I am loving series 8 of Doctor Who – so much better than Matt Smith’s last series. However, some of the episodes are a bit slow and as the series progresses the episodes are becoming monster-lite which annoys me. Despite this, the acting is pretty good (with the exception of Samuel Anderson – sorry, I just don’t like Danny!)
I think Capaldi is absolutely brilliant – an immensely different, more challenging Doctor yet hilarious. He has a touch of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor which I think is why I like him so much because Christopher was my “first doctor”.
The surprise for me is Jenna Coleman as Clara this series. As I think I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, I felt that her arc of being the “impossible girl” in series 7b took over. It was intriguing at first but then she was sidelined until the finale where her arc’s resolution was rushed. I’ve felt she’s been given so much more to work with this series and her character has become more rounded. I hope she doesn’t leave at Christmas because we’re just getting to see the best Clara.
Flatline which was broadcast on 18th October is a very Clara-heavy episode and the idea of acting like the Doctor is played upon.
As the Doctor gets stuck in his tiny tardis (so adorable!), Clara takes on his persona as she investigates the weird alien happenings in Bristol. This is even explicitly mentioned in the dialogue as Clara introduces herself as “the Doctor”. As Clara takes on a more active role and is the presence in the real world if we can call it that, it could be argued that the writers are trialling the idea of a female doctor and challenging the role of the companion.
It is not entirely new for a companion in New Who to take on some of the power and character of the Doctor, the most memorable being the ‘Doctor-Donna’ in Journey’s End.
However, I would argue that Clara’s version of acting like the Doctor does not push her to the titular protagonist position. She is still very much a companion. I did a LOT of research on the role of the companion for my dissertation last year – I was studying Sarah Jane Smith in relation to feminism and postfeminism. My research suggested that assistants/sidekicks were subordinate characters in relation to the protagonist and thus, female characters were often in this position. The role of the companion was slightly more encouraging as it suggested a relationship/friendship with the protagonist. However, the companion is still considered a secondary, passive character.
A key identifier of the companion’s role in Doctor Who, as noted by many scholars and fans alike, is to ask the Doctor questions, the need to be rescued and the dependency on the Doctor. The Doctor probably had less screentime than Clara but his presence as the Doctor was definitely felt and overshadowed Clara’s attempt to be the Doctor. For the majority of the episode, Clara was guided and assisted by the Doctor through the earpiece technology which also allowed the Doctor to see what she saw. This communication tool meant that Clara could ask the Doctor for help where he could demonstrate his intelligence and superior knowledge. She made use of this connection, asking the Doctor question after question. This shows that despite making some of her own choices and being a more active visual presence, her character was very dependent on the Doctor and emphasised her role as a companion.
Of course, Clara pretending to be the Doctor was to help with the Doctor’s characterisation this series. Capaldi is an unusual Doctor who has left Clara questioning his motives and methods. Dialogue concerning saving people vs people dying, lying and being a leader were all referred to as traits of this new Doctor. Ultimately, this episode saw Clara emulating the Doctor rather than showing what a female Doctor could do.