Clara Who and the Snowmen — Has the Doctor Become the Companion?
In stories of the unusual or strange1, there is often a grounding character. They are part of the story to provide counterbalance to the strangeness. This character can be seen as the “audience identification” figure. They may not be the hero or the main character. Think of Polly Sherman in Fawlty Towers, Tim Canterbury in The Office and even Dave Lister in Red Dwarf. In Doctor Who, this role is typically the companion.
This is most pronounce in the original Doctor Who season. The first Doctor was distant and cold. His granddaughter, Susan, is alien. Ian Chesterman and Barbara Wright are the everyday people, our grounding point to the alien historical times and planets. They are normal.
This normality appeared throughout most of Doctor Who. Even if the companion was a space orphan (Vicki), a historical refugee (Jamie McCrimmon) or a girl swept through time (Ace), they were all normal people in abnormal environments.
There have been exceptions, such as the savage Leela or ultra-intelligent Romana. And despite those exceptions, Doctor Who returns to the ordinary companion. The shopgirl Rose Tyler. Medical student Martha Jones. Temp Donna Noble. Ordinary people made extraordinary through their adventures with the Doctor.
Recently, during Steven Moffat’s term running the show, we have seen a change. Amy Pond has played an important role in the story. She was the most important person in the universe. The crack in time was linked to her. She is the mother of the Doctor’s assassin. She was in the centre of the story. Amy was special.
That was only the start. As at the time of writing, we have met Clara (Oswin Oswald) twice. Each time she has been a mystery. The story has been about her.
Let’s have a side note for a moment.
Throughout all of the show’s history, the Doctor has been special. He has been a mysterious alien. He has been the strange Sherlock Holmes to the companion’s grounding John Watson.
What makes him alien is the mystery. For six years we did not know his background. We do not know why he left Gallifrey. We do not know his real name. The Doctor is a mystery.
In Steven Moffat’s time producing Doctor Who, the question of “Doctor Who?” has become more pronounced. The question has appeared in the conclusion of stories such as “The Wedding of River Song” and “Asylum of the Daleks”. It was referenced in an early Moffat story, “The Girl in the Fireplace”.
The Doctor is a mystery. Who is he? But can this question ever be satisfactorily answered?
Dorium: [“The Wedding of River Song”] The first question! The question that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight. The question you’ve been running from all your life. Doctor who? Doctor who? Doc… tor… WHO?!
The Doctor has been the centre of the series.
In “The Snowmen”, we see a reversal. In previous stories, we have seen potential companions stuck in their lives, needing a change. The Doctor enters their lives and releases them into adventure.
We see something different in “The Snowmen”. The Doctor is hiding from the universe. He has retired. He needs to be brought out of his shell. The Doctor is stuck in a rut. He is in the normal companion position. And it is Clara, who should be in the new companion position, who seeks adventure and releases the Doctor from his drab life.
We see this reversal too when it is Clara who grabs the Doctor’s hand and makes him run. This is the opposite of the Doctor and Rose meeting in “Rose”.
But most of all, Clara is the mystery. She is the unknown. We do not know who she is.
Doctor Who has an ultimate question: Doctor who? Yet this question is a risky one to answer. The Doctor is alien. The Doctor is mysterious. Normality and knowledge can undermine this.
What if, instead of “Doctor who?”, there is another question? Clara has stepped into Doctor Who in the Doctor’s role. She has become much more central than any other Doctor Who companion.
What if the ultimate question is one that can mirror the Doctor’s? What if this question is one that can be answered?
Either stranger characters or location. ↩