

With the return of Doctor Who we are finally gifted with the first regular episode for new companion Clara Oswald. Well, technically, it’s the third time we’ve been introduced to her, but why bother to count? This time Clara is a live-in nanny for a typical London family. She is quickly entangled with the Doctor over a threat carried over wi-fi. It seems if you accidentally click on some squiggly lines when trying to log in, you will be captured and ultimately fed to the Great Intelligence.

This episode, while fun, is wracked with problematic elements. The chief of which is the main threat: a monster that will eat you if you click on the wrong wi-fi connection. Put simply, you have to be pretty darned stupid to click on a bunch of unknown squiggly lines that pops up on your computer, and a monster that feeds on stupid people is not what I would call threatening (since I am a total screaming genius…see what I did there?). There’s nothing less scary than a monster that is easily avoided.
Which brings us to another problem: Clara Oswald. We have been introduced to her twice before, and unfortunately the third time is the dullest. This version of Clara is sadly, not that interesting. Her back story is that of a girl who lost her mother at a young age. Her personal story is not as intriguing as the souffle girl who tried to fight the Daleks for a year, or the mysterious governess who doubled as a serving wench when it suited her purposes. Jenna Louise Coleman is a fine actress and she embraces her role with gusto, but she is not given much to work with except for the usual companion functions of asking questions and getting into trouble.

The primary difficulty with Clara is that we’ve already seen her meet the Doctor twice before, and both of those times carried more emotional impact and set up a more interesting character. Oswin’s cheerfulness in the face of danger and Victorian Clara’s fairytale climb up the ladder to the TARDIS were far more compelling than anything we saw in this episode. Couple this with a very non-scary villain and you have an episode which at best is a below-average but mildly fun adventure story. I truly hope that Clara’s story will turn out to be more intriguing than its start. Certainly Ms. Coleman deserves better.

 

“The Bells of St. John” gets Two and a Half Acorns out of Five!