Saturday, January 3, 2015

Doctor Who: Longtime Companion

Last week saw confirmation that Jenna Coleman would be around for Series 9 of Doctor Who. This was information that was so closely guarded that apparently even Steven Moffat didn't know for sure. 

Now this is good news for us Whovians who like Clara Oswald and think Jenna Coleman is as cute as all get out and no, those skirts are not too short, thank you very much. That being said, there is always cause for concern when a companion is around so long. There becomes the risk that Doctor Who is about the companion as much as it is about the Doctor. 

Make no mistake, the companion is a crucial element of Doctor Who. The companion provides the point of view for the audience as the Doctor goes on his fantastic adventures in time and space. A Doctor with no one on the TARDIS to chat with, banter with, argue with, explore the cosmos with is a very limited Doctor. Thus the companion is vital to the Doctor within the context of the stories and within the context of the TV program.  

But when a companion hangs around long term, the dynamic can shift and the companion starts driving the narrative. That is in and of itself not a bad thing but over time, Doctor Who become less "Doctor with companion" and more "Doctor AND companion". It's a small but significant distinction.  

Before Clara, Amy Pond (later joined by hubby Rory Williams) was the companion over 2 full series and 5 episodes of a third series. In total number of episodes, that put Amy just 1 episodes over Rose Tyler who was on board for 2 series and the two part finale for Series 4. But with a Doctor changeover at the end of Series 1, Rose continuing as the companion was a needed element of continuity from Series 1 to Series 2. Amy was the companion for just 1 Doctor. One could understand new fans of Doctor Who thinking the show was about a plucky red headed Scottish girl and her pal, the bow tie wearing time traveller.  In fact, BBC America didn't help matters by having Karen Gillan provide a narrated opening to the Doctor Who episodes here in the US that pretty much positioned the show like that. 

Now we have Clara Oswald going into Series 9 after starting in Series 7. Again, like Rose, Clara served as an important guide to transition between Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, an important element given the different styles of the two actors. But Clara has played such a significant role in Doctor Who since her introduction. The mystery of the Impossible Girl informed her part of Series 7 as it was revealed that Clara was splintered along the Doctor's timeline to save him in his different incarnations. In Series 8 in the episode Listen, we see Clara actually influencing the young boy who will grow up to become the Doctor. The main thrust of Clara's character development in Series 8 was how much like the Doctor she's becoming, even taking on the role of the Doctor in the episode Flatline and telling the Cybermen in Death in Heaven that she was the Doctor. (And the credits cheekily went along with this by having her name first in the credits and Jenna's eyes in place of Peter's.)  

So we've seen in Clara Oswald a companion who has more than any other dominated the narrative in a very consistent and profound way. Nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned.  Except if it keeps happening. If Jenna stays long enough for Clara to keep playing a significant role in the mythos of Doctor Who, it will become more her show than the Doctor's. 

Looking back, I was concerned how the Doctor/Clara dynamic would shift when Matt Smith was replaced by Peter Capaldi. I liked the interaction between Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman and I was worried that Jenna might be left out in the cold with a very different take by Peter. Instead, I have found the chemistry between Peter and Jenna even more exciting and interesting; I'm glad we'll have more opportunities to explore this relationship in Series 9. 

But there is the adage that performers should leave the audience wanting more. No, I don't want Clara to go. I don't want Jenna Coleman to leave. Which means that maybe this was the time to go. In many ways, Last Christmas would've made a fine exit for Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald. And it seemed to me that the character of Shona would make a fine addition to the TARDIS as a new companion*. The Christmas special offered a nice package tied up in a bow that could've written fini to the saga of the Doctor and Clara.  

*There is already some buzz that Clara's return to the TARDIS does not preclude Shona coming on board as well.  

Like a beloved Doctor, it's hard to say goodbye to a favored companion. And Clara has endeared herself to this Whovian. But if the Doctor must change, then the companion must change as well, even when we're not ready.  

Thanks for reading and everyone, be good to one another. 


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