Wednesday, December 11, 2013

To Think of a Way to Save Her (The Name of the Doctor)

In this image, Clara is cleverly disguised as Professor River
Song.
It’s May 18th, 2013. Daft Punk and Pharrell are at number one with “Get Lucky,” with Pink, Will I am, Chris Malinchak, and Passenger also charting. In news, Angelina Jolie announces that she has had a double mastectomy, David Beckham announces his retirement, and, three days after this story airs, the House of Commons votes to allow same sex marriage in England and Wales. 

While on television, Doctor Who’s seventh season since its triumphant 2005 return concludes with The Name of the Doctor. As a season finale, of course, it is written by Steven Moffat. For the most part the format of a season finale has been consistent since the series returned; a narrative collapse storyline. But in other ways the format has changed dramatically. First and foremost, for two seasons running, due to the split season structure, the season finale has been a one-parter instead of a two-parter. More to the point, there’s been a dramatic shift in the nature of endings over the last few seasons. Davies’s season finales typically focused primarily on wrapping up stories and serving as endings, with a quick tease about the future thrown in at the very end (if at all - c.f. Journey’s End). Moffat’s finales, however, have a much more anticipatory structure. They’re much more directly concerned with pointing towards the future. Even The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, for all that its ending feels like a Russell T Davies finale, is packed with future teases in a way no Davies finale is. But after that the structure changed to what we have here - a story that ties up a season-long arc as an almost incidental detail of an episode that is primarily about looking forward. The Name of the Doctor resolves the mystery of the multiple Claras and reveals a key detail about Trenzalore, yes, but on the whole its real structure is forward-looking. It is much more about being the first part of Moffat’s Noun of the Doctor trilogy. 

Ostensibly, of course, it wraps up not only the Clara storyline but the Great Intelligence storyline. But what’s telling is how much both of these storylines are feints. The Great Intelligence is, from his first new series appearance, something of a comical villain, best defined by the inept excesses of his schemes. He’s a clever marketing double joke. First he allows for the new series to make an arcanely humorous classic series reference to what was, at the time of The Snowmen, a missing story. The joke is overtly that the Great Intelligence is kind of rubbish - hence Madame Vastra and Jenny making fun of his absurd schemes (which are, of course, the actual schemes he used in his two Troughton appearances). Second, of course, it provides useful marketing for the recovered The Web of Fear by making it so that story features an appearance by a “major” new series villain.

But all of this obscures the fact that the Great Intelligence simply isn’t a serious threat. Yes, he manages an outrageous coup by stepping into the Doctor’s timeline and destroying him at every moment in his existence, but in doing it he admits that he’s just cranky and so desperate for revenge that he’s willing to commit suicide to get it. And his victory lasts all of five minutes before Clara undoes it. He occupies the structural position of the Big Bad without actually being particularly big. All of his magnitude comes from the fact that he’s a recurring character played by a big name guest actor. But Grant is putting no effort into the part, playing him as a cliched bit of leering smugness. Which is, of course, exactly what the part calls for - a big name actor basically phoning it in.

Instead the Great Intelligence is simply a vehicle for causing a revelation about Trenzalore - a revelation that works in the classic sense of raising more questions than it answers. For the second time in two seasons, Moffat nicks from Alien Bodies and has the Doctor encounter the existential threat of his own eventual death. This time, however, the adventure with the Great Intelligence trying to break into his tomb is really there to introduce more fundamental questions, specifically what happened to the Doctor. Conspicuously absent through this entire episode - indeed, through this entire season - are the Silence. (A monster particularly jarring when they are absent.) And, of course, we know that the Silence are inextricable from this mystery. The Great Intelligence may ask the question on Trenzalore, but Silence noticeably does not fall.

And, of course, there’s the final scene, which gestures forwards to The Day of the Doctor by introducing the War Doctor. It’s tempting to treat this as a late reveal in a more traditionally Davies style, but this ignores the fact that the entire episode is structured around it. The decision to open on Gallifrey with Clara advising the Doctor on which TARDIS to take and to do a grand tour of (wonderfully rubbish) episodes for the past Doctors immediately contextualizes the story in the fiftieth anniversary. The moment you see William Hartnell it’s clear that this story is going to lead directly into The Day of the Doctor (even if that story didn’t even have a name when this aired). And so the coda is not, as it might first appear, an extra scene tacked on to tease the finale, but the natural and necessary resolution to the cold open. This too, in other words, is anticipatory storytelling, in which stories exist primarily to tease the existence of future stories. 

But this has been the defining nature of Moffat’s storytelling since the prehistory of his era. Even in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, a story which coincided with the announcement that Moffat would be taking over, Moffat was as interested in setting up future stories as he was in telling that one. River was, in her first appearance, one giant tease of unseen adventures that were already written but not quite seen. The airing of Forest of the Dead, in fact, coincided with the first tease of what Moffat would be doing as showrunner - on the podcast commentary track (which is one of the best commentary tracks ever) Tennant and Davies beg Moffat for a hint about what’s to come when Moffat admits to having started on his first episode. Moffat gives the clue that “you’ll never be in your house again,” which, in hindsight, is recognizable as an early draft version of the revelation of what’s really meant by “Prisoner Zero will vacate the the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated.” So from the beginning the Moffat era has looked forward, with every story in part being the commencement of the promotional campaign for a later one.

The result of this technique is in some ways a mixed bag - the continual tone of breathless anticipation can at times get frustrating, and requires a steady flow of revelations to balance out the teases. When this balance is off it becomes tremendously unsatisfying - case in point, The Wedding of River Song, in which the only real revelation was the particular mechanic by which the Doctor cheated death, leaving the season finale feeling kind of underwhelming. But The Name of the Doctor manages this well - its triple revelation of the nature of Clara, the nature of Trenzalore, and the War Doctor is meaty and satisfying, even if two of them raise as many questions as they do answers. 

Of these Trenzalore is in many ways the most interesting, even if it is nicked from Alien Bodies. The first time the Doctor encountered his own death was primarily a puzzle box about the nature of the Doctor’s conflict with the Silence and what the future Doctor’s plan was. The second time, however, is more ominous because Trenzalore has already been teased as the site of a major revelation regarding the Silence, and as the “Fall of the Eleventh.” The fact that we see the Doctor’s grave and the wound that is his body further exacerbates the sense that we are seeing the end of the narrative. And this, notably, is the proper end - it’s not something fungible like the regeneration limit, but his death; the immutable endpoint of his story, however far ahead it may actually be. In a narrative that has become based on the anticipation of the next story, this is particularly chilling. 

It’s fitting, then, that this is a River Song episode, and, more to the point, one that acutely reminds us of how River Song was introduced, which is to say, in terms of her own death. River appears here as a literal ghost, haunting the narrative both in form and function. She appears after the moment of her own death. On the one hand this hints to the inevitable resolution of the Trenzalore storyline, destroying as it does the idea that death is the end of the story. And, of course, River’s mystery still isn’t quite resolved. We still don’t know the answer to the very first mystery we ever got about her: how does she know the Doctor’s name? However much this may appear the end of River’s story, it’s telling that a story called The Name of the Doctor fails to elaborate on this basic mystery. The narrative is not done with River Song.

And yet on the other hand her haunting of the narrative reiterates the central point, which is the existence of the ending as a property of storytelling. In many ways this is the most brutal form of narrative collapse that can be unleashed on Doctor Who. Given its extreme flexibility and promise of eternal storytelling, the ending is the one thing that can truly threaten it. It can survive any narrative collapse save for the possibility that some day people will simply stop telling new Doctor Who stories. This is the threat River has always posed - she’s a character who entered the narrative with her ending in place. And here she serves both as a reminder of that threat and as an observation that endings too are fungible for a story about time travel. 

And yet the real point of the story is Clara, a character who Moffat weaves one of his most elaborate bluffs around. Even before her first appearance Clara was a mystery. So much so that the mystery consumed the character, so that when she appeared her actual character traits were buried beneath the question of who she was. Like the Doctor, the audience ignored every single clue and insistence that Clara was a perfectly ordinary girl and not some vast cosmic mystery and trap. And in the end this is shown to be the wrong approach. Clara’s nature isn’t as some vast cosmic mystery. In the end, Clara’s nature is as a young woman who does the right thing - who steps in and tries to save the universe, at great personal cost, for seemingly no reason other than that it’s the right thing to do. Who continued to look after two children for no reason other than that she had promised to do so. 

It is fitting that Clara’s mystery is not even remotely solvable prior to The Name of the Doctor, because the entire point of her story arc in these eight episodes is that treating a person as a mystery is wrong. Clara never was a mystery, but rather a person who, in saving the Doctor, ascended to become one. It is, in many ways, a critique of the epic done on the most Doctor Who-like of terms, taking what appeared to be a vast mystery through time and space and making it the story of an ordinary and therefore extraordinary and impossible girl. 

This too reflects back on River, whose status as a mystery is steadily replaced by her status as a character, such that her appearance in this story, where she suddenly takes an almost entirely mystery-based role, is quite jarring. Note also that it is the act of reconciling with her and treating her as a person instead of as a plot function that allows the Doctor to save Clara, which he also does by treating her as a person instead of as a mystery. Because this - not the Great Intelligence’s hair-brained scheme - is what matters. Even when the Great Intelligence is threatening the entire universe, the main consequence we see is Vastra and Strax’s friendship crumbling and being undone as Strax becomes a generic Sontaran. Throughout this story the message is that it is not, in fact, big sci-fi concepts that matter, but people. A point that is hammered home in the final scene, when the Doctor explains that what matters is who he is. The Name of the Doctor refers not to the enduring mystery of his birth name, but to the question of who he is as a person. 


And so we come to understand the real nature of River’s knowing his name, and of the oldest question in the universe. What she knows is not some piece of trivia to file alongside “Theta Sigma” and the possibility that his name actually is Who. What she knows is the character of the Doctor. And this is what she has always known. Not so much "Doctor Who," as "who is the Doctor." But to fully answer that, it seems, we will have to look at who the Doctor isn’t. 

Apparently, he isn’t John Hurt.

101 comments:

  1. "River’s mystery still isn’t quite resolved. We still don’t know the answer to the very first mystery we ever got about her: how does she know the Doctor’s name?"

    While Moffat may give an alternate answer at some point, within the narrative of Doctor Who this has been answered. In "A Good Man Goes To War" we are introduced to the Doctor's crib, which has his name written on it in High Gallifreyan. In "Time of Angels," River is revealed to be able to read and write in High Gallifreyan. Ergo, she read it on the side of his cot.

    Like the Doctor himself, River uses her reputation to confuse or intimidate people. But also like the Doctor, much of it is bluff. As Moffat says in the episode commentary to "Forest of the Dead" the Doctor's not a superman, his real power is his ability to talk, and utilise the power of words, which is exactly what Moffat does as a writer.

    How River knows the Doctor's name is never important. It's the fact that she knows it and what it says about her relationship with the Doctor, and as revealed in Name of the Doctor, his relationship with her.

    I love this essay, as it is about what lays at the heart of Doctor Who as a continuous narrative. It's never really been about big sci-fi concepts, nor even men in rubber suits. It's always been about people, and just how important people are. The best periods of Doctor Who's history have always remembered this. The worst parts have forgotten.

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    1. What has never been explained is what the Doctor's bloody cot was doing in the TARDIS in the first place. Even Moffat adheres to the canonicity of the 'first' Doctor stealing (or, according to Gaiman, being stolen by) the TARDIS, with Clara there to point him in the right direction. It has never been suggested that he was born and raised in the TARDIS so what is going on here? Are we to expect a further Noun of the Doctor story from Moffat detailing The Birth of the Doctor?

      Of course 'the Doctor lies'. Assuming the Hurt Doctor didn't take a detour before stealing the Moment to retrieve his baby things as souvenirs before destroying/saving Gallifrey that is not his crib and that is not his name on it in High Gallifreyan. And River can indeed read it and knows this.

      I doubt Moffat will return to this as I actually think he believes that it is the Doctor's crib and didn't think it through. Just as he is insisting that the Doctor has been running from the guilt of destroying Gallifrey - 'all his lives' despite the fact that he didn't participate in the Time War until his ninth incarnation. Don't bother asking Moffat he'll just trot out his mantra - 'Timey Wimey, wait and see. Only sad old fans care. Ooh look kittens!'.

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    2. Regarding your last paragraph: the text is quite careful to sidestep this difficulty! Matt Smith's voiceover for the trailer goes, "I’ve been running all my lives. Through time and space… Every second of every minute of every day for over 900 years. I fought for peace in a universe at war. Now the time has come to face the choices I have made in the name of the Doctor. Our future depends on one single moment of one impossible day, the day I’ve been running from all my life… The Day of the Doctor." [my emphasis]

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    3. The question of the Doctor's crib is, of course, a feint. What matters is not the mystery of how certain props ended up in the TARDIS, but the characters. How the Doctor retrieved his cot, after so many trips to Gallifrey (including the audios and novels) is absolutely trivial. It's this reliance on the importance of triviality that's at the core of the Levinian ethos that infused the Saward era with such irrelevance, a layer of cardboard over a cake of cynical rot.

      What's not trivial is how the cot is used to reveal the nature of River Song, namely that she has also slept in that cot, as the baby Melody Pond, and that the Prayer Leaf inside will translate before her mother's eyes. It affirms that River is like the Doctor -- not just a Time Lord, but someone who understands Time in a Circular nature in such a way as to "fix" it and seal her fate.

      And of course the cot is another vehicle for demonstrating the Doctor's reluctance to reveal himself. Amy asks him if he has children, and he pointedly ducks the question. When he does reveal something of himself, he does it in a way that's inherently misdirecting. This doesn't just tell us who the Doctor is, it shows us in a tightly economical way.

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    4. Might the crib -- that has been both the Doctor's and River's -- possibly have been Susan's at some point?

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    5. Well said, Jane. Any question that can be seriously answered by the words "Season 6b" isn't a question the current showrunner is very interested in exploring, and I'm happy with that. Looking for continuity in a show which started out with no clue as to its own longevity and which has had much of its own early history erased isn't so much futile as it is missing the core of what makes Doctor Who what it is. Or, within the narrative, missing out on the deep storytelling potential of travel in space and time.

      Similarly, the important question isn't how River knows the Doctor's name. It's what her knowing means for the two of them.

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    7. Woops! meant to post that comment in the main thread, my mistake.

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    8. The "crib" theory for how River knows the Doctor's name doesn't fit with what she says in this episode:

                  RIVER
          Well, I know it.
          
                  CLARA
          What, you know his name? He told you?
          
                  RIVER
          I made him.
          
                  CLARA
          How?
          
                  RIVER
          It took a while.

      Which is not to say that you can't come up with some way to make them fit (River's lying here? She made him get out the crib and show her the name?): it's just that the programme has not yet done so.

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    9. The question of the Doctor's crib overlooks all those times the Doctor came and went on Gallifrey more or less freely. There was a long stretch of time on the show when the only thing keeping him away was the threat of being forced to assume the office of President. With the exception of The End of Time, the Doctor has been shown to have a great affection for everything of Gallifrey that wasn't its politics (admittedly, mostly born out of its destruction, the most final reason "you can't go home again"), and bringing Susan with him at first shows he's also got a soft spot for family, even if he doesn't spend time with them or keep in touch (I'm sure many of us can relate).

      More to the point, I rather thought River knew his name because, even if he didn't actually tell her at the moment they married onscreen, he told her eventually, since he does in fact consider the marriage valid. Her prison stay included quite a few overnight dates that could have happened on. Alternatively, he told her on their final date to prepare her for the Library as much as the screwdriver did.

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    10. I prefer to think River extracted his name through the deft use of handcuffs, and an expertly applied sonic.

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    11. @jane
      Yes yes of course the prop is more important than the manner of its production. I'm totally down with metaphor and fairy tale logic. I bloody love it. I don't care at all for pedantic continuity or canon. In fact I'm usually the person on this, blog arguing most fiercely that there is no such thing as canon in Doctor Who. This last is said also in answer to @David Ainsworth who brings up 'series 6b' as though I am challenging someone to continuity-fit the cot. Not at all. What I am arguing is that the metaphor of the cot could be beautiful but Moffat fumbles the save, as he often does with depressing predictability , like an England goalie defending a World cup penalty. Yes lets see a Gallifreyan cot. Yes by all means lets have River Song's name translate itself through the 'gift of the Tardis' but wouldn't it have been more effective, not to mention Timey Wimey, if it had been somehow River's cot all along? existing paradoxically in the TARDIS store room before she was born. With River's name engraved on it. What metaphoric purpose does making it the Doctor's cot serve? What is it telling us about the Doctor that he carries around his old cot? What might the cot signify to him? That is what is left out of the narrative and I'm sorry it just isn't good enough to ask us to make up our own reasons or back story. With a character like the Doctor the mystery is everything but setting up a 'mystery' like the cot and not providing a diagetic reason for it being there is just plain careless writing.

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    12. @BerserkRL
      Susan's cot was my guess too but the shot in The Name of the Doctor of the first Doctor stealing the TARDIS with an already teenage grandaughter rather spoils that theory.

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    13. @jane
      'I prefer to think River extracted his name through the deft use of handcuffs, and an expertly applied sonic.'
      Now that's more like it.

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    14. @Anton,

      The cot is beautiful, because it's used both to reveal the Doctor and River Song. That whole scene is exquisite -- the two characters are so strongly mirrored, it's hard not to learn about one by watching the other, and the cot is certainly part of that. Making it a timey-wimey cot wholly reflective of River would lessen the revelation of who the Doctor is.

      Just the fact that he's got his old cot shows him to be far more sentimental than he'd ever admit. It's over his cot that Amy tries to pry personal information about his life -- and she does, in fact, get some small intimate tidbit, though not what she was angling for. If it wasn't his cot, it wouldn't reveal anything about him, because it wouldn't something personal to him.

      (And of course there's the joke that he and River were destined to share a bed from the very beginning.)

      So the cot is, in effect, a mirror. But then, River is a mirror to the Doctor over the cot as well -- she shows him who he was, and who he'll be. No wonder his asks her "How do I look?" once it all becomes clear to him.

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    15. @jane
      Thanks. Okay I'll buy all that because you are so good at finding the redemptive metaphor where I would say one should exist and doesn't. My Gods! My BA English and Drama dissertation was on mirroring and the uncanny in Dodgson's Alice books so I should be able to see it in Moffat's Doctor Who work if only as an exercise in suspending belief in authorial intention. It's a bit of a stretch though and I'm still smarting from being thought a continuity bore.

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    16. @Anton,

      I don't think you even need to suspend belief in authorial intention. Moffat's who is rife with mirrors, both figurative and literal:
      -- Amy destroying a sexy fish vampire with her compact mirror,
      -- the Siren passing through reflections
      -- the mirrors mounted in the roundels of Eleven's first TARDIS
      -- the Doctor seeing himself in the TARDIS voice interface
      -- Rory and Strax, both Warrior-Nurses
      -- Smashing through a mirror to save Reinette
      -- River in her Apollo suit / the Vashta Nerade in white spacesuits
      -- Mirrors multiply in the Library in "Continuity Errors"
      -- telling Amy to "look in the mirror" to get in the hospital in 11th Hour
      -- seeing himself in Prisoner Zero in 11th Hour
      -- mirrors, chandelier, glasses of water in Liz X's apartment
      -- the Tesselector as Mirror to Amy and River
      -- the Snow "mirrors" the subconscious
      -- Dorium / TARDIS juxtaposition
      -- Reflections in glass and mirrors between Doctor and Dreamlord
      -- the mirror contraption for finding invisible monsters in Vincent
      -- Labyrinth of Mirrors in The God Complex
      -- call out to "the Looking Glass" in Power of Three

      I mean, I could go on, but just as the basic visual level it's been close to ridiculous.

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    17. Which is not to say that you can't come up with some way to make them fit (River's lying here? She made him get out the crib and show her the name?): it's just that the programme has not yet done so.

      I think "I played into a complex predestination paradox that forced him to pull out that cradle for baby-me" might count. I know when the episode first aired, my immediate thought when she explained that the writing on the crib was Gallifreyan was "Oh, that's how she knows his name".

      But I think the implication is kinda weird that somewhere out there, there's a really boring fifth Doctor missing adventure where he pops back to gallifrey to collect a box of crap out of mom's attic.

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    19. I doubt Moffat will return to this as I actually think he believes that it is the Doctor's crib and didn't think it through. Just as he is insisting that the Doctor has been running from the guilt of destroying Gallifrey - 'all his lives' despite the fact that he didn't participate in the Time War until his ninth incarnation. Don't bother asking Moffat he'll just trot out his mantra - 'Timey Wimey, wait and see. Only sad old fans care. Ooh look kittens!'.


      Moffat loves puzzle boxes. And the thing about puzzle boxes is that they are intricate, and clever, and beautiful, and self contained

      But you've kinda hit on the root of my problem with Day of the Doctor. Really, the only thing from the past 50 years it ties into in a meaningful way is "The mystery of why the tenth doctor married Queen Elizabeth" -- even the time war stuff doesn't really play into anything earlier or reframe past events in any meaningful way -- there's no "Oh! So that's why--" or "But then everything we thought was wrong!" moments. Even the reveal of the Warlock-Doctor in Name of the Doctor has basically jack-all to do with these events. I'd even say Hurt's appearance is counter-productive in NotD: it sets up an entirely false mystery. There's this big "This is the version of me I keep a total secret from everyone even myself because of the secret shame I must never talk about" mystery set up, and the reveal is... He forsook the name when he went to fight in the Time War. The thing he tells anyone who asks or even stands next to him for too long. the only "secret" about this missing doctor is "He looked like veteran actor and penis-farmer John Hurt." WHat the hell does it even mean in context that he's the "secret he'll take to his grave"?

      I actually did come up with a possible way that the "all my lives" thing could work in context. I wrote it out as a short story, but the general gist is that you can maybe read the appearance of all thirteen doctors at the climax to suggest that the reason the First Doctor left gallifrey was that he'd been given information about the coming war.
      (My version builds in our host's analysis that The Dalek Invasion of Earth is when Hartnell's Doctor actually becomes "The Doctor" and marks the Daleks as the One True Enemy.)

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    20. "There's this big "This is the version of me I keep a total secret from everyone even myself because of the secret shame I must never talk about" mystery set up, and the reveal is... He forsook the name when he went to fight in the Time War."

      So... not the fact that ending the Time War wasn't some ad hoc improvised solution in desperate situation as most people assumed, and was, in fact, a cold calculating act of genocide?

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    21. So... not the fact that ending the Time War wasn't some ad hoc improvised solution in desperate situation as most people assumed, and was, in fact, a cold calculating act of genocide?

      I wasn't aware that anyone had ever assumed that, especially not after The End of Time.

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  3. "The Wedding of River Song, in which the only real revelation was the particular mechanic by which the Doctor cheated death, leaving the season finale feeling kind of underwhelming."

    What about the *reasons* behind the attempt on the Doctor's life? The entire episode being structured to deliver those last few moments and the revelation of the "oldest question in the universe" as the punchline to a year long joke - despite the fact that we could have heard it far earlier in the episode.

    The Wedding of River Song is structured in a similar way to Name - like the faux-mystery of Clara, as an audience we are led to this all revolves around the mystery of River. We spend an entire series wondering Who Is River Song? And the mysteries of River Song's Life that the punchline is that we've completely forgotten that we haven't resolved the mystery of Who is the Doctor? And the mystery revolves not around his death, but his life.

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    1. There's also the revelations that River visits her mother periodically, that the Brigadier has died, that Dorium lives on as a head in a box, and Amy's realization that she's the Doctor's mother-in-law.

      But the true revelations are the "wedding" of Love and Death, the quintessential American story (at least according to postmodern literary critic Leslie Fiedler), and the "wedding" of narrative point-of-view at the end -- River's revelation to Amy and Rory is married to the Doctor's revelation to Dorium.

      There's also, strangely, the revelation regarding a story question raised in the trailer released before the second half of the season -- namely, why River is wearing an eyepatch like Madam Kovarian's.

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    2. And all this time, I reckoned the reason they were all wearing eyepatches was an homage to Nicholas Courtney.

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  4. I was hoping to see a Silence/Forest essay, though I suppose that may still be coming, so I could have a good old whinge about what a waste it is setting a Doctor Who story in giant library in order to tell a story about computers and carnivorous shadows and a good old rant about how cruel these episodes are to Donna as a character. Also bring up how this story revives the classic "change the concept considerably for episode 2" structure, and the somewhat detrimental effect this has on episode 1. Ah well...

    I am actually something of a fan of The Wedding of River Song, it was such a breath of fresh air to get a one-parter season finale that gave us the semblance of a narrative post-collapse. It feels a little lightweight and lacking in emotional drama, for sure, but it gave us a way out of the increasingly numbing E.P.I.C season finales we'd been getting (the sort that reached fever pitch with Stolen Earth/Journey's End) that Big Bang/Pandorica only hinted at. It was probably the first time that Moffatt's vision really appealed to me since The Girl in the Fireplace.

    TNOTD is fantastic, though, and is the real fulfilment of Wedding's potential. It is both the culmination of the two aspects of Moffatt's approach to the show that I most appreciate- the unabashedly explicit use of magic ("Time travel has always been possible in dreams," is poetic on its own, but for a fan of magic and alchemy in Who it is positively triumphant) and the sort of ambiguous storytelling that is light audience-patronising explanation and heavy on just-go-with-it leaps of faith- as well as a return to the humanism of the Davies era that we lost along the way.



    Richard E Grant is a special case as an actor: outside of Withnail and I he has, time and time again, carved all his performances out of a particularly stiff, at times seemingly petrified, variety of wood, But, damn it, he was utterly brilliant in Withnail and I (and, perhaps, Curse of Fatal Death).

    I still have about a billion gripes about things Moffatt is doing in Doctor Who and in Sherlock, but stories like ThemName of The Doctor give me more than enough reasons to trust in his continuing abilities as a storyteller and showrunner.

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    1. There's no way to read a printed (not in braille) book without light. Hence carnivorous shadows. It's not about computers any more than the Matrix is. It's about virtual reality, hence fictional reality, hence fiction and reality. Which brings us back to stories and thus to the library. The library's here because it's the easiest type of archive of stories to represent.

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    2. Grant is also fantastic as Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life, which is as a matter of fact written and directed by Peter Capaldi.

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    3. Grant is also fantastic as Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life, which is as a matter of fact written and directed by Peter Capaldi.

      I have no idea why I still haven't seen this, but a rare good performance from REG is yet another reason why I'm an idiot.

      There's no way to read a printed (not in braille) book without light. Hence carnivorous shadows. It's not about computers any more than the Matrix is. It's about virtual reality, hence fictional reality, hence fiction and reality. Which brings us back to stories and thus to the library. The library's here because it's the easiest type of archive of stories to represent.

      These are good, interesting justifications for the concepts on display, but they just never seem to be explored in this way within the actual episodes. The closest it gets is the dream logic of Donna's virtual reality scenes, which create a nice dreams=stories=virtual reality... thing... and I suppose the meeting-in-the-wrong-order River bits are an overt play on storytelling concepts, but... I guess I just wanted these stories, being set in a giant library, to be a different thing entirely and there's no use whinging when what we got was still a functional (though pretty messily paced in episode 1) sci-fi thriller with a few clever ideas.

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    4. Donna's virtual reality scenes don't operate according to dream logic. They operate according to televisual logic. They cut from one scene to the next.
      Nobody ever steps up and explicitly says these are the themes we are exploring in this story. Although, scenes in which a contemporary child dreams about being in Doctor Who or watches Doctor Who on television should be a tip-off. And also, 'Everybody knows that everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor, but I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever, for one moment, accepts it,' looks to me like an explicit statement of Phil's concept of narrative collapse. If the Doctor gives up saving people there are no more Doctor Who stories and therefore no more Doctor Who worlds.
      (I agree it's the weakest of the four Davies-era Moffat stories. But that's not saying much.)

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    5. The Library isn't just a place of books, and not even just a place of stories. The Library is a place of Death -- which infests all the books within. So that is the metaphor that's really being played with -- and which informs the underlying nature of the virtual reality as well, being an "afterlife" run by a Girl Savior who is, indeed, perfect in the sense that she will save everyone without prequalification.

      This also makes the Library the equivalent of the Akashic Records -- "The akashic record is like an immense photographic film, registering all the desires and earth experiences of our planet. Those who perceive it will see pictured thereon: The life experiences of every human being since time began, the reactions to experience of the entire animal kingdom, the aggregation of the thought-forms of a karmic nature (based on desire) of every human unit throughout time," as theosophist Alice Bailey puts it.

      Anyways, the Library is likened to a Forest, setting up a truly unique metaphor that gets used over and over again going forward -- the Forest on the Byzantium, the Androzani forest, even the forest in Hide -- and of course, the Prayer Leaf upon which River Song's name is writ, and Clara's Leaf, too. The World Tree is the axis mundi that connects Above and Below, Heaven and Underworld -- it unifies opposites. The Forest suggests such union for everyone.

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    6. Grant is also excellent in "How To Get Ahead in Advertising" (Bruce Robinson's caustic follow up to Withnail & I…) and the Julian Sands film "Warlock," where he plays a time travelling seventeenth century witch hunter delivering lines such as "Satan's black hell-besmeared farting hole!" with total sincerity.

      My rule of thumb for when Grant went off the boil as an actor is when he started appearing in Argos adverts. Up until then he was an extremely mannered but watchable actor.

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    7. Somewhere over the course of Scream of the Shalka, Grant goes wild, but the animation fails to fully illustrate it.

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    8. @ jane: "The World Tree is the axis mundi that connects Above and Below, Heaven and Underworld -- it unifies opposites."

      And don't forget the tree-like depiction of the TARDIS reality engine in "Journey to the Heart of the TARDIS."

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    9. @seeing_I: I'll never forget that image, not after yammering on about trees and eggs for years on end prior to that episode. Of course, it's the Egg that precipitates the unification of the two brothers, too.

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  5. I'm guessing this normal but out of place entry frees you up to do something completely mad when we get to this episode in the proper chronology?

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  6. So Phil's doing the River stories in reverse chronological order? I guess that makes sense...

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    1. Ah! Of course!

      Though, if this is the case, it could get messy when trying to make a narrative out of the show's development under Moffatt. Day of the Moon is a fairly massive, pivotal step in that narrative that surely must remain a fixed point?

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    2. And he's going to look a bit of an arse if Moffat springs another "final" River Song story on us.

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    3. No he'll be fine. Time can be rewritten.

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    4. Oh. Oh. That's a proper guess, but undoubtedly confusing.

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    5. River's stories aren't strictly linear. Phil could rearrange them however he likes.

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    6. Although Name of..., The Snowmen and Silence in the Library form a reverse sequence. River doesn't appear and isn't named in The Snowmen of course but...oh I give up.

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  7. I guess the reason why this is here (rather than in transmission order) is that you're thinking of doing the River Song episodes in reverse order from her point of view. Good luck with that: I have no idea how you are going to deal with the episodes like Day of the Moon, A Good Man Goes to War and The Wedding of River Song that have multiple Rivers from different points in her timeline, but I look forward to seeing your approach.

    But if this is going to be the point where River comes in, it's an opportunity to give my personal take on the character. By chance I happened to watch River Song's arc in approximate order from her point of view. (Not exact order, of course, as discussed above.) I started with her childhood and relationship with the Doctor in series 6, watched her archaeological career bloom in series 5, saw her die in series 4, and watched her ghost vanish in series 7. And the amazing thing is that her story works when watched in this order. Silence of the Library pays off storylines begun two series later. It's heartbreaking to watch River realise that the Doctor no longer recognises her, and to see her struggling to suppress her grief because—well, because spoilers.

    (Aside: The "spoilers" catchphrase always makes me smile. It's not just a clever nod to the meta-text, its meaning within the text is that River and the Doctor are trying to preserve each other's freedom of action—or their perception of it, depending on this week's interpretation of the idea of "fixed points". And this seems like a very romantic idea to me: if you love someone, set them free ... or at least do your best to preserve their epistemological ignorance of their future timeline.)

    The success of River's story arc is even more amazing when you remember how rarely the programme has managed to pull off this kind of long-running storyline. The classic series failed to make fairly straightforward plots work over the course of a single season: The Armaggeddon Factor fails to pay off the story started in The Ribos Operation in any kind of satisfying or logical way, and the Trial of a Time Lord season was a confused mess. But Moffat managed to write a timey-wimey paradoxical romance that pays off both plotwise and emotionally in both directions over the course of three series. (So what changed? It can't just be a consequence of the change to a "showrunner" model—surely a script editor in the 1970s or 1980s would have been in a position to imagine long-running storylines and ensure that they are implemented? If Secret Army could successfully mix episodic drama with complex story arcs, why couldn't Doctor Who? Maybe it was bad luck rather than systematic failure? If Anthony Read had not left the show mid-season, then would he have saved the "Key to Time" arc? Perhaps someone better versed in the history of the program could explain.)

    Nothing on television can resonate for everyone in the audience, so I don't expect everyone to agree with me. But the River/Doctor story resonates particularly strongly for me because, well ... my wife and I both travel for business, and we sometimes have trouble arranging our schedules to coincide, so when we meet, we too do the diary thing, trying to see when the next time we'll be in the same place at the same time. So never mind the epic adventures, it's those little moments when River gets out her diary and says, "where are we this time?" that tug at my heartstrings. That's where the relationship makes the most emotional and psychological sense to me. (And, I suspect, to Moffat, whose wife Sue Vertue is a busy television producer.) It's utterly banal (time travel as a metaphor for the scheduling difficulties of a two-career marriage?!), and at the same time wonderful: two people struggling to connect across time and space. Just like real life.

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    1. I'm reminded of The Time Traveler's Wife, which was published back in 2003. Strongly reminded.

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    2. I enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife but I prefer the River/Doctor story because it has the timey-wimey action that former is missing out on. In The Time Traveler's Wife there's no real engagement at its science-fiction premises and that makes it feel less real. The obvious way for Henry to deal with turning up naked at random times and places is for him to make a list of those times and places and arrange for Clare or a third party to come by and pick him up, or if that's too difficult to arrange, to leave caches of clothing and money for him (using combination locks where necessary). Of course you can still imagine this failing in various ways and so preserving the plot, but the fact that they don't even try makes the characters seem rather too much like puppets pushed about by the author rather than people struggling against implacable fate. Whereas River's elaborate plot to escape the Byzantium before it crashes immediately establishes her as someone who is not only passively blown about by the winds of time.

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    3. Gareth, isn't that one of the points Henry keeps bringing up? He says he only has free will in the "present", but that means when he is on the linear path...granted, I don't have the book to check, but there's at least one time when he tries to warn someone about a death and it doesn't work

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    4. Yes, that's the problem I'm describing: the lack of free will demonstrated by the characters. It makes them seem less human. They walk through the same scenes in the same way like actors in a play.

      Moffat uses the same predestination tropes but somehow he does it in a way that preserves the appearance of the characters' agency. When we see characters play a scene for a second time they always bring something new to it.

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    5. This story was BRUTAL for me. At least the River parts. I loved River from the moment we met her in "Silence". [Wait...Silence in the Library?! Are there scenes with Silence in "Silence that we may have missed?!] And no matter what the fandom has said, I have loved her romance with Doctor Who and watching it grow. Seeing Doctor Who crying on the couch like that, seeing him (apparently) not seeing her...and then that last conversation where he says good bye...it was heart breaking. Doctor Who cannot have a wife and a home life. It would kill the show. But to see his love story gain an end point...I was a sobbing mess.

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    6. My mother, who never watched a second of Doctor Who, watched Silence/Forest with our daughter and asked, after a few scenes, if River was The Doctor's wife like in The Time Traveler's Wife.

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    7. The Time Traveller's Wife works as literature and tugs at the heartstrings precisely because it doesn't engage with its Science Fiction premise. Niffeneger is describing what happens when ordinary people living realistic lives are caught up in a fantastical premise. Which is exactly what Doctor Who does best and is why The River/Doctor out of synch romance (cleverly lifted still warm as a concept from that novel) is such a good fit. The fact that Moffat has had to effect running repairs (not least due to the unexpected casting of a younger Doctor with Matt Smith than the one he has River describe in the library) has only served to improve the story line and add a weird spice to the mix. I do hope he extends River's story to Capaldi's run.

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  8. Interested to see the structure of the blog from here on in. Like, will Tennant perhaps get a brief essay for The Day of the Doctor between Mars and the Ood Sphere? (I'm hoping he gets a Wedding of Sarah Jane post at least.)

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    1. FWIW, I think I'll save my thoughts on River Song and her story until we reach the 'final' River post on here.

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    2. (Sidenote: So this entry is still tagged 'tennant'? Oh. Yup, I'm lost.)

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  9. In related news, any guesses as to the role of these children's drawings, mostly illustrating episodes from the Pond era, in the Christmas special?

    http://www.doctorwhonews.net/2013/12/totd-images-111213083008.html

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  10. I think Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is possibly Moffat's best individual story. What really elevates it for me is Donna's story. It's probably the closest the new series has gotten to doing cyberpunk (the plot device is actually really similar to the one in Mona Lisa Overdrive) but it's filtered through the lens of magical realism and narrative logic instead. As for TNOTD, the concept is drawn from Alien Bodies but the tone and storyline are so different that they're almost incomparable. Miles uses the Doctor's death as a springboard for political machinations and chaos, while Moffat uses it for, as Phil said in the post, existential horror. TNOTD seems to me the closest the show has come in tone to Logopolis since Bidmead.

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    1. I think Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is possibly Moffat's best individual story.

      I might agree on that. The scene where Donna realises her children aren't real is so beautifully devastating.

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    2. "Sometimes when you're not here, mummy, it's like we don't exist anymore." **chills**

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    3. The Library is certainly the story that informs just about all of the recurring symbolism in Moffat's run.

      Also, "Others are coming."

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  11. I'm just going to go ahead and say it: I'm kind of disappointed. I love your gonzo entries, and I like weird structural stuff. But I really wanted to see an entry on River and the idea of the Moffat Era deploying early. But that doesn't make it less disappointing.

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    1. Which isn't to say I did not enjoy this entry on "The Name of the Doctor". It's an excellent entry on that story.

      One thing I greatly admire is how Moffat subverted our expectations: We're told that when we get to Trenzelore, when 11 Falls, that we'll hear the Doctor's name. The poster even said that his "Secret will be Revealed". And then BAM! Out of left field we don't even get to hear his name because ghost!River says it. We were getting a secret we didn't even know was a secret. I love it.

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  12. I guess I'll have to wait for Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone to share my initial thoughts of River Song, as that was my first episode with her, but this ought to be interesting

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    1. It's time you stopped waiting. If the River stories are presented out of order, then our comments surely deserve such latitude, hmm?

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    2. In that case we can comment on Phil's entries before he writes them.

      I think his decision to write his review of "The Girl Who Waited" entirely in limerick form was very brave. I just wish I knew Aramaic better so I could follow it.

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    3. Well, since I've been asked...
      My first episode with River was Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, since I started with Eleventh Hour. And my first thought about River's identity:
      Time Lord.
      Which I based not only on her behavior towards the Doctor, but her own title of "Doctor Song."
      And then came Good Man Goes to War, and River's speech about what the word means throughout the universe...my guess was right one, give or take a half-twist.

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    4. Good call, Galadriel!

      Also, she understood: how to write Gallifreyan, the vagaries of spacetime coordinates, displaced timeline communication, the piloting of the TARDIS, and how to fix a teleporter.

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  13. I guess I'm the curmudgeon here, but I do not care for River Song. I find her smugness grating. Her one-sided romantic pursuit of the childlike 11th Doctor strikes me as predatory. And every time she says "Spoilers!" I want to punch Moffat.

    She may not be a true Mary Sue in that she doesn't seem to be Moffat inserting himself in the storyline, but she shares many of the Mary Sue traits. When she turns up, the show becomes about her. She's better than the Doctor at piloting the TARDIS. She's a crack-shot with a laser gun, and not only doesn't the usually violence-adverse Doctor mind, he admires her for it. And from the moment we meet her, her status as a love interest is presented as a fait accompli. (Ironically, the only time I ever bought her and Eleven as a mutual, romantic relationship was in "The Name of the Doctor.")

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    1. Interesting, but flawed.

      Her smugness is a reflection of the Doctor's, of course. No one seems to complain about his smugness. And while she's obviously quite talented, she's by no means perfect. In general the Doctor's the first one to figure out a solution to whatever mess they're in -- be it escaping the Angels at the Byzantium, how to find a little girl in Florida, rebooting the Universe, or figuring out how all those people in the Library were saved. She's slow on the uptake to realizing her status with the Doctor in said Library, gets trapped by an Angel in Manhattan and has to break her wrist to get free, kills the Doctor in Berlin (and shoots the TARDIS along the way), imperils the Universe at Lake Silencio, and is trapped in a recursive loop inside the exploding TARDIS.

      Of course, we can't have an older woman pursuing a younger man (though in truth he's actually much older.) Or castigate said man for using "spoilers" before she does, let alone teaching it to her.

      Nor is it true that River bends every narrative to being about her. Byzantium, Pandorica, and Manhattan are much more about Amy. The Library is as much about Donna and Charlotte. Sure, the stories in Series Six are much concerned with revealing who River really is, but I find the complaint churlish -- might as well complain about Empty Child really being all about Nancy, or Blink being about Sally Sparrow. Or, indeed, how so many stories are about the Doctor, or the exploration of who a person "is" in general.

      It's fine not to like a character, no one is universally liked, but to not like a character for traits that other beloved characters share suggests that it really isn't those traits that are at issue.

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    2. I don't like River because she travels in time and space and is clever and says witty things.

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    3. I do not care for your implication here. So, we disagree about a fictional character. There's no call for you to suggest a darker motive on my part.

      Really, no one complains about the Doctor's smugness? Ever? After eight years of Tennant and Smith? On the Internet?

      River is very much a reflection of the Doctor, just as Captain Jack was. And, like Jack, she's presented as being a newer, better model. Jack had a bigger sonic device, a proper spaceship, and sexually was more available. River has the same gun, and again, a superior knowledge of TARDIS operations.

      I bring up that latter point up a second time because it cannot be dismissed easily. The Doctor and the TARDIS are intrinsically linked, and have been travelling together for centuries. More than anything else, the TARDIS defines the Doctor. But once River is introduced, the wheezing, groaning sound we all know and love is the Doctor forgetting to disengage the parking brake. Please.

      When it comes to River's pursuit of the Doctor, you can keep your sexist reading of my objection. It has ZERO to do with her being an older woman. I'm 49; Alex Kingston is one year older than I am. My favorite nuWho companion is Donna.

      My problem isn't that the Doctor is physically a younger man, but that he is presented as a childlike innocent who displays no sexual interest in anyone. He freaks the **** out when Amy tries to jump him, and it's not just the impropriety of the situation. And really, if we want to play the gender game, swap the roles and tell me you'd have no issue with a mature male repeatedly making unreturned sexual advances on a young woman. (I took our workplace sexual harassment class seriously, thank you very much.)

      Okay, I'll grant that River doesn't bend EVERY narrative around her. Just the entirety of Series 6. But if you think that's churlish, you haven't seen me being churlish. Honestly, I think I'm showing remarkable restraint here.

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    4. I don't think this "one-sided romantic pursuit" theory flies in the light of the evidence. Remember that in her timeline their first date is the one depicted in First Night, where the Doctor turned up in the TARDIS and sprang her from the Stormcage in order to take her to Calderon Beta to see "more stars in one sky than at any other moment in the history of the universe". This does not resemble a "one-sided" pursuit.

      Maybe you're thinking of the scene at the end of Day of the Moon where she kisses the Doctor and he doesn't respond? But that's obviously a mistake on her part. She hasn't been paying enough attention to her diary and has lost track:

                  RIVER
          What's wrong? You're acting like we've never done that before.

                  DOCTOR
          We haven't.

                  RIVER
          We haven't?

                  DOCTOR
          Oh, look at the time. Must be off. But it was very nice. It was,
          it was good. It was er, unexpected. You know what they say.
          There's a first time for everything.

          (The Doctor goes into the Tardis.)

                  RIVER
          And a last time.

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    5. Is that how he's presented? Sometimes, sure. But look at Four and Romana running around Paris. Or Ten and Rose. Given what the Eleventh Hour shows us about the Doctor's observational abilities, I'm prepared to see some of his freak-out when Amy tries to seduce him as related to that wedding dress. You don't have to be a childlike innocent to freak out when a friend who is about to marry someone else you know decided to jump you.

      If we swap the roles in the River/Doctor story, we get a married man hitting on his wife and then discovering they aren't married yet. I don't want to get mired in a conversation about how time travel and meeting out of sequence relates to consent, but I'd say that River is in a fine position when she first meets Ten to know how to behave toward him. And after she whispers in his ear, Ten seems to accept the situation, though he's as uncomfortable as anyone would be meeting someone for the first time who has been married to the future you for years.

      Name of the Doctor makes pretty clear that Eleven does return River's interest. I'm comfortable with most of their romantic life happening off-screen. I can see good reasons for wanting to read the Doctor as outside of sexual dynamics, but the on-screen evidence has called that into question for a long time. Just look at Two in Enemy of the World, for instance. Whether or not he's got a hidden agenda when he flirts with Astrid Ferrier, he certainly seems comfortable doing it...

      Eleven presents himself as a lot of things he isn't. Innocent is on the list as far as I can see.

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    6. That's an interesting point about how the Doctor doesn't mind River being a crack shot and generally ruthless, but this is really part of who he is and who he's always been. The Doctor is "violence-adverse" but... He always seems to hedge his bets, either in acting as advisor to UNIT or in his choice of companions. Barbara, one of his first companions, could be fairly ruthless. Later companions included a knife-wielding barbarian and an explosives-happy juvenile delinquent, both women. Rose and Clara come into his life as relative babes in the woods, and I think his reaction to River is partially explained by her being a throwback in that way.

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    7. Not talking about Four or Ten. When it comes to sex, Eleven behaves more like an embarrassed schoolboy. And see above; I explicitly stated that "The Name of the Doctor" was the first time I bought them as being mutually attracted.

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    8. It's not like the Doctor never flirts or shows an interest in River. At the Byzantium, he's caught trying to eavesdrop on her. He's flirty at the end of Amy's wedding, and more so in Florida. He's positively anticipatory about kissing again at the end of A Good Man. Shows up in tails and dances a jig in Berlin was also pretty suggestive; not only is he flirtatious, he helps her to find a different path for her future than the one laid out for her by Kovarian and the Silence.

      So it isn't that he's not attracted to her -- rather, the Doctor is someone who shies away from emotional intimacy. He thinks he can run away from the very close relationships he's forged by the time he gets to Lake Silencio -- and, as demonstrated before, he's always ducking personal questions about himself.

      Nor is it that River's truly predatory -- unless you're going entirely by looks. As she says in New York, she isn't happy with his looking like a twelve-year-old -- so it's not this aspect in particular she finds attractive. And remember, as Mels, she presented as a very young woman when she first meets Eleven.

      And it's laughable that anyone believes that River isn't joking about the "brakes" when what she's really doing is showing the Doctor she knows how to put the engines on silent -- something he then tries to do (unsuccessfully) when it's time to visit the White House. Nor should we take offense that she knows how to pilot the TARDIS better than he does -- Romana, after all, is quite adept at it as well. It is, in fact, a running gag since the beginning of the series that the Doctor's not the best driver of the TARDIS.

      But it's the bit about smugness that gets me the most, because that's been a pretty consistent trait about the Doctor since, oh, forever. And obviously, we all pretty much like the Doctor, regardless of his smugness. To give the Doctor a pass in his smugness, but no one else, that's awfully peculiar, methinks.

      Not to say it's necessarily sexism. I think it has more to do with her role in the narrative. Part of why we can revel in the Doctor's smugness is that we're used to being in the audience superior position -- we know things the monsters and companions don't, and especially in the Classic series we'd find out things even before the Doctor himself.

      But River knows the Doctor's future, and isn't saying -- finally, here's a character in a narratively superior position to the audience, as well as the Doctor. Furthermore, she's intimate with him, which puts her closer to him than even we are. So what she does is displace the audience and interfere with many different viewer fantasies and frameworks for watching the show.

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    9. DOCTOR
      Dr Song, you've got that face on again.

      RIVER
      What face?

      DOCTOR
      The he's-hot-when-he's-clever face.

      RIVER
      This is my normal face.

      DOCTOR
      Yes it is.

      RIVER
      (laughs) Oh, shut up.

      DOCTOR
      Not a chance.

      So childlike. So one-sided. And the gesture he makes after that, pulling on his jacket -- it's like "I successfully Flirted with River Song", like he's so proud of himself. Then at the climax of the episode they gets completely carried away. No wonder she thinks he's old enough to be kissing her. And when she does, he flails, then puts his hands on her shoulders, before flailing more and putting his hands behind his back. Sure, he freaks out a little, but more out of surprise than aversion, methinks.
      There are plenty of other examples, but this isn't quite the forum for that.

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    10. It will be interesting to see how River's relationship with the Capaldi Doctor plays out.

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    11. To give the Doctor a pass in his smugness, but no one else, that's awfully peculiar, methinks.

      Again with the insinuations. When did I do any of that? I used the term "smugness" precisely once, and in response you've spun an entire narrative around me. You don't know **** about me. But I'll tell you what "me" thinks: methinks it's sooooo much easier to "win" an argument when you create your own reality.

      Not to say it's necessarily sexism.

      Oh. Gee, thanks. I might not necessarily be sexist.

      Really, screw this. I'm out.

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    12. I thought of this before I noticed you'd removed yourself from this debate, but just to approach something a bit different...

      "River is very much a reflection of the Doctor, just as Captain Jack was. And, like Jack, she's presented as being a newer, better model. Jack had a bigger sonic device, a proper spaceship, and sexually was more available."

      I'm not entirely sure this is true. On the surface it is, but it's made pretty clear by the end of the episode that while Jack looks better superficially for all these reasons -- he's got the cooler sonic gun, he's got the cool spaceship, he's sort of the socially confident 'jock' to the Doctor's socially awkward 'geek' -- when you scratch the surface he's actually an inferior imitation in almost every way. The cool laser gun runs out of batteries really quick and is next to useless once it's done, the spaceship doesn't even have an escape capsule, and Jack's charm and smug glibness just conceals not only how uncaring he is about other people but how far out of his depth he's gotten himself -- he's a lot less charming and a lot more panicky once he realises he's a lot closer to 'Volcano Day' than he anticipated being. Even by the time he's progressed to being the star of Torchwood, it's pretty clear that as much as he tries he can't solve problems that the Doctor would manage to deal with (the 456, anyone?)

      As for River... I got nothin', really. She's not really my favourite character (and she does border the territories of Mary Sue a little bit IMHO) but I have nothing particular against her either.

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    13. "The Doctor is "violence-adverse" but..."

      To be honest, the fact that the Doctor is presented throughout the series as gradually yet consistently considering a professional career soldier as one of his best friends despite their disagreements about methods suggests that he's open to having friends with different moral values and approaches to violence than him. If we can accept the Brigadier despite his tendencies to use violent means to solve problems, then we can accept River; she's never shown to do anything quite as genocidal as the Brigadier did with the Silurians for a start.

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    14. I think it comes down to whether or not the person in question shoots first and asks questions later. The Brig had some issues in this regard, but for the most part they followed the Doctor's lead and rarely acted without good cause. His acceptance of River is much the same. As was the case with Leela, Jamie, and any other companion he's had that tended to solve their problems more violently than the Doctor did.

      From a production stand-point, the reason the Doctor doesn't use guns is they're not clever but he's had no problem rigging up some make-shift device to kill all the baddies because doing so emphasizes his intelligence as a character. But he's often traveled with people who were the "action" character, the one who is supposed to punch or shoot someone when the plot requires it.

      The problem is a fair number of writers have chosen to use the "no guns" rule as an absolute, so you wind up with quite a few hypocritical moments in the Tennant run where his violent solutions are preferable to other character's violent solutions, even when the characters in question are acting completely in self-defense. The Silurian two-parter is one of the rare Smith stories where he does it. This is on-par with the "super-heroes don't kill" rule in comics, which is one of those things which came about because of the young audience. That it wormed its way into stories comes across as writers misunderstanding their instructions. Their boss saying "remember, Superman doesn't kill" becomes a character trait rather than an editorial mandate and you end up with a bunch of silly stories where characters take the moral high-ground in stories where no such moral high-ground exists... such as the 10th Doctor lecturing Captain Jack about using guns while they're being chased by people who most definitely want to kill them, while being perfectly okay with Captain Jack arming himself when facing down the Daleks, a situation no less lethal. Had the story involved the Doctor making peace with those people, then the lecture would make sense.

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  14. I do wonder if Moffat is being given too much credit for cleverness here. I don't accept that the mystery of Clara was beside the point. That the ultimate solution was that she was in fact a perfectly ordinary girl didn't mean that she was presented as anything other than another mystery box to be opened. She certainly didn't have any definable character traits beyond Generic Spunky Companion. (That I like her as much as I do comes down to Coleman herself.)

    Similarly, I suspect that the Great Intelligence was less of a deliberately weak villain than one that simply wasn't well written. He didn't seem obviously inept; his schemes hurt any number of innocents. (The fate of Miss Kizlet was especially horrific.) He was just underdeveloped. I'd argue that he probably needed one more story to give his growing annoyance with the Doctor more weight, especially as--at that point--very few of the audience had seen either of his classic appearances.

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    1. I think it's partly that two of her early stories are by Cross, who is new to Doctor Who writing, and Gatiss who seems to write all companions as generic. I get the feeling that Clara is supposed to be not as naturally brave as other new series companions. But she's not always written like that. (Also, Clara's stories since Akhaten haven't given her a lot of scope to show off how clever she is.)

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    2. What do we know about Clara Oswald?

      -She travels with the Doctor so she can fulfill her longing for travel while still being there for a family she feels she has an obligation to. A family she is not related to and was only meant to be staying with for a week.
      -She has outright stated she's not going to serve as the replacement for someone else and will leave if that's the only reason she's being taken along.
      -Is willing to sacrifice herself for a man she's only known a short time which leads into:
      -Instinctively leaps to help people in troubling situations.
      -Is willing to "Fake it" in order to make it through situations where she's not 100% at home.

      I think she's got plenty of character traits actually.

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    3. I'll grant those first two, but I'd argue that the others are fairly common Companion traits.

      Don't get me wrong, I like Clara. But compared to the other nuWho companions (even poor Martha) she's been thinly written so far.

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    4. She's also had less than a single series. I'd say we know about as much about her and her personality as we ever got from Martha.

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    5. It's been shown multiple times that the Doctor is ethically wrong to treat her as a mystery - first in Hide, then in JTTCOTT, then in TNOTD.

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    6. Granted, "common Companion traits" are the difference between taking multiple trips with the Doctor and saying "You'll never get me in that thing again, mate!"

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    7. Some questions are best answered visually:

      http://tillthenexttimedoctor.tumblr.com/post/67357959031/mewiet-taiey-clara-has-no-personality

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    8. She's very clever and observant:
      -- figured out how to make the Daleks forget the Doctor
      -- figured out why the Doctor tossed her an umbrella
      -- figured out the villains were at The Shard
      -- figured out how to defeat the parasite god
      -- discovered Skaldak escaped his armor
      -- recognizes Emma and Palmer are in love
      -- notices the smokeless chimney in Sweetville
      -- figures out how to electrocute a Cyberman
      -- figures out her own "mystery" in Name of the Doctor

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    9. We also know she really enjoys the company of children, and relates to them with authority but without condescension. We really haven't seen this kind of interaction in a companion before -- but, notably, it's not like how Amy interacts with kids. She plays it older-sisterly with Mandy in Beast Below; she barely interacts with Elliot in the Silurian story; she's freaked out by the girl in the Apollo suit. She's more concerned with Rory than the pirate's kid -- hell, Rory is more concerned with the boy than Amy.

      In general Amy's a bit aloof -- and this makes sense, because so much of Amy's psychology is rooted in her childhood abandonment trauma. Clara doesn't have such trauma, not until she's an adult and loses her mother. So she doesn't have any hangups with children -- she's a warm, understanding nanny; she's completely comfortable with Artie and Angie; she immediately connects with Merry Gelehl, and goes so far as to tell her own childhood story about being lost.

      In many ways she's the polar opposite of Amy. Amy tends to respond with mistrust and violence; she's always on guard against getting emotionally hurt. Clara, on the other hand, tends towards warmth and connecting with people on their own terms; she genuinely likes people. Amy tends to disregard what the Doctor asks her to do; Clara is much more likely to follow the Doctor's plan. However, when it comes to relating to him interpersonally, she's much less likely to take his guff. She establishes the ground rules for their relationship. Amy, on the other hand, will laugh off the Doctor's infelicities and evasions.

      Finally, Clara is thoughtful in a way I haven't seen from other companions. She has a philosophical/existential epiphany in Hide, seeing the Doctor's psychogeographical tour. As a girl, she's already worked out how to go about finding lost things, how to remember -- by going to a quiet place. She considers repercussions for her family; she considers repercussions for the Doctor. Hell, she has a philosophy of souffl├ęs!

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    10. Amy's relation to Mandy is beyond older-sisterly, she's awkward and at times straight up contemptuous. Compare "What's so scary about a hole?" with "Everyone's scared when they're little."
      David Anderson is far too harsh on Cross and Gatiss: while Horror doesn't have much of Clara, when she does appear she's well-handled. Cold War, Rings and Hide are positively essential to understanding her character. I am now going to demonstrate this by discussing every story she appears in. ;)
      Because he's right that she's much less naturally brave than most recent companions, but she fakes it and gets better at faking it very quickly. In Bells she freezes at the Spoonheads, freaks out hugely at the TARDIS and time/space travel, but when at a remove from direct danger uses her newfound skills with what I would say is her natural pre-existing understanding of people to find them when the Doctor can't. When she's uploaded she specifically cries "I don't know where I am", like Oswin Oswald did.
      In Rings, it takes her two flashbacks to work up the nerve to go save the Doctor: contrast Amy in the Beast Below, who needs a long flashback to figure out the situation but instantly moves to action. Her initial reaction is "Leg it. Lake District?" She tells Merry that she's especially scared of being lost... she tells Merry she's no longer scared of getting lost, but in context: she's lying. To herself or Merry, it doesn't matter. There's another "I don't know where I am" in Name. (Also, she freezes up when the Doctor asks her where she wants to go)
      Cold War gives us Clara volunteering to confront Skaldak when he's contained and she's well away, but more scared when she's actually there, a lot more when she's realises he's escaped and she doesn't know where he is, less once he's not in the same room as her, much more when she actually sees the men he killed (she goes limp and passive when she's scared rather than screaming, which to some people comes off as not scared at all) a bit less when she can talk to Skaldak but most scared when he's gone to the Ice Warrior ship. What this shows us is that she's scared more when things are out of her control, when the danger is coming from a source she cannot affect eg there's a monster in the room vs a person she can appeal to, or the bit when he's not there. We know she's most scared at the end because she sings, when earlier she mocked the idea. Her specific objection is basically 'this is the wrong genre': "that would work, if this were Pinocchio." That plus the "that's what we do" at the end show us how concerned she is with doing the appropriate/conventional/right thing. Or, to put it another way: if you think she's a generic companion, it's because she's trying to be.
      In Hide, she's more scared of the vague, unspecified threat of the ghostliness of the house than the specific 'the TARDIS will die in the pocket universe'. And she tells the Doctor to dare her to explore the house: she wants to be braver.
      Journey onwards basically show us her succeeding more and more in acting as what she wants to be and aren't often interesting in terms of her relationship to fear. Of particular note is "Good guys don't have zombie creatures! Rule one basic storytelling." She explicitly uses the rules of storytelling to relate to her real life. Think about that, then the Pinocchio line, then that she calls the leaf that brought her parents together "page one": this is something she does a lot.

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    11. And we do get quite a few other details. The tea. Her parents: there are so many things that be explained by "because of her mother" if you try; they both place extraordinary importance on ordinary objects like leaves and souffles. She doesn't like history or whiskey. She sings Duran Duran for karaoke at hen nights. Being a teacher, by the by, is so perfect for her, by which I mean I was picking it before Day came out.
      What she doesn't have is a central internal conflict, and that's what throws people off. The Doctor comes into her life and she gets everything she's ever wanted. All she has to do is live up to it. She doesn't come across very vividly, between that and the way she holds herself at a slight remove, with such a mask. The times when it cracks, particularly in Cold War ('I was doing fine... actually it went as badly as it could have done but that wasn't my fault') and that bit in Hide where she say 'your safety does not matter, you have to open the portal/fly into the pocket universe', are her most fascinating moments. The amount that I want to see Clara pushed way past the edge is incalculable. Dark!Clara would make my year.

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    12. "What she doesn't have is a central internal conflict, and that's what throws people off."

      YES. THIS. Clara is the most centered, phelgmatic, knows-who-she-is, rolls-with-the-punches companion in a very long time. Certainly since the old series.

      Arguably the last companion who wasn't given a "central internal conflict" was K-9! Leela's quite sure of who she is, too, of course.

      Don't push Clara past the edge. It's mean. What's most important to Clara's character is her phlegmatism, if you will. Don't break her. Bad trope.

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  15. I remember a brief twitter chat with Phil where we discussed my blog post that I had written about The Day of the Doctor on the evening of its transmission. I've linked it at the bottom of my comment, if anyone wants to look at it. I asked him if I was stealing any of his thunder publishing my own interpretations on the moral philosophy of The Moment, the relations between the John Hurt, David Tennant, and Matt Smith Doctors, and the meta-fictional meaning of Tom Baker's appearance at the end. He told me that the story was so ludicrously oversignified that no matter how much I wrote about it, there would always be more to say.

    Incidentally, I take that as a challenge, and if you pay attention to my twitter feed periodically, you'll see the occasional series of thoughts on the further meaning of the episode.

    But this is just a prelude to my thoughts on what's going on with the River Song conundrum. I notice at the end of the day that Phil has nowhere appeared in the comments of this timily-wimily placed post. And I don't think he's going to explain himself soon. But the nature of River Song as a character, and as a force in Doctor Who itself, means that there can be more than one definitive Eruditorum take on the subject. So I think there will be.

    I mean, aside from all the mysteries that River introduces with Silence in the Library, we have a story where, as Jane says, books themselves become storehouses of death. Of course, books are also the physical track record of history, so they were already storehouses of death: the intellectual corpses of their writers. Cal herself is, after a fashion, a dead child. The library is her memorial, her mausoleum, and her memory. Because the library contains "every book ever written," death has transformed her memory (and therefore Cal herself) into the living history of humanity. But this was only possible with her death.

    Likewise, River and her crew are incorporated into this total history, and like Ms Evangelista, can be improved in the process. But the only way to be part of it is to die. But here dying is not truly death, but falling out of the world and into a land of memory that operates by televisual grammar (link to The Mind Robber here, and thanks David Anderson for calling attention to that). Phil would, of course, have a field day with the televisual grammar of Cal's dream world where Donna finds herself. And we'd also have to deal with the brilliant characterization of Donna through her television dream's tragedy.

    There's no reason we can't come back to that, given the nature of River's life and how she affects Doctor Who.

    For my first set of comprehensive thoughts on The Day of the Doctor:
    http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2013/11/catch-conscience-of-doctor-jamming.html

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    1. I was telling a friend not long ago that any time Moffat has a character pull out a book, someone is going to die.

      I think he's using books as a metaphor because they're finite. The idea that someone with a time machine can cheat death by going back and having an infinite number of adventures with an old friend is wrong and the only way to illustrate that he has a finite number of adventures with River is with a book. Their adventures may be out of order, but when they reach the last page, it's over. Every moment he spends with River is one less moment he can spend with River, an idea also put forth in the most ridiculous way in the Christmas Carol episode, where the pretty blonde lady in the box has some bizarre disease which allows her to be perfectly healthy right up until the moment she dies... as if this were little more than a parable about cherishing your moments with your loved ones.

      Despite the rather glaring flaws of the Moffat run, I do find myself intellectually (and emotionally) engaged with it. Davies run was more consistent, but there's relatively little beneath the surface. It is exactly what it appears to be most of the time, and when it's not, the subtext is usually very clear. Moffat leaves deliberate gaps in his narrative, he leaves things unsaid, there's a lot more symbolism littering the place, and a lot more to think about in my opinion. Even when he does a bit of busy tidying up the Davies continuity, he seems to make a point of leaving it vague. Was the present day Dalek invasion wiped out or was it restored at the end of Series 5? Oh, look, a question fans get to argue about for the next 50 years.

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  16. I think we know a great deal about Clara. But it is very different from typical companions, and there was the misdirection of her being a "mystery", so people didn't notice.

    Pretty much the first thing we learn about Clara is that she sets sensible boundaries. The Doctor, dressed strangely and acting strangely, shows up at her door. And she, a woman alone, closes the door in the face of the Doctor, who is presenting as a very odd man. It's a safety issue, and she's not letting a strange man into her private space.

    She maintains this boundary through much of "Bells," refusing to enter the TARDIS when she thought it was a small, enclosed box. Which is, again, a sensible boundary for a woman alone to maintain with a man she doesn't know and trust.

    And she refuses to travel with the Doctor. That's a boundary no other companion has set. The Doctor pretty much has to settle for "dating", picking her up, they go out for an adventure together, he drops her home again.

    We also know, from the beginning, that Clara has her own, established, life, that she likes. She's finished university. She'd planned to travel. She postponed her travel when a friend died, in order to help the family for a little while, to get through the immediate crisis. She fully intended to travel in the future. And now we know she had a job, either waiting for her or one which she was on a break from, which she is qualified to do and skilled at doing. I don't think we've seen as mature and grounded companion since Liz Shaw - someone who could walk away from the Doctor.

    We know that Clara is naturally a caretaker. She gives up months of her life to care for children - obnoxious teenagers at that - who have lost their mother. She bonds with Merry, a scared child. Also with the Professor, who is very much an outsider on the sub, and the oldest, least military, and most vulnerable. She's pleased when she realizes that saving the world is what the Doctor and his companions do.

    We know she is conventionally feminine. She prefers tea to whiskey. She's happy to chat in the kitchen with Emma, as they talk relationships while the men talk science. She gravitates towards conventionally feminine work, caring for motherless children and choosing the career of teaching.

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  17. Clara's relationship with the Doctor is also uniquely and well developed. It is the next step in the character progression that the Doctor has had over the past several years, learning to redefine his relationship with companions.

    Clara is generally happy with her life. She knows that ordinary life can be as fulfilling as madcap adventures in space and time, in its own way. It took Amy and Rory until "The Power of Three" to learn this. Martha had to leave the Doctor in order to begin to figure this out. Rose and Donna never did.

    The Doctor only began to learn the value of ordinary life in "The Power of Three." He tried to push Amy and Rory towards ordinary life, for safety, before that, but he didn't see it as something that could be valuable in its own right. The Ponds gave the Doctor a family, and opened the door for him coming to understand ordinary life. Clara takes this a step farther, being someone who can lead the Doctor towards appreciating the ordinary, rather than having to be pushed towards it as an undesirable but safe option.

    The fact that so much of what makes Clara unique as a companion is her vibrant off-screen ordinary life makes it harder to appreciate.

    But these same things come through in the nature of her travels.

    She very much is with the Doctor because she wants to travel. Not to have adventures, not to run away. The Doctor realizes this, and in her first off-planet adventure, it starts out very much as a tourist trip to famous sight, her "101 Places to See" writ on a galactic scale.

    Clara can make herself be brave, but she's not inclined to run towards danger. On the contrary, she's suggested running away several times. She's brave when it is needed to protect herself or others. But she isn't reckless.

    And she's willing to follow the Doctor's lead. Clara says that she's alive because she does what the Doctor says. And it is true. "Don't wander off" has never been an issue with the Doctor and Clara. He neither has to admonish her to stay close nor does he push her away to explore on her own (as he did with Amy in "The Beast Below.")

    On the other hand, the Doctor says she's "bossy." And, in a way she is. Not in that she bosses the Doctor around during adventures. But she knows what she wants. And she sets boundaries in their relationship as she sees fit. She doesn't push herself on the Doctor - he can ask for what he needs, and set his own boundaries, and she respects that. But she won't give up more of her life to the Doctor than she's comfortable with.

    The Doctor has previously tended towards all-or-nothing relationships with companions.

    The Doctor had seen companions, in the past, choose to leave him for normal life. He'd also pushed companions away, into normal life. With Martha and Donna, he had the chance to look at companions he'd left behind, and seen that they could do well in normal life, if not perfectly. But it opened his mind, a crack, towards thinking that his companions had value beyond their lives with him as a companion.

    With the Ponds (including River) the Doctor discovered that his relationships with companions could last longer if he traveled with them occasionally, while they had an ordinary life. With the Ponds it was family visits, in their last season. It gave him the most emotional stability he's had since the show began, enjoying centuries with the same companions, but making loosing them in the end that much harder.

    With Clara, he's choosing to have that pattern of visits from the beginning. They're clearly good friends, but they don't seem, yet, to be having the intense family emotions he had with the Ponds. It provides yet another new relationship dynamic for the show to explore.

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