Having wrapped up the Ponds’ run, I’m left with the question: How do you say goodbye to a companion, without killing them and without being repetitive, when you have a time machine and can do pretty much anything?
In the early days, no one bothered with the permanence or not of companions’ departures. The Doctor told Susan he would come back; whether he ever did no one knows or cares. Same with most other classic companions. They’re left somewhere, either returned home or moving on to the next stage of their lives, with a succinct goodbye and little emotion. There is no discussion of whether he saw most of them again. Perhaps he did, and the stories were not told, or told in other media: audios, novels, fan fiction. Perhaps he moved on, and they moved on, leaving one another behind. Ian and Barbara got on with their lives, as did Ben and Polly, Victoria, Liz Shaw, Leela, Romana, Mel, Grace, and so on. They all had other things to do when their time with the Doctor had run its course.
A few companions did meet tragic ends. Zoe and Jamie were forced to forget, and Adric – and possibly Peri – died. But they were the outliers of their era. Most companions of the time simply moved on.
The new era is a different story. Only Mickey and Martha left the Doctor by choice, having other priorities in their lives. When so many companions simply don’t want to go, how do you allow the actors to move on and the show to evolve?
Apparently, you introduce paradoxes of varying plausibility.
It’s true, it would have been anti-climactic for Amy and Rory to simply choose an ordinary life. It would have been out of character for Rose to leave the Doctor behind at the height of her S2 emotional arc. But there’s one option that the modern era has yet to explore: a better opportunity.
It’s hard to beat all of time and space, but it can be done. Jo married an activist and worked to improve her world. Nyssa stayed behind on Terminus to offer her medical expertise to people in need. Romana and Leela too found something they wanted more. Even Martha and Mickey were able to leave the TARDIS and only occasionally look back.
What if Rose had grown up enough to really go out on her own? What if Donna had discovered her true gift, some ability dormant inside her, sorely needed by someone other than the Doctor? What if they, and Amy and Rory, could have found something bigger than themselves to do with their lives, something their travels made possible but which required leaving those travels behind?
This is the challenge of the new era. Find a story for Clara, find a world or an adventure for her that’s bigger and better than all of time and space. Something only she can do, something that calls to her. Something amazing. Clara Oswald, elected empress. Clara Oswald, guardian of the children of a world. Clara Oswald, queen, president, angel, hero, savior.
Don’t let her fizzle out. Don’t shut her behind some lame paradox. Don’t kill her if you don’t have to. Give her something great.
Today’s companions deserve it.