Those heady days of youth, when everything was experienced, felt, lived and loved in the present moment, and there was not a care in the world — or at least, not of this Earth. Who can forget the conversations with friends in the courtyards, the glances cast towards our crushes in the hallways, the explosions and showers of glass and rubble as Daleks burst through the walls of the science lab? Ah, memories.
This week, we look at the past, present, and future of the esteemed fictitious educational institution of the Coal Hill Secondary School. From the first scenes of An Unearthly Child in 1963, to the forthcoming spin-off series Class, the campus has been a recurring location for Doctor Who, and a hub of interstellar, and trans-dimensional activity. Of course, it often leads to chaos, destruction, and panic in the streets, but hey — teenage life is tumultuous by definition, right?
Series Nine of Doctor Who was, in a word, groundbreaking. The broadcast format changed. The tone shifted dramatically (pun intended, of course). The stories grew in intensity and weight. The performances from both principal and supporting casts expanded exponentially. The series as a whole felt cohesive, focused, and full of the thrills, adventure, and emotion that marks a stellar season for the program.
Over and above all these accolades, and in many ways directly feeding into them, was the rising strength of women involved in the program. Like most viewers, we were astounded by the immediately apparent acting prowess of Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, Alex Kingston, Ingrid Oliver, and Jemma Redgrave; the directorial eye of Rachel Talalay and Hettie MacDonald; and the exceptional first episode contributions of Sarah Dollard and Catherine Tregenna. As we sit back and absorb all we’ve been given, the question is raised: in 2015, why are we still surprised to see these wonderful things happen?
Joined by brilliant blogger and Gallifreyan aficionado Alyssa of Whovian Feminism, we sit for a long session to discuss what has been a banner year for women in Doctor Who. We discuss the legacy of the program, accusations and confirmed instances of misogyny and chauvinism, the roles and representation of women both on camera and behind it. It becomes immediately clear that this is an ‘iceberg’ topic too large to address in one episode, so even with continued talk about the Bechdel test and other related issues in the “GPR After Dark” extended time that follows, we know for certain that we’ll be coming back to the subject — hopefully with news to celebrate about further advances for women’s equality in Series 10.
Back at the close of Series 8, we recorded an episode where we looked at the road traveled thus far with the Impossible Girl, and the changes we were starting to observe with the character. Due in no small part to Jenna Coleman’s ever-expanding performance, writers and directors who explicitly sought to challenge and inspire growth, and highly praised chemistry with (new) lead actor, Peter Capaldi, we came to know and Clara much better, found ourselves endeared to her, and eager to see where she would continue to grow.
Once news emerged that Ms. Coleman would be exiting somewhere in the span of Series 9, Keir wrote a short article reflecting on the way Clara Oswald had worked her way into our personal pantheon of great companions — much to our own surprise. Jenna’s work was nothing short of exemplary, and we knew her exit would be more painful than we may have originally predicted.
Now that the “Era of Clara” has drawn to a close, we look fondly back on the most unlikely companion we ever thought we’d miss — and the many ways that she evolved from Impossible Girl to Improbable Favorite over her tenure.
Emotions are complicated, often messy human traits — flaws, if you were to ask a Dalek or a Cyberman. They can inspire songs and uplift spirits, motivate heroes and move armies, weaken the stalwart and petrify the proud. We rely on them as much as we are hindered by them. In some fashion, we cherish the negative as much as the positive, for as every artist will attest, the light requires the shadow for contrast. What happens when those emotions are altered, muted, or wiped clean? Is it better to remember a lost one fondly, or not remember them at all, to avoid the pain? Have we not earned the right to carry both weights upon the scales of our lives?
The tumultuous, often quite dark Season Nine of Doctor Who comes to a close with “Hell Bent”, and with it, moments of controversy among fans of the program. Clara left us in “Face the Raven”, given an abrupt but heartbreaking farewell that succinctly encompassed all she meant to her Doctor, to us as viewers, and to the show’s legacy. She suddenly reappears, and we all have to find some way to handle mourning her all over — or perhaps not, as Steven Moffat once again entertains the idea that ‘Death on Doctor Who‘ is not a permanency. We have to ask a very simple, but surprisingly complex question that transcends more than just television program, and speaks to storytelling on a larger scale: does a beautifully crafted tale justify a story that risks upsetting the audience for what it does with its principal characters?
“You. Now, you listen to me. You’re going to be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re going to be furious and you’re going to be sad, but listen to me. Don’t let this change you. No, listen. Whatever happens next, wherever she is sending you — I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Promise me. Be a Doctor. Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So I’m not asking you for a promise. I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no-one else, here or anywhere, will suffer. This is as brave as I know how to be. I know it’s going to hurt you, but…please…be a little proud of me. Goodbye, Doctor.”
“Let me be brave.” A final credo repeated by Clara Oswald, and very likely uttered by many Whovians as they reached the end of an exceptional freshman script from writer Sarah Dollard. This week, we discuss this compelling story, crowned by a heart-wrenching exit by one of the most surprisingly beloved companions of the program since the 2005 revitalization.