The universe of Doctor who is filled with believers. What people believe in isn’t always clear, but the power of belief is never questioned.
Long ago, there was an episode called “The Satan Pit,” where the Doctor was endlessly asked what he believed in. He didn’t believe in God. Rules weren’t a very good belief because they could be broken so easily: not for nothing is it called wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. The tenth Doctor, pushed to the brink in a crisis of faith, decided that he believed in Rose. He believed in the bond they had formed, in its power, and that gave him strength. He believed she would still be there, even if he wasn’t.
It’s been a long time since then. In the last episode that dealt with belief, the Doctor’s beliefs were never revealed. What did become clear was the degree to which the Doctor’s companions believe in him.
Amy’s faith in that episode was in the Doctor. It was a childish faith, a blind trust—like believing in Santa Claus. But Amy’s faith was of a different kind than the one in the Satan Pit, because it didn’t make her strong, and it didn’t make her brave. It made her vulnerable: it made her dependent on the Doctor to save her.
Once faith was something the Doctor had, something that made him whole. Now faith was something Amy, a Companion had, and it tore her apart. Her struggle between her faith in and love for the Doctor and her love for Rory defined her character.
It began to seem as if faith in the Doctor was something Companions had to possess. River’s faith in her Doctor is absolute, to the point where she casually jumps out of airlocks and off skyscrapers. When she was young, she destroyed the universe to prove her love—or, put another way, to prove her faith that the Doctor could put it all right.
These depictions of faith are harmful to all the people involved. Amy and River’s characters both suffered as a result, reduced to their relationship with the Doctor and a few individual traits. The Doctor’s faith in his companions, his need to have them with him, vanished from the plot. How else could he so comfortably rocket alone around space and time for centuries, when that very thing almost completely unhinged Ten’s sense of himself? Ten needed to have faith in people: Eleven needs people to have faith in him.
But not anymore. Something is different with Clara. Clara doesn’t believe the Doctor will save the day out of faith: she thinks he is a kind man. She doesn’t dream about him, a man she knows almost nothing about: she makes up a story.
Once again, the Doctor has faith in his companion. He runs off at the end of the Christmas special to find Clara, out of his belief that she is somewhere out there to find. He believes that he can find her, and he can save her. She’s a person he both understands completely, her personality resonating perfectly with her own, and a complete mystery, her capabilities and potential beyond his wildest dreams.
Maybe, finally, Clara Oswin Oswald is someone the Doctor can believe in.