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”.