It’s going on almost two weeks since the Doctor returned on Christmas day and reintroduced us to the mystery that is Dalek girl Clara Oswin Oswald. I’ve had plenty of time to digest so I thought I would write about the special this week, point out a few observations about the sneak peek trailer and also pose some questions. Because who doesn’t like over-thinking a BBC children’s TV show?
First, let me be frank in that I was not completely enthralled by the special. Pacing; off. Moffat just had to give Clara a saucy barmaid double life. The children and their estranged father were underdeveloped and mostly accessories; overall an excuse to have a Victorian ice nanny, which made me a bit sad as Moffat usually writes amazing child-centric stories, sort of his calling card. The main human villain wasn’t sympathetic or unlikable even in a good manner. The special effects weren’t as sophisticated as they have been lately, and the lack of panic over evil snowmen over London had me rather underwhelmed. The good however include the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax were all welcomed sights for me as Eleven absolutely needs more diverse cohorts after such Pond exclusivity. Also, the idea of the TARDIS parked on top of a stable “cloud” with a hidden staircase in the center of a park was wonderfully fairy-tale and very evocative of Victorian children’s literature. Clara’s scenes dodging the Doctor up upon the cloud were filmed beautifully.
From the previews I was hoping for a more intimate, Gothic and moody piece. Rather a PG adaptation of Turning of The Screw with Clara the new governess thwarting a, for the most part, enemy which may or may not actually exist that has been tormenting the children until the climax when they fully revealed themselves as actual aliens or the disembodied collective feeding on all of the children of London’s nightmares while their “Miss Jessel” who had drowned comes back as an actually scary ice nanny. I feel that’s what they partially were going for but the real episode was rather literal and so specific. Very retro in application but lacking in subtly. But again; children’s show, I shouldn’t expect Series 5 or The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe level sophistication with every episode. Moving on, however, I wanted to point out my main concerns and confusion with the new season, as well as observations and wanted to point out two things in particular:
I. Matt’s Tenure, Plot Threads & River, or lack thereof.
River is noticeably absent. Comments have been made by the show’s producer in response to a question on whether or not River is the jealous type, specifically concerning Clara macking on the Doctor, that suggest Clara (in her third incarnation) will indeed be meeting River. However Alex Kingston hasn’t been slated for or personally stated that she will be returning for the second half of season seven, nor is she present in the trailer or on any IMDB records and information for the upcoming episodes, which are surprisingly still rather sparse and kept under lock and key.
On the other hand, considering David Tennant’s unconvincing attempts to be naive when questioned about the 50th anniversary and his possible involvement, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is indeed more River coming for us and they are being extra secretive, down to the cutting of the trailer as shown by their excellent ability to keep Jenna’s role as Oswin secret and absent from the previews and media back for the Series premiere. I mean, there has to be more River. She’s Moffat’s huge contribution to the series after all, it would be a shame to have her phased out with The Ponds. Was River’s “Not all the time” comment in regards to traveling with him at the end of Angels Take Manhattan a soft reason for her absence? Granted only 10 percent of their adventures have been shown between the show, videogames, and comics; all the rest of that diary are off-screen (and probably not family friendly anyway). The Doctor has been in a funk but his failure to mention that he is married (as he had previously done in the prequel to Asylum) to Clara after she kisses him had me concerned and makes me wonder if in the Doctor’s timeline River has already gone to the Library hence his even more dour mood. Her reveal of a promotion in title to that I believe of professor in Angels wasn’t taken very lightly by the Doctor as that means she does, whether we like it or not, go to the Library soon. But then again he was also flirty with Nefertiti, so who am I to judge?
There are still open plot threads concerning River that need to be resolved: what did happen to the rest of The Order of the Silence? How did the Silence infiltrate the Tardis, causing the explosion? (Was it really that lone Silence brand suited alien?) When does River finally learn the Doctor’s name? She certainly learns it before she goes to the library. The buzz phrases” Silence will fall when The Question is asked” (obviously “Doctor Who?”) and the “Fall of the Eleventh” and the Fields of Trenzalore seem to suggest when Matt Smith will be leaving the show and regenerate into the 12th Doctor. I mean, fall of the Eleventh, can it be more obvious? Will that be during the 50th special? Will she find that out there? How can Moffat address all of this while suddenly exploring Clara and The Great Intelligence in only eight episodes? The BBC has skirted around Matt’s continuation of the role at conventions and interviews so he might indeed be leaving after this season. However, River has to know his name before he regenerates, as their last date to the Singing Towers has already been shown in the Last Night short and he was still Eleven so she must know before then, but that could be a slightly younger Doctor. Moffat, the king of hiding little nuggets of clues and hints and tying things back together years later rather neatly hasn’t disappointed yet, but I hope these buzzwords and threads weren’t dropped in favor of exploring Clara.
II. Clara Oswin Oswald’s extremely meta nature.
Clara is self-referential as hell. If Idris is the face of the Tardis, then Clara might as well be the face for the literal show. Many have pointed out that after viewing her tombstone, Clara was born on the 23rd of November, the date that Doctor Who first premiered on the BBC back in 1963. She is also 26 years old when she dies in The Snowmen, and the first initial run of the series also lasted for 26 years. The fact that she returns in a Victorian setting only to “die again” also reminds me of the 8th Doctor and the TV movie; it wasn’t until 2005 and New!Who that the classic series was officially “born again”. Her red sweater dress in the first episode was also very 60s mod, a clue perhaps to the show’s original era?
Viewers have also pointed out that the Doctor has gone up against The Great Intelligence before, but as far as we see in the The Snowmen he does not completely remember them. The Great Intelligence first appeared in 1967 in a 6 episode set in Season 5, titled The Abominable Snowmen. The title alone is referential. Much of that season’s footage has been lost or destroyed by the BBC, with only scatterings of footage remaining. In the Christmas special, the Doctor shows a map of the London Underground railway system representing a great strategic fault, something The Great Intelligence actually took advantage of and later (or rather previously) infiltrated in the 1968 serial The Web of Fear, also from the original 5th season, and also, to my knowledge, lost. So it seems to suggest the Doctor inadvertently caused his own adventure for his younger self in the 60’s, an adventure both he and the BBC no longer remember or readily have access to.
Taking that into consideration, Clara’s dying catchphrase “Run, run you clever boy, and remember” seems far more important than it currently lets on. Is the second half of Series 7 about reclaiming a chunk of adventures that were “lost”? Has The Doctor gotten so good at going around erasing himself from history across the universe in trying to escape the Silence that he himself is forgetting what he has done himself? The erasure of these adventures from the Doctor’s memories inadvertently of his own machinations, seems like a meta analogy to the real life archival destruction of the original Series 5 and also mirror Oswin’s in story ability to hack into the Daleks’ hive-mind database and delete the Doctor from their memories or “archives”. Her dying tear in The Snowman also seemed to be the clincher that linked into the Great Intelligence’s similarly collected consciousness, as that one tear turned all the snow in London into rain. The dialogue indicates that it was the family’s sadness that caused the crying rain, but it seems more likely that Clara and her single tear was ultimately responsible. If that is the case, then it is twice now that Clara has “hacked” into a hive like entity and saved the day.
The Doctor has every right to be curious about Clara. And so should we.
So yes, while the Special itself wasn’t really all that special or at least as special as I thought it could be, Moffat and his evil cohorts at the BBC are cooking up something extremely complex, and so far extremely fitting for the 50th anniversary; self referential, retrotastic, and entirely aggravating.
And so we wait (kicking and screaming while still selfishly crying over the Ponds) for April.