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.