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.
“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.
How forever righteous is the spark that ignites the fires of rebellion? Is it always the casting down of shackles that have held back the multitudes, the rise of the oppressed against tyranny, as they realize their strength in numbers and move as one to claim their freedoms? Or could it be nothing more than a chaotic, irrational lash at authority for no other purpose than to feel empowered, an incitement of disorder as a demonstration of might, to feel important through fear, and striving to become the new authority — but in turn, creating another imbalance of power within the next regime?
Peter Harness and Steven Moffat conclude their mid-season story with “The Zygon Inversion”, a performance masterpiece by both the Doctor (Basil?) and Clara, ripe with drama, intensity, emotion and poignancy at this critical time for Doctor Who. In our reaction cast, we revel in the Osgood mystery, marvel at the acting choices of Capaldi in his most stirring monologue to date, witness incredible versatility and character presence from Jenna Coleman in both her roles, and grin shamelessly at the many connections to “Day of the Doctor”, and countless ‘classic’ Whovian references.