Spoilers await for the latest episodes of Doctor Who. You’ve been warned.
In Crisis on Infinite Earths, the first huge DC Comics crossover series from 1985, writer Marv Wolfman was told to kill off the Barry Allen version of the Flash as a huge statement that DC were not mucking about in regards changing everything. So Wolfman gave Barry Allen an heroic death saving the entire universe from the evil bad guy, but he left an opening in that death should anyone at any point want to bring Barry back and it’d also provide new motivation for Barry Allen.
Wolfman’s idea was that Barry could be plucked from his timestream in the fraction of a second before he ran himself to death, and he’d live on having adventures, fighting crime, being part of the Justice League, etc, but all the time Barry would know that he’d have to return to face his death at some point so he’d make every second count in whatever time he had before going off to die. This way would have kept Barry’s sacrifice intact and created a new motivation for his heroism.
If anyone reading this was watching Hell Bent, the last episode of Series 9 of the returned Doctor Who last night you’ll realise right away that producer and head writer Steven Moffat used virtually that same idea to return the character of Clara back to life a fortnight after everyone thought her dead and gone in an episode that cheapens the previous episodes, and not just that, it means that in future if Moffat writes a major character or companion’s death, we’re not going to trust it. So frankly, why the fuck should we emotionally invest in anything Moffat writes at all from now on if something like Clara’s death can be so easily reversed?
Her death was the logical end of her story arc. She’s been cocky, selfish, stubborn and in thinking she’s as smart as the Doctor, she did something that doomed her to facing death and she did so calmly and heroically. She got a good death scene and we, the viewer were invested in that so even if you didn’t especially care for the Clara character (she was at times exceptionally annoying/badly written and acted) this was an amazing scene because it was great. A companion died because they thought they were the Doctor and the Doctor stood back knowing he could do nothing, then after being essentially put through billions of years of torture by the Time Lords turns up on Gallifrey to enact revenge and justice upon Rassilon and the High Council for their part in the Time War.
Everything up to there is great. There’s some nice little scenes of the Doctor mingling with ordinary Gallifreians that tell a lot mainly because of Peter Capaldi acting his balls off as he has done throughout this series. Then from about 20-25 minutes into Hell Bent it turns to crap as the Time War/Rassilon plot is wrapped up far, far too quickly (it’s a few lines of dialogue in passing) for something that’s been built up since the programme came back a decade ago.
No, that decade worth of plot, character development and story is ditched so the Doctor gets the Time Lords to pull Clara out of her timestream a moment before her death so she can help him find out who or what the hybrid (this series ongoing plot) is, but in reality the Doctor has gotten the Time Lords (who are now Rassilon free and look to the Doctor not just as a war hero that saved them all, but as a leader) to do this for him so he can bring Clara back to life, and it’s these scenes the writing collapses. The Doctor ends up shooting a Time Lord in a scene that’s stupefyingly callous because this is something he’d never, ever do. Sure, there’s a line saying that ‘death is like man flu for Time Lords’ which is nonsense as the programme has made it clear that they feel every part of their death, and it ticks off another regeneration which brings them nearer to death.
But to Moffat, Clara is the most important thing here. The Doctor can go against 52 years of characterisation and act like an arsehole to save one life that’s lost because of that person’s hubris. Moffat looked like he’d carved out a good arc for Clara, given her a death which lets her leave with some dignity and this would give the Doctor the motivation to face the Time Lords and bang! There’s a decade worth of story ended in a decent way.
Instead Clara isn’t just alive still, but after some utter gubbins ends up with her own Tardis in the company of the immortal Me, the character played by Masie Williams. There’s some more gubbins that involves the Doctor forgetting the arseholery he’s done (but he’s still done it anyhow) and getting back to being the Doctor, but Clara and Me are whizzing round all of time and space in their own Tardis. Clara lives and she can have her own spin off because in the land of Steven Moffat, logical character arcs and character development goes out the window when it comes to a character who seems like his own avatar in the programme.
What’s really tragic is that this series has been on the whole, excellent. The focus on two part stories has allowed for some good storytelling, and the undersea base story, and the Zygon story stand out especially as some of the best stories since the programme came back in 2005. Also Peter Capaldi has hit his stride in terms of being the Doctor. He’s holding this programme together with some seriously good performances which considering at times he’s given some rubbish to speak, is a feat and a half.
Ultimately though allowing Clara to live, and to happily flash round round the universe in her own Tardis, cheats the audience and in the programme diminishes death as a serious dramatic threat for a future companion. In short, it’s a steaming big bag of shite that makes Clara The Most Important Companion Ever, and makes the next person smaller in scale because they’ll never be Clara and that’s quite depressing.