Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

cult-doctor-who-the-bells-of-st-john-still-5I was quite relieved at first to discover I wasn’t rostered on to the first Verity NEW EPISODE episode of 7b, as I’m still on the fence about reviewing New Who immediately upon it coming out – generally speaking I prefer to stay quiet, enjoy the honeymoon of newness, and creep up on the intelligible critique after a decent amount of time has passed.

On the other hand, doing the Snowman episode was the MOST FUN EVER, and listening to you all this morning as I took my walk around the river, I had to keep stopping to take actual notes soooo…. here I am, then!

In order that things occurred to me while listening:

1. I agree that Clara is quite different to Amy and River and that this owes a lot more to Jenna-Louise Coleman’s excellent performance than for example, the writing. Moffat is often criticised for writing the same female character every time and I don’t think that’s true, but I think his love for witty dialogue does rather put his female characters in line for this criticism because female characters tend to attract a billion times more criticism than male characters in this show.

Anyway, the three actresses deliver the Moffat Wit-and-Flirt with greatly different styles, and it’s quite fun to imagine Alex Kingston or Karen Gillan tackling some of these JLC lines/speeches to see how very different they would have sounded. Not better or worse, just different.

2. OMG Kat I am so happy that you have a New Who female companion to like! I always felt a little sad that you didn’t have that!! It must have been so disappointing for so long. I can’t tell you how great it was to hear all FOUR of you liking her at the same time. Clara squee!

3. Clara is going to be compared to Amy for all time, I know that (when she’s not being compared to Rose, sigh) and hopefully the current wave of Clara love won’t turn into too much Amy-bashing (double sigh, like it’s not happening already) but I am very pleased that so far Moffat has given us some new material when it comes the character herself.

One strong difference between the two is that Amy was running away from something when she entered the TARDIS, while Clara (this Clara at least) is clearly running towards something. Her craving for travel, and for her life to start is reminiscent of Donna more than anything, but without the rather icky ‘look at her, how much her life sucks when the Doctor’s not around’ narrative that crept in from time to time. There’s less desperation about Clara, which is nice because obviously the tension is going to come from other places.

And I quite like the idea that the narrative arc for this companion so far is “She’s awesome, let’s follow her and solve the mystery about how she got here” which makes a change from “there’s something terribly wrong about her, she needs to be fixed”.

Did you NOTICE that after complaining about it I ended up comparing her to the other female characters that preceded her? Sigh. Let’s try again.

Clara is GREAT and I am enjoying her and she doesn’t need character progression, I’m okay with her being just fine to start with, and having adventures with the Doctor.

4. The Doctor’s fondness and protectiveness of Clara is fascinating – because it could feel terribly patriarchal and arrogant of him, but it doesn’t to me. It feels like the loss of Amy and Rory and indeed the double loss of the Clara-Oswins that preceded her has had a profound effect on the Doctor’s psyche – he actually worries about her.

And this is new because mostly the Doctor treats his companions as an extension of himself, carting them along in his wake and being quite cavalier with their safety – it’s one of his more endearing attributes while also frustrating at times. This was never so obvious as when he told Martha to ‘act as if she owned the place’ and dismissed her concerns about how her race might affect her safety in another time period. But he does it all the time – and with Nine and Ten in particular we saw flickers of resentment whenever a companion forced him to see she had needs (such as seeing her family) beyond the next adventure.

But  he looks at Clara like she is a baby bird – he’s deeply worried that this one might die too, and it’s interesting because it makes him more vulnerable than I think we’ve ever seen him before. He fails her/loses her twice in this story, and both times we see far more guilt and sadness than the Doctor generally lets us see.

5. I was a bit disappointed in the Cafe scene where Clara is busy being awesome and the Doctor comes up to her and he’s a Spoonhead – because my first reaction was ‘oh the bad guys got him and she has to rescue him now, this is awesome, it’s totally her turn!’ and in fact no, it was the other thing. Sigh. Maybe next week.

But I did very much like the doublecross where he didn’t go to confront the villain directly but stayed in the cafe (again, looking after Clara) because again, that feels like a new thing for the Doctor

6. Clara’s cup of tea made me ridiculously happy and you know what? I believe there was still tea in the bottom, I’m sorry but I’ve hung on to a cup of tea while juggling babies and running around the back garden and maybe one time I ended up on a trampoline, and sometimes there really is a precious drop right at the bottom. I love the little domestic details that Clara drags along with her and I can totally see her moving aspects of that into the TARDIS – WHEN CAN WE SEE HER TARDIS BEDROOM PLEASE? Throw cushions and ugg boots!

7. The different attitude towards the family of the companions in the Moffat era to the RTD era is quite marked – Moffat only brings them in when they’re relevant to the story, while for RTD it was part of the essential set up for the character. We don’t know anything about Clara’s family from this story at all – but I like what we learn about her as a person from this family she is living with and helping.

8. Did anyone else notice that Clara not only got a SECOND console room discovery room scene, but also that she got to do yet another new thing with it – I love that she howls “It’s actually bigger on the inside,” repeating herself in case he might not have noticed that’s the case. (did saying it’s smaller on the outside mark Victorian Clara out as the wrong version to travel in the TARDIS?)

9. Speaking of the TARDIS console room, I am so glad that I like it in this episode because I was quite put off by the version in the Snowmen (and particularly the publicity shots) – I was in denial about how much I didn’t like it, and it did have that quite frigid, clinical look about it (I know, I know, the original was white walls and roundels I’m sorry but I’m programmed to read that as COZY).

I particularly like how the TARDIS interior was shot, the very dynamic short scenes with the Doctor and Clara using that space in interesting ways, and hope it’s not just a ‘that director did a great job’ thing though can I say, that director did a great job!

10. I’ve always loved Celia Imrie, but I think she was brilliant in this. I particularly like that her character is one who didn’t have to be either a woman or indeed an older woman, but that they cast HER when it could as easily been, oh, Stephen Fry or Keeley Hawes speaking exactly the same lines.

11. On the lack of a backlash against Clara as opposed to say the polarisation of views about Amy – well, a lot of it has to do with who you listen to, as there are plenty of people out there who love Doctor Who and don’t love Clara (and indeed plenty of people who don’t love Matt Smith – beyond odd, but true!). But I suspect that the big reason that there has been such warmth and vocal support of this Clara in this episode is that we have been effectively warmed up to her as a character already.

Think back to when Donna first appeared in The Runaway Bride and massively divided Doctor Who fans – but by the time she appeared again in Partners in Crime, we were ready to embrace her. I suspect that part of the reason she is so loveable in Partners in Crime is because we got the backlash out of our systems already and were prepared to let her have a “blank” slate.

It’s hard to accept a new companion, and I think the point at which a new companion is launched into the TARDIS, as with a new Doctor, is the time we are most keenly aware of the artifice of the show – of what the showrunner and his team are TRYING to make us feel. And we resist that. So it doesn’t hurt to get a bit of that resistance out of the way ahead of time.

I say this as someone who loved Clara to bits back when she was Oswin and again as Victorian Clara, and is very excited about this contemporary Clara too.

I also wonder if the general acclaim is part of massive relief? Because there was such deep skepticism about Contemp Clara, and whether she could be as awesome as Victorian Clara, or whether we’d like her at all, and wasn’t she just going to be Amy Pond Again anyway?

So yes, The Bells of St John might not have been groundbreaking Doctor Who, but it was New and it was Dead Good and it was edged all over in Astoundingly Charming bits, and it feels a bit like Doctor Who fandom (or at least the part of it that mostly inhabits my iPod, my Twitter feed and my blogstream) collectively breathed out in a sigh of relief.

Does not suck. More please.


Comments on: "Episode 8 – My Two Cents: TANSY" (10)

  1. It’s funny, I don’t have unease around Clara because of Amy but because of River. Was she the one in the cafe who gave her the phone number to call him? And does that mean she’s going to be in the position of throwing the Doctor and Clara together romantically? If so, it makes me sad because I liked River and the Doctor’s wrong way romance. It was wacky and different. Any young girl can hook a Doctor but an older woman is intriguing. (I’m biased cuz I’m old but hell…) I like Clara but her possible romantic interest puts me off.

  2. Miss Heather Perth Western Australia said:

    My reasoning of why Clara stays to look after the children of her friend. In that cemetery, with her friend. Her friend looks uncomfortable as she is spooked by them, maybe this is the wife and mother? Clara took her friend to a spooky place and if because of it she died well then wouldn’t you stay on too?

  3. I love this post! It makes me happy to see all of us (well, maybe—Liz hasn’t chimed in yet) get so excited about the new companion! That said, I’m not in 100% agreement here—surprise, surprise! 🙂

    1. I agree that Moffat is versatile when writing women, and oooh, I am now enjoying picturing Amy, River, and Clara delivering different lines.

    2. Yes!

    3. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comparing companions. Or Doctors. Or writers or directors or producers or composers or anything else. It’s what we do. Though it does get troubling when people are *only* able to assess elements of the show that way.

    4. Oh yes.

    5. As a matter of fact, one thing that was in my notes that I completely forgot to mention on the podcast (perhaps I should be doing a “Last Word” post) was the doublecross where he sent the spoonhead to confront the villain. You said it sounds like something new for the Doctor, but I was going to say that it felt incredibly Doctorey to me. It’s a perfect example of the Doctor using his brain and wits to solve a problem, and while he doesn’t do that all of the time, my favorite bits are when he does. And it’s not like he’s never had a double running around doing things for him—even in the Moffatt era (gangers, Teselecta). Hmm. I guess I just stumbled upon another of Moffatt’s Taco Bell ingredients—one that’s quite tasty if you ask me!

    6. I still do not believe there was anything left in that cup. They were on a plane that was crashing. She almost fell down. Gravity. Physics. Just no. 🙂

    7. Indeed!

    8. Yay! That was something I mentioned during The Snowmen review—that I was excited to see her re-introduction to the TARDIS. I’m not sure this lived up to my expectations after the clever “newness” of the Victorian Clara’s reaction, but perhaps it’s for the best that it was just straightforward fun and amazement. I hate it when writers try to one-up themselves *all* the time, ‘cause eventually they get stuck at the top of the mountain, and it’s a long way to fall.

    9. Agreed.

    10. Totally agreed.

    11. I can’t disagree more (personally) about Donna. I was definitely in the anti-Donna camp after The Runaway Bride, but that sentiment only got stronger by the time series 3 rolled around. I still could not stand her in Partners in Crime (though Donna was only one of the reasons that ep irritated me), and it took me a good long while to warm to her. (Of course I did eventually, and she became my number 1 new-Who companion!)

    • Ray Adamson said:

      i’ve always been surprised and disappointed that Moffat’s critics frequently complain that all his female characters are identical.It’s a giant exagerration and lazy,desperate criticism.It’s ludicrous to suggest Miss Evangelista,Nancy,Amy Pond ,Donna Noble,Mdm. De Pompadour and Rose Tyler are all wise cracking ,empowered,Buffy rip offs.There was a lot of praise for his portrayal of female characters in his previous work .

      • I don’t really understand the criticism either. I mean, they’re all witty, independent and confident women, maybe that’s where people get confused. Are we only supposed to get one of those?

    • Hey Erika I am totally replying to your replies!

      3 – I agree there’s nothing wrong with comparing companions, and it’s actually an essential critical tool – but it does get exhausting when done too often, especially when it’s used to bash companions. “This companion I am currently talking about is awesome which is why all the others suck” would be not completely horrible in isolation (maybe) but when it’s been done by hundreds of people at once I get tired and sad because I love all the companions. Even the flawed ones.

      5. It wasn’t the double that felt new to me – it was the part where we saw him sitting calmly in absolute safety instead of being in the thick of the action.


      8. Very true. As Doctor Who fans we complain a lot when things are not new but actually a touch of familiarity can be rather marvellous – witness: this entire episode!

      • Ray Adamson said:

        Tansyrr,slightly ashamed to confess as a Doctor Who fan,that i cannot stand the taste of tea, even if it is magic.It can’t be just because i’m Scottish?There really is no hope for me.I’M SORRY.I’M SO,SO SORRY.

  4. Ray, I’m not judging you at all for this. All the more for me. You may have coffee in Clara’s cup if you prefer.


  5. […] Rayner Roberts has a number of excellent observations on “The Bells of Saint John” including this difference between Amy Pond and Clara […]

  6. Joris M said:

    Looking at how she drank before entering the Tardis the mug was at most one third filled. So it makes sense she managed not to spill anything, especially if it was tea.

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