A few days ago, my friend and author Kat Heckenbach made this observation on Facebook:
Realizing, as I watch Doctor Who Season 7, that Clara Oswald is not lacking anything. She is really awesome. BUT. There was no mourning time for the Ponds. That is why the transition didn’t work. For some reason, the move from Rose to Martha to Donna to Amy/Rory…it all felt like it was going in the same direction. But going anywhere away from Amy and Rory…there just needs to be time to mourn, and we weren’t given any.
Being a Doctor Who fan who actually remembers and watched Classic Who when it was still new, I am of the opinion that #11 (Matt Smith) actually embodies Classic Who the best of the modern Doctors, that Moffat’s writing for #11 is more true to the Classic Who methodology, and that Amy and Rory were more typical of Classic Who companions. I know not everyone agrees with me in this, but that’s not really the point of this blog. I bring up those opinions because the transition from the Ponds to Clara and saying goodbye to #11 was a big deal to me.
So as I was considering what Kat said and the subsequent replies, which covered things like having to say goodbye to the Ponds too many times and Moffat’s split loyalties in writing between Who and Sherlock, and a great joke which I’ll include at the end, I realized that, even though I too felt something odd about the transition from the Ponds to Clara and a weird misstep in Eleven’s goodbye, Moffat really did get it right.
So let me explain. Or rather, let me let River Song explain:
“He doesn’t like endings.”
A core personality trait of #11 is that he cannot let go of things he cares about and he has trouble facing his own emotions. We’re given hints about this throughout Amy & Rory’s time on the show, coming to a climax in the Angels Take Manhattan. And this is why time and time again, the audience is trying to say goodbye to the Ponds but is not allowed to because the Doctor is trying to say goodbye and won’t allow himself to.
So when Clara comes onto the scene, we’re not given sufficient time to mourn Amy & Rory. Why? Because the Doctor isn’t allowing himself to mourn. He withdraws into himself, ignoring everything around him, changing the TARDIS console room, changing his clothes, but never really letting himself say goodbye. Clara is a distraction, a quest, something to do other than sit around and avoid his emotions.
And Moffat geniously gives the audience continued hints about this. The Doctor cannot say goodbye to the Ponds…he won’t let them go. He subconsciously puts on a bow tie and very emotionally looks in the mirror, makes an adjustment, and says “it’s cool.” He won’t walk by a fez without picking it up and putting it on. He suddenly starts wearing glasses all the time…and how quickly the audience forgets that they are AMY’S GLASSES.
It’s not just the Ponds, but with River too. He retrofitted/repaired his old screwdriver to give to her before going to the library, and then he added the same red setting to his new screwdriver. He never talks about her to Clara…her or the Ponds…but he says he can always see River and always hear her.
That’s why the Moment calls him “the man who forgets.” He forgets because it’s easier than dealing with it. The Name of the Doctor, the Time of the Doctor, and the Day of the Doctor all have an underlying theme of forcing the Doctor to deal with things he doesn’t want to face. He has to let go of River. He has to let go of his guilt. He has to let go of his own fear of mortality. And finally he has to let go of Amy.
Meanwhile, his solitary goal with Clara was always to never have to say goodbye again. His mission was always to save her, even until the very end when he did everything he possibly could to return her home. He wanted to succeed with Clara where he failed with Amy.
The last half of series 7 was not really about Clara, but about letting go of everything else…most importantly, letting go of Amy. We never really said goodbye because HE never really said goodbye.
That’s why it’s SO very significant that the Doctor monologued about never forgetting who he was, that he took off and let go of the bow tie, and that he faced the memory of Amy one last time. Then as he turns back to Clara, there’s this look of peace on his face.
Moffat hasn’t gotten enough credit for what he’s done to develop this character and he’s not getting enough credit for how he wrote the farewell THROUGHOUT the last half of series 7. But I now believe that we said goodbye to Eleven in the perfect and only way we could with Eleven’s personality. His last episode was all about saving people, refusing to say goodbye to them, refusing to say goodbye to his chance of bringing his own people back, and refusing to say goodbye to Clara, just as he had refused to say goodbye to Amy, Rory, and River. But in the end he had to say goodbye to everything and move on.
Poor Clara…having to live in the shadow of memories the Doctor couldn’t let go. Much like Martha. But unlike Martha, Clara gets to be the first in a new Doctor’s life. I think we’ll see a dynamic relationship grow between Clara and 12/13, much like we did with Ten and Rose.
And now for that joke (courtesy of Geoff Andrews).
Rory Williams, Captain Jack Harkness, and Clara Oswald walk into a bar. The bar collapses and all inside are killed. Captain Jack walks out of the bar, Clara walks into a different bar, and Rory wakes up in a Roman pub.