Last year, Doctor Who ended the first half of its seventh series with a rousing send-off to two of the show’s longtime characters Amy and Rory. The first half of the series had been well received and featured some surprises such as an appearance by next companion Clara Oswald. Played by Jenna Louise Coleman, Clara’s character (revealed in the series opener “Asylum of the Daleks”) had an enjoyably lively personality with showrunner Steven Moffat’s quick-witted writing to back her up. After seeing this presentation of the new companion, I immediately yearned for more. She played off of Matt Smith’s Doctor quite well and seemed like a perfect fit for the show. Her second appearance in the “The Snowmen” Christmas special only served to strengthen my enthusiasm for the second half of the series, making me look forward to learning more about her and how she would travel with the Doctor full time. However, as I write this article in the week preceding the series 7 finale, I’m struck with disappointment in how the show has been handled as of late.
You see, Clara’s character was introduced to us in a very peculiar way. In both “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen,” she died, and not the “if there isn’t a body then she’s not dead” kind of death either. Her character died in both episodes but somehow kept showing up in the Doctor’s life again and again. This was the mystery the show presented to us in Clara: who is this strange girl? How is she still alive after dying twice? Why does she keep showing up in the Doctor’s life? We’ve almost come to the end of the season, and we still don’t know the answers to these questions, but that’s not why I’m disappointed. Answers aren’t always everything, and the journey characters take can be just as important as the reveal of a big mystery.
Since Clara’s first two appearances showed such promise, I was extremely excited about the second half of the series starting this spring. The first episode, “The Bells of St. John,” was a fun enough jaunt of an episode written by Steven Moffat, who was doing his very best James Bond writing. We were presented with Clara again, and she was still the same clever, lovable girl that we’d met twice before, but something was missing. Her character wasn’t quite as quick with a comeback and was a little bit less inclined to give the Doctor a quippy nickname. But again, that’s not why I’m disappointed. The episode was fun enough, and I had a good time watching it despite its corny use of wireless networks and technology as an enemy.
You can blame my current state of disappointment on the episodes that aired after Moffat’s premiere. The majority of the episodes that have aired so far this season, from “Hide” to “The Crimson Horror,” have all had something missing: a companion. The exclusion of this core aspect of the show has left the second half of series 7 wanting. Since “The Bells of St. John,” not one writer has been able to give any real personality or voice to Clara’s character, even in an episode like “The Rings of Akhaten” that began with a scene exploring her backstory. During Amy and Rory’s tenure on the show, every character seemed to be unique and human in a way that sometimes only Doctor Who could capture, but recent episodes have struggled with this. These episodes have largely had to prop themselves up on side characters such as the professor in “Cold War” or the team of brothers in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” While I love a good, memorable one-off character, it’s just not the same as a strong central character supporting Matt Smith’s antics as the Doctor. The only episode that has been able to pull this off so far has been Neil Gaiman’s “Nightmare in Silver,” which greatly benefited from the novelist’s love of the show’s history and his ability to quickly generate viewer investment in new characters.
So what’s going on? Why is Clara, a character that was originally engaging and displaying good chemistry with the Doctor, such a boring figure when she finally joins us for regular adventures? Why is the Doctor constantly disappearing in the middle of episodes, content to leave the “only mystery worth solving” alone in the most dangerous situations? I’m not sure, but I still have some hope. We have yet to see what Steven Moffat has planned for us in the series 7 finale titled “The Name of the Doctor” and the 50th Anniversary Special later this year. Who knows? The writing of the last five or so episodes could be stunted on purpose, setting us up for something big that may be coming down the pipeline. Maybe we’ll face a startling revelation in the series finale that will cause us to view the whole second half of series 7 in a brand new light. Knowing the antics that Doctor Who‘s story has gotten into in the past, especially with some of the elements laced throughout series 5, it’s not too hard to imagine that we’re being set up for something big.
But would that make it worth it? We’ve had a pretty mediocre half series so far, and the general consensus seems to be that the quality of Doctor Who has taken a sudden and drastic downturn. I’m not sure if Moffat is setting us up for a big reveal or if he’s just too busy with his other show Sherlock. Whatever the reason, the current story could have been handled far better and needs to see a sharp uptick soon if it hopes to keep this fan’s interest burning bright.