Let me be completely upfront here: I have no idea what’s going on with the most recent seasons of Doctor Who.
I stopped watching, I have to admit, after the end of season four and the loss of Donna Noble, wherein I decided that things had gotten a little convoluted and epic-scale for my preference. I also had a soft spot for David Tennant that I just didn’t feel rekindled in the new face, but that’s just me being picky.
If I wanted to catch up on New Who, as some people inform me I maybe should, it would be a mammoth task—this is not a series that you can simply dip into anymore, with interconnecting and twisted continuity that makes even my brain hurt. It came on TV the other night (premiere of the new season!) and my family were pondering whether to tune in, and I had to tell them I was pretty sure the time would be wasted as we wouldn’t understand a smidge of what was going on.
And that’s okay; it’s plain to see many other people are still avidly enjoying the series—which, actually, is how I keep a vague track of what is going on. Putting the snippet together from the reactions of the internet is always interesting. For season 7 part 2 (or however things are being organised) what we have so far is a monk outfit, the Doctor having amazing hair, wi-fi is dangerous somehow and the new companion has a book with a leaf in it that features a pair that look like Sherlock and John on the cover. That’s what I know. You see why I might be a bit befuddled?
Anyway, let’s talk about this new girl though, from what little I understand: yet another fresh-faced, plucky young woman who is gearing up for adventures through space fantasy, you may think, but there’s something different about Clara Oswald. She’s appeared in other episodes before, in the special Asylum of the Daleks and the Christmas special, both in entirely unconnected worlds, and it’s also revealed in a prequel short that the Doctor met her when she was a little girl. Trailers have the Doctor informing us that she is “the greatest mystery in the Universe”. It’s certainly a break from the usual formula.
And let’s talk about the usual formula, shall we? The usual formula for a companion does not involve anyone having recurring meetings with our time-travelling friend, or being the Universe’s greatest anything. To begin with, the companions were all just ordinary people, and that was hugely important.
Rose, the first companion of New Who, blew me away because of how ordinary she was. Hers is not a type commonly broadcasted as the heroine, is it? She was from a working class family, had dropped out of school and was working in retail, looked altogether a bit like a chav (as Lady Cassandra points out when she borrows her body) and was generally heading for the gutter as far as a lot of society was concerned. Now, this situation has been mirrored all over the place, because it’s something people can sympathise with—unemployment and trying to find a place in the world and follow their dreams. But the characters given that mould as a start to their adventures are seldom as low on the rungs as Rose.
Yes, I’m sorry I keep bringing that up, but let’s face it, we live in a classist civilisation and she and her single, make-up-glazed tracksuit-wearing mother would be bottom of the heap in the eyes of many. It’s certainly not usual that someone like Rose would be shown to be a remarkable heroine despite and because of where she came from. She doesn’t have much going for her, it seems, but of course the series reveals very quickly that she is just as full of heart and compassion and humour and strength as any other person.
And I loved that—Rose wasn’t your traditional rebellious or bookish plucky heroine, she showed that you didn’t need a good education to be able to save the world and be completely awesome. She showed that it doesn’t matter where you live and what you do, there are heroes in all people.
Martha was closer to the brainy heroine archetype, but the message still rang home—she was just an ordinary person, albeit a smart and capable one, and even with all her insecurities she ended up saving the earth. Again, it played that message that the Doctor’s companion could be anyone, any of the viewers watching at home. It enforced that escapism.
And then there’s Donna, oh man, let me tell you about Donna. She was a temp, she was feisty and loud-mouthed, she was any snarky woman on the street that you quietly giggle at when you’re sure she can’t see you. And this average woman, again, showed that it doesn’t matter where you work or the family you come from or what you think of yourself or others think of you, because not only did she help save the world but she sorted the Doctor’s crap out. She became his best mate and healed him of his emotional baggage and ego issues left behind by the previous companions. And she was awesome.
“900 years travelling all of time and space, and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” This is the mantra of the companions, driving home that message that we may think we’re just average and boring, but in all of us earthlings there’s the potential for greatness in many different ways.
Now we’re getting into uncharted territory from then on, but as far as I understand, Amy Pond was an ordinary girl too, until she got all sorts of things complicated by a rip in time and space in her bedroom wall. Or something. This is veering from the ‘could be anyone’ ideal a bit, because, you know, not all of us have rips in space and time in our wall. It’s not entirely relatable.
And even less relatable is being “The Biggest Mystery in the Universe”. The audience can’t tap into that, it doesn’t give them a connection with the character of Clara, and it dashes the quietly cherished dream that one day the TARDIS might just appear in our backyard with a cosmic dork grinning out of its front door at us. Because the average human TV viewer is less likely to be picked up and whisked away on an adventure through time and space if they’re just that, average.
The vibe I was getting from the first three companions was that the entire point was that they could be anyone, they could be you or they could be me! But now the writers have deviated from this and presented the new idea that the ideal travelling partner of the Doctor is someone who enchants him with her cosmic bizarreness, someone who stands out above all other humans. Uh oh… are we heading towards Special Snowflake territory, now with more space magic? How are the rest of the members of the blizzard to compete (and empathise with Clara!) if the Doctor’s telling us we have to be mystical enough to puzzle him for us to be worthy of his attention?
I don’t know, I just don’t think it sits well—Doctor Who is a family show, meant to be all-inclusive and fun for everyone (except when it’s scaring the pants off them), but it seems everything is moving yet again in the Bigger and Better direction, which really detracts from the essence of the story. Maybe Clara will be the best and most lovable companion yet, who knows, and who am I to judge if I’m not even watching the damn thing? But I think it would be refreshing in this new epic-movie-scale version of Who to go back to some of their roots in an effort to not alienate most of their audience… no pun intended.