What’s gone wrong with Doctor Who?

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Now, before we get into it I must declare my allegiances. I never liked Ecclestone’s portrayal of the Doctor. He was too moody, inconsistent, and weirdly clownish for me. He did get a few good stories in his short tenure though, and I always enjoyed his ‘every planet has a North’ line.

Tennant. Now, I’ll get some heat for this. He wasn’t really my favourite either. I should clarify this. He himself was good – engaging, funny, and passionate – but I think the writing often painted him into a corner where he needed to gurn, shout, and use his sonic screwdriver to solve all the world’s ills. That being said, he had many good episodes – Midnight being an excellent example – and was fantastic in the recent Day of the Doctor.

I’d almost given up on the series when I saw it announced that the next incumbent would be the youngest ever. Thoughts of a time travelling curb crawler, picking up women in his magic box, filled me with dread. After all, I’d grown up watching Tom Baker, who was essentially the mad uncle that seemed completely disinterested in a relationship with his companions, and instead preferred the simple pleasures of quantum mathematics and fine knitting products. How else could he have travelled with Lousie Jameson, barely adorned as she was in her skimpy outfit, for so long without causing an interstellar incident?

It came as a remarkable pleasure then when Matt Smith donned his bow-tie and immediately became one of my most favourite TV characters in a very, very long time. It was quite something to see an actor ‘get’ the character so completely. The mischievous fervour of Baker, the cantankerous nature of Troughton, and a sprinkle of wide-eyed with wonder, little boy on top. He was simply marvellous. Match this with the exemplary writing and story arc of season seven (the one with the Astronaut killing the Doctor) and it was a perfect (oncoming) storm of televisual finery.

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There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in our household then, when he announced shortly after that he’d be hanging up his Fez. Days passed, rumours arose, but finally the truth was revealed.

Peter Capaldi.

And I was fine with that. He’s a good actor, older, and would take things in a new direction. Solid choice.

So, the series started, Capaldi shone, and Clara (after pretty much failing to cope with the wondrous presence that was Matt Smith) finally began to make sense. She didn’t bounce along like she was in a pantomime any more, but instead struck up a good chemistry with Capaldi’s stern and sarcastic character. Things were looking up.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in Doctor Who

But now, with over half the series gone, I’m feeling very disappointed, and even worried where all this is going. The writing has seemed clumsy through most of the adventures, and while some of the ideas have been really interesting and inventive, I’m left feeling unfulfilled by nearly every episode. It’s been hard to boil it down, but I think the last few episodes have made it clearer. It’s Clara. Or more precisely. Her choice of men.

Danny Pink.

Well, he’s a whole bunch of fun isn’t he?

It’s a fairly common trope in New Who that the male companions are somewhat emasculated. Mickey was completely useless, and Rory started off as the hapless nice guy, although did transition very well into an unconventional hero. So I can understand the desire to make the next male figure more powerful, and move away from the bumbling comic relief.

But Danny Pink isn’t it.

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He’s ex-army, as he tells us with unceasing monotony, but left with a huge chip on his shoulder, one that has grown into a full bodied bag of potatoes since he became a secondary school teacher. He has trouble talking to women, and becomes aggressive when his military past is brought up – even though he mentions it all the time himself. So of course Clara immediately fell for this prime catch. Admittedly, he’s a good looking fella, and they do have some moments together, but from the first date – which is a spiteful, argumentative mess, and actually ends up with Clara visiting him, via the TARDIS, as a boy in a children’s home – the relationship just feels false. And this has real implications for the audience, or at least this singular viewer, in how we perceive Ms Oswald.

Capaldi was quite specific when taking on the role, that his Doctor should not have romantic dalliances with his companions. Laudable. After all, I’ve heard people online complain that the women who travel with the Doctor are nothing more than a slightly updated model from the typical 1960 & 1970s sci-fi heroines that screamed a lot and wanted to be saved by the dashing hero that they secretly wanted to marry. Moving away from this would be good. But, well, they already did that with Amy Pond, Rose, and even Donna – although she did shout and cry an awful lot.

The problem with Clara is that she feels like the opposite. She plays at being dependent and tough, but underneath…well, she’s not quite the real deal.

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The most recent episode as I write this was Kill The Moon, and at it’s core was about the relationship between Clara (or really humanity at large) and the Doctor. The moon is tearing apart, as it’s actually an egg, and what’s inside it could either destroy the Earth or leave it alone and fly off into space. Clara, one of her school pupils, and the last astronaut from Earth have to decide whether to detonate nuclear bombs they have with them – thus killing the creature and ending the threat to their home planet – or let it hatch and take their chances. To add some pathos the Doctor announces that the creature is possibly the only one of it’s kind in the universe, then promptly leaves in his TARDIS after telling the humans that need to work this one out for themselves, as the future of their species is at stake.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I’m sure you can piece it together for yourselves. Once the adventure is over Clara confronts the Doctor, calling him patronising and essentially mean. She slaps him, tells him he can get lost, them storms out of the TARDIS. I like that she fought back against him, and Jenna Colman played the scene very well, infusing the right amount of frustration, anger, and betrayal into the lines.

The thing is, and it’s an interesting development in the new Doctor’s character arc, that he was right to stand back and let the civilisation choose for itself. Earth wasn’t really in danger as such, not physically, but their actions would determine the future path for the species – be amazed by the beauty in the universe and thus seek to join it, or destroy that which frightens them and hide away. So he was correct to let them work it out for themselves. He didn’t need to save them from an imminent danger that would destroy or enslave them (as he has done many times in the past), instead he trusted that his favourite species in the universe would get it right – after all, that’s why he likes us so much.

This story was about elevating her to more of an equal with the Doctor – giving her a situation she could resolve without his help, but that had tremendous consequences. He even says to her that this is where the training wheels come off. This trust in her is in contrast to Danny Pink’s observations in another recent episode where he told Clara that essentially she would just run into danger, and not be afraid, if the Dr told her to. His underlying criticism being that she stopped thinking when the Dr gave her something to do, and thus didn’t realise the danger he was pushing her in to.

In the end Clara makes the final decision about the Moon, aided by a message from Earth, and she literally gets to be the one who saves the human race, and as such become like the Doctor. It’s sad then that she immediately hates him for it, or rather for being the one who had to choose. It suggests that that she doesn’t want to be on his level. Instead she just wants to run around when told, and be saved at the end – like so many other companions over the years.

I think she could be so much more.

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Unlike Amy Pond, who had the rather brilliant Rory at her side, Clara has to turn to Danny Pink as her confidant, and this is where she is let down the most. Pink is a really dull, moody, and over simplistic man. The real difference for me is that after seeing the Doctor for about five minutes he declare that he ‘knows’ men like him. He saw them in the army. It’s ludicrous. He’s equating a thousand year old time lord who has saved numerous entire civilisations across the whole galaxy, with some officer who rubbed him up the wrong way once. As we know so little about his time in the army, and watched his obnoxious and self obsessed behaviour on their first date, how do we know that it isn’t him that’s the problem? In very stark contrast to this, when Rory is on his first adventure with the Doctor and Amy, he confronts Matt Smith with the line (I’m paraphrasing) ‘You make people want to impress you, and that makes you dangerous!’. So instead of pretending that in his short and rather closeted existence he’s managed to work out the Doctor’s complicated character, he instead points out the effect that the Doctor has on people that he does know. This makes him wise rather than angry and pouting. Now, Danny does this too, as I’ve mentioned above, but his insistence that he ‘gets’ the Doctor is too arrogant to be taken seriously, and makes his deductions feel cheapened.

The problem is that as Clara chooses this man, she aligns herself with a character who is very hard to like, and makes you question her judgement. Sure, she’s a young lady looking for a chap to share her life with, and certainly the Doctor won’t fill that role. But, after seeing so many amazing things in the universe, tasting of the wonders and width that life has to offer, it’s just baffling that she’d settle down with this grumpy, small minded man who doesn’t even want to sample the adventures the TARDIS presents. How? How?

It’s a distance from Amy Pond, who grew into such an interesting character – just watch the Girl Who Waited to see the depths they explored – and I think her choice of partner was crucial in this development. Jenna Colman has announced her departure from the role at the end of this series and the writers have made her relationship with Pink central to this slow exit. It seems that Ms Clara Oswald is destined to be a missed opportunity, and that’s a real shame.

Such an impossible girl.

Do you agree? Or am I being too hard on Clara, Danny, or the show itself? Let me know in the comments below.