“The time winds will tear you into a million pieces. A million versions of you, living and dying all over time and space, like echoes.” – “But the echoes could save the Doctor, right?” – “But they won’t be you. The real you will die. They’ll just be copies.”
It is a mistake to equate Clara with her echoes, to take their characterisation at face value and apply them to the original Clara. But that does not mean that they do not say anything about her. Clara’s echoes are reflections, distorted but still mirroring the original - and they tell us quite a lot about the qualities which Clara values in a heroine.
Last year, I wrote about the overwhelming optimism that drove the characters of the Eleventh Doctor’s era to overcome dark situations that could have destroyed them, and this year I want to return to that theme having now seen the last two episodes of series 9 and how that optimism had transformed but ultimately still triumphed.
Where the Eleventh Doctor’s era could be described much like a children’s fairy tale with characters who are put into truly horrifying situations that they overcome through the power of love, the Twelfth Doctor’s era brought the darker side of those stories into focus. Love remained one of the most powerful forces in the universe, but this era explored the reality that love doesn’t always last a lifetime, even for the main characters.
Rory and Amy left the show when their story was finished, and they lived long, happy lives, dying of old age off screen. We all know Cinderella will one day die and so will Amy Pond, but the picture book ends long before that day. When Amy Pond stopped being the Girl Who Waited, it was the beginning of the end of her time on the show, but River Song and Clara Oswald remained on the show long after the stories of ‘The Woman who Killed the Doctor” and “The Impossible Girl” had been resolved.
And they lived until their lives were cut short in tragic, yet heroic deaths. With the direction the show had been taking in series 8 and 9, their stories could have been bleak reminders of the reality that many people die before they ever reach old age, and what we think of as happily ever after is rare (if not impossible), but instead, their endings came with an acceptance of the inevitability of death, while at the same time allowing these women to control their fate in a way we can only dream of in the real world.
The show did not lose all of its optimism as it grew out of it’s fairy tale era, and instead of telling us that River and Clara won’t get their happily ever afters, it asked us to examine how we define happily ever after. Clara Oswald will face the raven and River Song will go to the Library, but those endings do not prevent them from having their own happily ever afters. These two characters are given the opportunity to seize the time they do have and live it the best they can so that when they die, they will have lived full lives on their own terms.
Happily ever after does not mean forever.
It’s a message we can all take to heart knowing that we too will not live forever.
Clara flies off to see the universe with her new companion, and River Song spends 24 years with the man she loves (and with a vortex manipulator and a time machine, it could easily be more than 24 years). They will both die, just as we will all die, but their stories are neither tragedies nor fairy tales. Their stories are examples of what fantasy does best - addressing the harsh realities of life while allowing the characters to do the things we wish we could do, taking both time and death into their own hands.
I dedicate this post to all Moffat’s characters of his era. The Girl who waited in a garden who grew into a woman struggling to figure out who she was beyond the stories in her head that somehow became her real life, the girl raised to believe she existed only for a singular obsession to murder a man yet who ultimately learned how to balance love and a life of her own choosing, the nurse who never wanted to be extraordinary, but could always stand up for the moral decision and fight for his family, the old man in a young man’s body who just wanted to see the universe and do the right thing, but lost site of his own moral compass, the FBI agent who never let his sexuality define his life and career, but couldn’t stop others from making it define him, the queen who tried to save her people by making a choice she couldn’t live with, the woman who thought she had it all under control who could only really learn about life by losing control, the lizard woman from the dawn of time and her Victorian human wife who were the detectives that inspired Sherlock and Watson, the socially awkward soldier scarred by war who made the ultimate decision only a leader could make, the shy fangirl who was also competent and intelligent, the fallen hero who spent a lifetime at war and nearly destroyed his own people, including the innocent, to save the universe, the hero who wasn’t very good at showing affection and accepted that he would never be like the humans he worked so hard to protect yet questioned his own character, the self proclaimed queen of evil who showed no remorse for killing yet showed a misguided loyalty to a former friend, and the many others who made this era fantastic.
“I’ve had many faces, many lives. I don’t admit to all of them.
There’s one life I’ve tried very hard to forget. He was the Doctor who
fought in the Time War, and that was the day he did it. The day I did
it. The day he killed them all. The last day of the Time War. The war
to end all wars between my people and the Daleks. And in that battle
there was a man with more blood on his hands than any other, a man who
would commit a crime that would silence the universe. And that man was
It’s like I’m breaking into a million pieces and there’s only one thing I remember. I have to save the Doctor. He always looks different but I always know it’s him. Sometimes I think I’m everywhere at once. Running every second, just to find him. Just to save him. But he never hears me. Almost never. I blew into this world on a leaf. I’m still blowing. I don’t think I’ll ever land. I’m Clara Oswald, I’m the impossible girl, I was born to save the Doctor.
This was originally going to be my post for Moffat Appreciation Day, because I absolutely love what Moffat has done here. But since I don’t actually am Moffat (sigh), it took me a bit longer to put this together. My apologies.
It all started with Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead. I have lost count of how many times I have written about these episodes, because they are such utter masterpieces. This is the moment where Moffat introduces us to one of his most poetic concepts: That we are all stories in the end. River Song is literally saved by becoming “a book on a shelf” in a library that saves people on hard drives.
Moffat was not the first to address the idea of people existing in cyber space. He wasn’t even the first to introduce this concept to Doctor Who. Many Classic Whovians at the time recognised and appreciated the reference to the Timelord matrix - “a big computer made of ghosts”, as we all know since Hell Bent.
Moffat, however, was the one to utilise a library metaphor to bring the idea back into New Who. And he did it beautifully. We are all stories in the end and history is but a library of those who have lived before us, according to Moffat.
Books and libraries in Doctor Who represent the dead, represent history, and in the case of Timelords, represent the matrix. Moffat has prepared us for this over and over again.
Clara’s mum is present throughout series seven in form of a book, capturing her dreams and aspirations:
The stories of Gallifrey follow the Doctor wherever he goes:
Amy and Rory become part of a book when they are lost to the Doctor forever:
As do the many lives of Lady Me that are no longer accessible for her:
Even Clara becomes a story in the end - at least to the Doctor (edit: but actually, she doesn’t. Read more here).
As of Hell Bent, the Timelord matrix has made a full return from Classic Who. This was no surprise, as by the time that Clara was introduced into the show, people were uploaded into wifis left and right, foreshadowing its imminent return.
But Moffat had prepared us for this for a long time, with the little help of something as familiar as a library, and with one beautiful concept: We are all stories in the end.
Moffat Appreciation Day 2015: The Light that Overpowers the Dark Themes of the Eleventh Doctor’s Era
So much of the Eleventh Doctor’s era is founded in very dark ideas - from a hero who is losing track of whether he’s a good man or a bad man to a woman who was manipulated and abused for years - but throughout it all, the characters rise above to survive and try to do the right thing despite their struggles and mistakes. The darkness that constantly drives their world is not the point of this story, but instead the backdrop that motivates the characters to fight and persevere.
The characters could have been destroyed by what they face, but they survive only when they don’t let themselves believe that anyone, anything, or even time itself is the boss of them. They instead embrace the complicated nature of time and use it to achieve their goals. Sometimes they get it wrong, but they pick themselves up to live, love, and survive against all odds. A young couple believes in love so strongly that it is all they will ever need to survive - it motivates them to do the impossible and the extraordinary.
When life punches these characters in the gut, they focus on how there is always a way out, how impossible is a challenge to be overcome, and how there is always a reason to fight for the people you love. And when a man forgets all of that the day he loses his family, the timey wimey universe reminds him with a new friend who has that spark in her eyes that he had lost.
The world isn’t easy. It’s dark and brutal, but that brutal side is not what living is about. It’s about believing anything is possible even when it shouldn’t be.
It’s how an impossible girl dies and lives again all because she was an ordinary girl who did something extraordinary. It’s about how a woman raised to kill and hate a man takes back her own fate and learns to love him instead.
This is an era that never strives to be the world we live in, but instead elevates itself to an inspirational story that makes you feel like you can be anything and do the impossible. Eleven’s final speech reminds us that while we’re watching a science fiction fairy tale unfold, it is a story about life at its heart. We’re not aliens or time traveling archaeologists or little girls with monsters behind our walls, but we’re all living, loving, and trying to survive our own struggles as we constantly change throughout our lives. So, here’s to the Eleventh Doctor and his extraordinary companions after the story has ended and the show has once again changed. We’ll always remember every one of you.