‘Together or Not at All’ begins to play on my Spotify playlist, and I am suddenly struck by Amy’s willingness to kill herself for Rory. In ‘Amy’s Choice’ she drives a bus into a house to end the dream in which he has died. In ‘Angels Take Manhattan’ she jumps off a building, and later steps into a Weeping Angel’s embrace, to be with him, or at least not be without him.
This same woman drops him like a hot Dalek when she finds she can’t have the children he wants, and spends their entire relationship neglecting him, forgetting him, flirting with other men, and having mixed feelings.
Amy Pond may be somewhat disturbed.
Is a person responsible for things they don’t remember doing? For keeping promises they don’t remember making?
As far as John Smith knows, he is whole and complete as he is. There is no ‘better’ version. There is no other life. This one is enough. Joan Redfern agrees; John Smith is a good man, a remarkable man, a courageous man. Why should he give his life for a stranger neither of them has ever met? What if he did go to the Family and hand over the watch?
The person no one ever thinks of is Martha.
Yes, she knew the risks when she boarded the TARDIS. There was always a chance of never getting home. She has faced death before. She has even faced life lost forever under an alien sun. The Doctor constantly promises things he can’t possibly hope to deliver. Why should this be any different?
Here, the Doctor’s choices trap Martha in a difficult and restrictive life. Between her class and her color, she is shut out of any opportunity she might have had at home. She is entirely dependent on the Doctor – John Smith – for her livelihood. Yes, she is a smart woman, and given time might very well figure something out, but what must she face in the meantime? For no other reason than her friend has forgotten her? Even after less than three months she chafes at the social mores of 1913. How would she manage a year? the rest of her life?*
She faced loss and separation on New Earth in ‘Gridlock,’ but there she was a free woman and her friend was looking for her. In ‘The Last of the Time Lords,’ she walked the world alone, facing unimaginable horrors – for the purpose of saving it. In neither case was she abandoned, without hope or friends. In each case there was a goal to strive for, a chance that not all was lost. In ‘Human Nature’ there is none. If the Doctor remains John Smith, she is stranded.
So, is that John Smith’s problem?
The Doctor asked Martha to trust him. The Doctor asked her to look out for him. The Doctor chose to hide, endangering his friend and an entire community, to avoid bloodying his own hands. Maybe he believed the chances of discovery were small. Maybe he never imagined how completely human he would become. Maybe he thought it was really the better choice. But John Smith doesn’t know this. He never promised to take Martha home. He never wanted to be anyone other than himself. Is he responsible for the Doctor’s words, the Doctor’s actions?
Fortunately for Martha, John Smith is a courageous man. In the end he gives his life, uncertain as he is, persuaded by Martha, Tim, even Joan, that it’s the only way. That he, John Smith, never had a future at all. He sacrifices himself, where the Doctor was unwilling to. He is, as Joan says, the better man.
It wasn’t his fault; it wasn’t his job. It was his choice.
*Truthfully Martha could have done very well. War is imminent, and her skills would be highly valued in the next several years. Perhaps she would find satisfaction in a nursing career after the war; not the doctorate she had aimed for, but a place where she could help as she always wanted to do. The women’s suffrage movement is also imminent; her awareness of the impacts of feminism could make her a powerful leader. What did great women aspire to in 20s and 30s England? What might she have accomplished? And when she reached the end of her life, in the decades in which her parents were growing up, would she be sorry? Would she regret the Doctor’s choice in the end? Would she regret her family’s ultimate grief? Would she regret the twenty-first century life she never got to live?
Or would she look at what she had done for her country, and consider it enough?
I mentioned this before with regard to ‘Robot of Sherwood,’ but here’s an illustration:
‘I am the Doctor and this is my spoon.’
And from 1998’s ‘Mask of Zorro,’ starring Anthony Hopkins:
‘This is going to take a lot of work.’
Each then proceeds to defeat and humiliate – and ultimately befriend – a much younger man with a sword. Highly entertaining stuff.
It can’t be done.
Let’s start with Oswin Oswald, Junior Entertainment Manager of the Starship Alaska. Some part of her consciousness and intelligence survived the crash and Dalek conversion, enough to deny what had happened to her and help the Doctor escape. She was a smart, flirty, fun, and engaging character from someplace far in humanity’s future. I liked her. If that had been the end of her – or the beginning of something else – I could have accepted it.
Next we meet Clara/Miss Montague, the 19th-century barmaid/governess. We never learn why she leads a double life, and I for one desperately want to know. This Clara is also smart, flirty, fun, and engaging. I want more. Supposedly this Clara was the original intended direction for the character – a Victorian girl with a double life – and frankly I think it would have been better that way. At least we would learn more about this compelling person.
At the very end of ‘The Snowmen,’ we meet 21st-century Clara, a fairly ordinary girl with a gleam in her eye and an unconventional outlook. We return to this Clara in ‘Bells of St. John,’ her au pair status reflecting the governess of her apparent past life. However, the smarts are gone; she no longer understands computers, and needs the help of an expert and a woman in a shop. Supposedly she gets her computer know-how – as established in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ – downloaded into her by the end of the episode, but we never see that aspect of Clara again.
The rest of S7 is spent trying to ‘discover’ Clara. She’s ‘the impossible girl,’ with only the loosest connections to home and family and a nonchalant reaction to much of the wonder around her. Her actions and reactions come from nowhere; we don’t know who she is, or why, and as a result she’s only a collection of traits and attributes, and not a person at all. She’s great with kids (‘Rings of Akhaten’); she obeys orders (‘Cold War’); she relates to a young woman in love with her much older, much darker associate (‘Hide’); she gets angry with the Doctor for lying/mistrusting her (‘Journey to the Center of the TARDIS,’ in which she also seems to learn things that she seems at times to know and at other times not to); she looks great in period clothes (‘Crimson Horror’) and she’s bossy enough to lead an army (‘Nightmare in Silver’). At the end of the season she drops into the Doctor’s timeline – what makes her suddenly so willing to sacrifice herself? she has no apparent attachment to the Doctor, or really anything in life – explaining the Oswin of the future and Clara of the past. She gets inserted into every incarnation of the Doctor’s life – except one, no one retconns Neil Gaiman tyvm – supposedly saving his life each time. A fun moment for the superfan, but storywise lacking.
Then somehow both Clara and the Doctor emerge from the Doctor’s timeline and go on with their lives.
Yeah, I don’t know either.
Anyway, in S8 she’s established as a schoolteacher with a life outside the TARDIS. She begins to grow roots and develop a personality. We start to see her passion for discovery that attracts people to the Doctor. She’s still a very confused person: still leading a double life, lying to the man she supposedly loves, juggling her students and her boyfriend and the irresistible tug of adventure. She is, though, finally a person.
That doesn’t explain anything that went before, though. S8 Clara might as well be a brand new character.
The previews for ‘Dark Water’ could be either exciting or alarming, depending on your interpretation. Clara never existed; are we getting some all-encompassing explanation for S7? That would be nice, but not if it obviates S8 Clara. We finally have a human being here, and it would be annoying to just retconn her away now. I wouldn’t put it past Moffat to ruin everything at this point – but he has also shown himself capable of being amazing, so I’m not going to write him off just yet.
We’ll be watching.
Yes, I beat Russell T. Davies in a Doctor Who quiz. I scored 28/30.
I am irredeemable.
Oh I forgot about this one…