Breaking Down the Prequel to “The Name of the Doctor”
Why did Clara decide to travel with the Doctor. Other companions had a careful backstory and reasoning behind their decision to run away with the Doctor. They had a family they wanted to get away from, a life they weren’t ready for or didn’t want to live.
Clara hasn’t been like that. She wanted to travel because she had itchy feet, not because she wanted to escape anything. She wasn’t convinced to travel with the Doctor because of fear or wanderlust: she did it for him. Remember how she laughed at his normal line in “Bells of St. John?” And she followed the Doctor to the TARDIS in The Snowmen. When it finally came down to it, she didn’t agree to “travel” with the Doctor. She agreed to “Come away with him.”
That’s what she means by “best of all, he really needs you.” Because the Doctor did need her, quite badly.
For Clara, the trick was not to fall in love. What does it mean when she says she does that trick quite a lot? She, just like the Doctor, means the opposite of what she says. She means she’s fallen for him. Let’s face it: haven’t we all?
Look at Clara’s choice to come in the TARDIS from the Doctor’s perspective. He meets a girl he can’t save. That’s what the Doctor’s all about: saving people. But she dies, twice, and then comes back without any interference from him. That’s not how this narrative is supposed to run. The Doctor saves his companion’s life, and then invites them to run off with him. They don’t save him, they don’t follow him around and find the TARDIS after he tried to ditch them. The Doctor’s familiar narrative has been inverted.
“She’s too perfect.” In a lot of ways, Clara has come across as a model companion. Her writing has often leaned a little close to “generic companion.” A lot of the stories she’s been involved in could have taken place with another companion. There’s a lot of truth in this: Clara’s backstory is a mystery she knows nothing about (yet), and I wish the writers had filled it in more. But as far as “too perfect” goes, I think this is a case of “the eyeballs of love.” Of course she’s perfect to you, you twit: you’re in love with her! That doesn’t make her perfect, that makes you more human than you’d like.
So, what do we have here? We have too people really obviously in love with each other. And what separates them? Questions. The same questions. They’re asking each other the same questions: who are you? What’s your secret? There’s a level of reciprocity in this relationship that the Doctor’s never had to deal with before.
Not being able to find out the answers, they’ve both had to get used to not knowing. The Doctor, hater of ignorance and the most brilliant being in the galaxy, got used to not knowing.
This is a feminist blog: let’s examine this from a feminist perspective. If anyone sees a flaw in this analysis of mine, feel free to crucify me in the comments.
“One day you meet the doctor.” So far so bad. Clara starts out talking about him, not about herself. Like her life began when she met him. This would be bad, if theDoctor wasn’t speaking in the exact same way: “From the beginning she was impossible.” And notice Clara isn’t talking about the day the Doctor saved her, or the day he asked her to run away with him. She’s talking about the day her life changed, not the day he changed her life. Does that difference make sense?
“Best of all, he really needs you. The trick is: don’t fall in love. I do that trick quite a lot, sometimes twice a day.” This statement is about power. Why is the trick “to not fall in love?” Because as long as she doesn’t fall in love with him–or at least, she doesn’t let herself realize that she’s fallen in love–she’s not carried away. He really needs her, but as long as she doesn’t need him, she won’t have to surrender any agency to him. Clara is the boss: she makes the decisions about their relationship. And if you ask me, she’s the one who made the decision about being impossible.
The Doctor once told Amy that he brought her with him “because I wanted to be adored.” The phrasing was full of self-hatred, but the sentiment was that the Doctor loves being loved, being needed. But now that paradigm’s been reversed on him: Clara is traveling with him because “he really needs her,” because he adores her.
Clara’s questions. All companions ask those questions. Some of them never get clear answers: remember how freaked out Rose was when Nine regenerated without even warning her? The Doctor parcels out information, tries to keep it hidden, keep it buried. He wants to live in the present with his companions. He avoids the truth, and when it comes up and bites him like in “Silence in the Library,” it’s an enormous shock.
Maybe because Clara’s impossible, she’s the one who’s going to get those answers, The answers no one ever gets. She’s going to get the knowledge about him, the power over him, that he bases all his relationships around hiding and protecting.
Sometimes people try to claim “All women who make choices are feminist.” This isn’t true. Choice does not equal feminist. So, we can’t say that Clara’s feminist because of that.
But we can say that Clara’s a feminist character because of the construction of her relationship with the Doctor. In their relationship, she’s the one with the power. She may not be able to fly the TARDIS, but the Doctor flies it wherever she wants it to go. She’s the one who can keep herself from falling in love—or at least, the one who sees clearly enough to understand the risk of falling in love.
Admittedly, in some ways,she is defining herself through her relationship with the Doctor. But isn’t that part—not all, but part—of what love is?
Now, let’s speculate. Say Clara dies, again, in the finale. And she dies because she wants the Doctor to live. This decision wouldn’t be feminist just because it’s a choice. But it is feminist if Clara makes that choice out of her sense of self. Rose was willing to offer her life in exchange for the Doctor’s because she could save him, and if she could, she wanted to. If Clara makes the decision to kill herself in order to save the Doctor, if she was born to save the Doctor…then whether this is bullshit or whether this is a real, a believable decision depends on Clara’s sense of self.
On to the Doctor. “We’re running together. And she’s perfect.” Among viewers, there’s been a lot of complaints that Clara is one-dimensional in exactly the way that he is talking about: she’s a generic perfect companion. But the thing is, she could only be generic if she was an empty shell of a character, a character without individual traits or a backstory. And it’s not that she doesn’t have a backstory, it’s just that the backstory hasn’t been filled in yet.
The Doctor started running with her not when he saved her life, as usual, but when she saved him. He didn’t tell her to run: she told him. The Doctor’s been on the wrong foot through their entire relationship. She’s the only mystery worth solving: she’s the only person in the universe who can still surprise him.
But by saying she’s perfect, the Doctor’s put her on a pedestal. She’s not really a person if she’s perfect. That could be what he means by her being “too perfect.”
But I don’t think that’s what he means. He means she’s perfect in the same way that Clara means he’s brilliant. He’s really obviously in love with her.
And because of this, for the first time in over a millennium, he stopped asking questions about her. Usually the questions in the Doctor’s relationship are being directed at him, but now he’s the one who’s gotten used to not knowing.
The Doctor’s concealment of his backstory and his secrets has created some really uneven, unequal relationships in the past. The Doctor’s dominance has been unquestioned because he’s Mr. Clever, he’s got all the answers. But he didn’t have the answers this time. He won’t get answers until she gets answers. For the first time in his life, he got used to not knowing, got used to having less power over her than she had over him.
What I think the relationship between Clara and the Doctor is, as exemplified by this video, is a deconstruction of relationships in general, especially between the Doctor and his Companion. Who is the boss? How? What do companions normally feel for the Doctor? How does he relate to them? What are we willing to get used to for love?
Respectfully disagree? Think I”m just wrong? Argue with me! I can take it!
Other Clara-related posts:
- Clara Oswald
- Clara Oswin Oswald
- doctor who
- doctor who season 7
- doctor who series seven
- feminist clara
- feminist doctor who
- he said she said
- name of the doctor
- name of the doctor prequel
- steven moffat
- the doctor
- the doctor and clara
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