The Doctor lost a companion last week, but not everyone is thrilled about Clara Oswald’s fate.
Clara Oswald’s fate was tied to that of The Doctor ever since her first appearance, even though it was a few episodes before she actually joined him as his traveling companion. She actually became a part of The Doctor’s timestream, meaning that she was present in every part of his centuries-spanning life even if he wasn’t aware of her influence. During last week’s “Face the Raven,” however, Clara’s time came to an end.
Clara’s death served two purposes in the show: it allowed actress Jenna Coleman to leave the show (which had originally been planned at last year’s Christmas special before she extended her contract) and it set up The Doctor for the final two episodes of the current season. It’s not Clara Oswald’s fate that has some fans upset, however… it’s the manner in which it played out.
Examining Clara Oswald’s Fate
Though The Doctor has had a lot of companions, very few of them have actually died as a result of their adventures on the TARDIS. Including Clara Oswald, only eight companions have actually died during their adventures (though this also includes River Song, who came back as a recurring character in later seasons, and K-9 Mk. III, whose memory and personality was downloaded into K-9 Mk. IV.)
Even though companion deaths are rare, Clara Oswald’s fate wasn’t unheard of in Doctor Who. In this case, however, it was heavily implied that the Quantum Shade that killed her did so by actually devouring her soul. This, combined with the dramatic visuals that accompanied the death, has some viewers complaining that it was too intense of an event to show during prime time.
The Doctor and the Darkness
This isn’t the first time that Doctor Who has gone a bit dark. Clara Oswald’s late boyfriend Danny Pink was killed in the series and was alter discovered to still have his consciousness trapped in his dead body (thanks to a sinister plot by some of The Doctor’s enemies.) That storyline received a number of complaints due to traumatic suggestions, such as consciousness being maintained through autopsies and even cremation. Other dark moments included The Doctor’s punishment of the Family of Blood, the suicide of a hero The Doctor rescued from a fixed point in time in “The Waters of Mars,” and the torture of Commander Lytton by the Cybermen in the classic series.
While Doctor Who is generally a family friendly show, it has never really shied away from dark moments and themes. Companion deaths aren’t common, but there is a precedent in Classic Who. Even in the new series, few of the companions have had truly “happy” endings; the main exception is Martha Jones, who simply decided that she was done traveling with The Doctor and went off to build a name for herself with Torchwood.
Was Clara Oswald’s Fate Too Much?
While Clara Oswald’s fate took some by surprise, it’s definitely not the darkest point that Doctor Who has ever reached. Her death wasn’t gory or visibly traumatic, and younger viewers may not appreciate the implications of the creature that killed her being “promised a soul” so they aren’t likely to be traumatized by that idea. The concept is also less traumatic than what was suggested after Danny Pink’s death, especially the famous “three words” of the 3W Institutes: “Don’t cremate me.”
While it’s not the happy ending for the character that many fans likely wanted, Clara’s death did fit in with her character progression that saw her being more and more like The Doctor. Unfortunately, it showed that she lacked The Doctor’s larger perspective and didn’t have the knowledge necessary to know when “clever” plans wouldn’t end well. She also had to learn the one unfortunate truth that all companions learn with time… The Doctor isn’t infallible after all.
Setting Up the Future
Previous seasons of Doctor Who have varied in length, sometimes using split seasons and typically containing 13 episodes. The current season only has 12 episodes, however, and the final two episodes are written by series showrunner Steven Moffat. This suggests that the final two episodes will wrap up the dangling threads left after Clara’s death, and may even feature Clara herself, as Coleman has filmed at least one scene in a diner that hasn’t appeared in any episode to date.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see a new companion before the next season, not counting the companion that will appear in this year’s Christmas special. It will be the first time that we’ve really seen the 12th Doctor on his own, and these final two episodes will determine whether that makes him more dangerous or not. It’s been shown in the past that The Doctor doesn’t do well when he’s alone for too long, and the tragedy of Clara Oswald’s fate might fuel his search for Gallifrey as he seeks some form of kinship with his lost people.