So, the time has come for Jenna Coleman to move on from Doctor Who, after nearly three years, and two quasi-exits already. She’s been a fantastic companion, and frankly, an even better actress. So, then, in recognition of her departure, I’ve collated everything I’ve ever said about her acting over the course of the past few years, to form something of a tribute to this wonderful actress.
(This post was, in fact, originally going to be posted after Face the Raven, but then Clara’s eventual departure was a little more complicated than initially anticipated, and so I decided to retrofit the post for today – it’s Moffat Appreciation Week, and today is dedicated to Clara. So, yeah, this seemed like a nice idea. No idea if this post is actually applicable though, mind you.)
Now, there isn’t a huge amount here in terms of the series 7 episodes, because that series predates my blog, if I recall correctly. I did review the episodes on my personal facebook, though, which was a real hit amongst my friends; I can’t quite find them to quote them, so in this instance, you get a trip down memory lane.
When Jenna Coleman first appeared as Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks, I don’t think anyone was expecting it – it has to go down as Steven Moffat’s greatest twist ever, actually, because he pulled it off so well. Certainly, it was more effective than the John Hurt reveal the next year, given how well hidden it had been; I mean, when I first saw it, it was such a “what?” moment, really. Spent the first five minutes after the opening titles wondering if it was just someone who looked kinda like the new companion who wasn’t due to start for another few months… and by the time the credits rolled, it was a whole new source of confusion.
I haven’t spoken much about Clara, mostly because I want to see where the story goes with her before talking about this too much, but I will say that Jenna-Louise Coleman might well be the best companion actress since 2005.
Admittedly, even for all my insistence that Clara (or Oswin, as we knew her then) could be the best companion of the new series, I wasn’t entirely enamoured by how the character was utilised throughout her introductory run. Willing though I am to acknowledge that the Impossible Girl arc was very clever, it’s one of those things I respect more than I actually enjoyed.
(At the time of series 7b, I thought that perhaps another interesting way to present the arc would have had Clara keep her memories at the end of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, and know about her echoes for the rest of the season. Maybe The Crimson Horror could have been adjusted somewhat – the reason the Doctor and Clara went to the Victorian era was to investigate the other Clara echo, and so on and so forth. Obviously, however, that was not to be.)
But, to be honest, what we’ve got since Day of the Doctor has been rather excellent, so… I’m willing to call Clara the best companion once more.
I’ve already said how I enjoyed her scene with the Doctor in the restaurant, but I think if I had to choose her best moment of the episode, it was where she was talking to the robot. Clara really held her own there; it was a well written scene, with some pretty good acting to hold it up.
By the start of the 2014 season, Clara began to evolve differently; it was something of a soft reboot for the character, if you like – free from the intrigue and the mystery of the Impossible Girl arc, we were able to see certain of Clara’s characteristics in much sharper focus. While a lot of the basis of the “bossy control freak” had been laid over the course of series 7b, it was series 8 that really emphasised and developed this theme.
The writing is really concentrating on her now; it’s focusing on character traits she already had, but changing the way they look at them, and making them more central to her. She feels a lot more distinctive now, and it’s really encouraging. Seeing her hold her own with the Doctor, and making him re-evaluate his decisions and what he knows in a way that’s unique to her as a character? That’s brilliant.
It was another brilliant showcase for Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. They’re so amazing together, it’s really compelling to watch, especially in episodes as well written as this. My favourite moments for the pair, actually, were the quietly awkward little exchanges towards the beginning; they’d both be trying to be nice, but then one of them would say something, and the facades would drop, and the sadness would be obvious. Moments like that were really touching, actually.
One of the reasons why I think Clara can be considered to be one of the best characters of the revived show is because of the development we see her undertake; across the three-ish seasons that she was the companion, we saw her evolve in a variety of different ways. Two of the key episodes for Clara’s arc were Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express – the possibility of her leaving the TARDIS made for some great drama, and was a really important part of the character’s development.
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were fantastic throughout; the confrontation scene between them, as I’ve already mentioned, was just electric. The Doctor, taking control, intimidating Clara and trying to talk her down. Clara, not listening, not moving, not losing any ground. One of the best scenes of the series, frankly, because of just how brilliant these two are. Please, please, let them both be around for series 9!
Same goes of course for Jenna Coleman. And in this case I’d also say Samuel Anderson. The scenes they had together were… they weren’t poignant, that’s not quite the right way to describe it, because that implies a level of serenity I think. Their scenes were a bit distressing sometimes. In a good way, I mean; they were all very emotional moments, and certainly quite impactful ones.
It’s also hard to talk about Clara without at least some reference to Danny Pink, though; the tragic love story that defined much of the eighth series. Danny was another great character, and when juxtaposed with the Doctor, provided an important foil for Clara. It was the relationship between the pair of them that provided the impetus for a lot of Clara’s development across this series, and I’m very glad we got to see Samuel Anderson’s performance as Danny Pink.
I really liked the moment with old Clara, towards the end, where the Doctor helps her to pull the Christmas cracker. The parallels there with old Matt Smith in The Time of the Doctor from last year were, I think, rather perfect. Very poignant.
It carries forth throughout, really – both Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez are excellent in this episode, and it’s brilliant to see the pair of them together, with Missy essentially in the role of the Doctor.
Of course, with the beginning of series 9, we established a new status quo for Clara once more – here, Doctor Who shrugs off the Coal Hill School setting it had worked so hard to establish last year. In part, it’s an entirely sensible creative decision, linked to the need to continually provide something new each year – but more than that, the departure from Coal Hill is emblematic of the changes in Clara’s own life.
Where adventuring had previously been her hobby, there’s now been a shift; for Clara, her life with the Doctor, from this moment on, took centre stage.
Clara also had some interesting stuff to do this week; Jenna Coleman is a brilliant actress, and I am again inclined to suggest that Clara might be the best companion of the new series. Ordering the Doctor to “die with whoever comes next” was a really well done scene, and everyone involved deserves plaudits for that.
Jenna Coleman finally got something substantial to do this week, which was nice. You could really see Clara’s development into a quasi-Doctor figure (was it just me, or was Jenna Coleman imitating Matt Smith’s body language during her confrontation with Odin?) and Jenna Coleman did a great job of portraying that. Very strong episode for Clara, there, both in terms of the writing and Jenna Coleman’s acting. Which is nice!
Admittedly, in some regards, I felt as though Clara was underutilised once more at times throughout series 9; The Zygon Invasion and its similarly named counterpart could be considered a key example of this. Whilst providing an excellent role for Jenna Coleman as an actress, the two episodes didn’t have the most significant part for Clara to play. True, there was certainly much to see with thematic relevance, but I would still maintain that the lack of a prominent role for Clara across this two-parter is the only flaw in one of the strongest stories of the series.
Speaking of Jenna Coleman’s acting, she did a really fantastic job of playing Bonnie. I think it’s the mark of a great actor when they can play a dual role within a single story and still make them feel meaningfully distinct – it was very easy to forget that Jenna Coleman was playing Bonnie here, as opposed to another actress entirely (albeit admittedly a similar looking one). She did an excellent job of completely altering all her mannerisms, even her voice and elocution, to create an entirely new character.
It’s worth singling out Jenna Coleman though, particularly, given that this may well be one of the last times we ever see her as Clara. Her performance was fantastic; genuinely compelling, and it gave life to some absolutely fantastic scenes. Which is what we’ve become accustomed to from Jenna Coleman, really; I am pretty firm in my belief that she is the best companion we’ve had over the past ten years.
Face the Raven was, I think, a particularly strong episode by Sarah Dollard – it was the best was in which to frame a potential death for Clara, deftly avoiding any danger of a fridging, and ensuring that any tragedy that took place was very much a personal, character-driven and empowering one.
Jenna Coleman is just as skilled, and gives just as compelling a performance. Once again, there’s a danger that I’d be reduced to simply listing scenes – “Don’t you trust me?” “Not when you’re shouting, no.” – so I want to highlight, once again, the final goodbye between the Doctor and Clara in the diner. Where the Doctor doesn’t even realise he’s saying goodbye, not to her. Jenna Coleman gives a great performance; she does a wonderful job of showing the audience Clara’s reluctance to let the Doctor go, and appearing to still want to tell him the truth. It’s very well done.
But then, in the end, it’s not a tragic ending. It’s the most ultimately triumphant ending a companion has ever received, and perhaps the most fitting of them all for Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl. It’s a brilliant final twist; throughout the whole of this season, we’d been lead to believe that Clara becoming more and more like the Doctor would lead to her downfall. In the end, though, it lead to her becoming a Doctor in her own right, travelling the universe in a rackety old TARDIS, with a companion right by her side.
It’s beautiful in terms of what it implies, and allows, for Clara Oswald – just like in her first trip in the TARDIS, way back in The Rings of Akhaten, Clara ends will thousands of different possibilities ahead of her.