It's no secret that Doctor Who has been a bit hit and miss recently. Stephen Moffat's grandiose spectacle plots often impress but lack substance, leaving some of his most hyped episodes (pretty much any entitled "The _____ Of The Doctor") to fall flat upon a critical viewing. But Doctor Who is nonetheless enjoyable, and lately it seems like it's demonstrating a welcome return to form.
So Far So Good
The first 4 episodes of Doctor Who season 9 are pretty gosh darn awesome, balancing intriguing episodic plots with foreshadowing for season long arcs. The season gets off to a roaring start as Clara races out of her classroom to help UNIT in the latest worldwide weirdness alert. Considering how the end of season 8 (and the Christmas special) saw Clara wracked with grief, it's fantastic to see her plunge head first into the action, and the fact that UNIT has her as their go-to sci-fi crisis contact is even more fantastic.
Clara then teams up with the not-so-shockingly alive Missy to save their mutual bff (the Doctor).
Missy and Clara's dynamic is delightful to watch, as they're both very determined, strong willed people, and they spark off each other perfectly. Honestly, the first two episodes just made me want a Clara and Missy spinoff show, where Missy constantly does nefarious things that Clara doesn't see coming, but has to clean up her mess afterward (so basically, a sci-fi version of Don't Trust The B- In Apartment 23).
The two-parter premiere also features some very poignant moments as the Doctor spends some time with his old foe Davros. Giving the two even more of a shared history with the flashback to Davros' childhood only amps up the angst, which is much needed when it comes to the Daleks.
Dalek Horror & Clara Callbacks
The Daleks are perhaps Doctor Who's most iconic villain, so it's easy to write them off as silly little genocidal pepper pots. But the nature of their existence is incredibly horrifying. Russell T Davies really delved into this idea during his time on Doctor Who, but in recent years the Daleks seem to have receeded back into their default state of shouting EXTERMINATE and vaporising people. In The Witch's Familiar, however, we got a welcome return to the true horror of the Daleks, reminding viewers that these are forcibly mutated creatures of pain and rage, and revealing that even their armour suppresses and warps independent thought and compassion. This is something that Clara discovered when Missy's plan required her to get inside the Dalek armour... or should I say re-discovered?
For me, seeing Clara inside the Dalek casing was the most emotional moment of season 9 so far, but also the most frustrating. Jenna Coleman was first introduced as Oswin in the series 7 episode Asylum Of The Daleks. Oswin turned out to be a version of Clara from the Impossible Girl plot (remember when Clara jumped into the Doctor's timeline and lived dozens of lives over and over?) and the reveal that Oswin was actually a Dalek was heartbreaking.
The Witch's Familiar gave the perfect opportunity to callback this plot, and yet we got nothing but a passing reference. Does Clara even remember her time as Oswin? This is a question that could have been answered but alas, Dalek-Clara was just a little nod to the fanbase. Opportunity missed, in my opinion, but I digress.
The first two episodes of season 9 showcased some excellent storytelling, complete with foreshadowing about the Dalek/Timelord Hybrid that will no doubt become important later. Episodes 3 and 4 also added some hints (who is the War Minister?) while enthralling the viewers with a spooky and tense story. One of the most interesting things about this two-parter (apart from demonstrating the uses of the Doctor's cool new sonic sunglasses) was Clara's characterisation, as she continues to step into the Doctor's shoes...
Clara Takes Control
Clara's development has been very interesting to watch. She's come a long way from being essentially an object of mystery for the Doctor in season 7. Season 8 saw more of Clara's personal life, as her adventures with the Doctor began to clash with the real world. Now she seems to have got both parts of her life sussed, but her actions in the first 4 episodes of season 9 really contribute towards the idea that Clara is well on her way to rivaling the Doctor's ruthlessness.
It's official: season 9 will be Jenna Coleman's last. This gives Steven Moffat a bit of a challenge in writing her character out, as Clara has clearly decided to throw herself into her life with the Doctor. She readily takes control of dangerous situations, and while she's still very compassionate, there's a ruthless streak to her that keeps becoming apparent, especially in Before The Flood.
"Did traveling with the Doctor change you, or were you always happy to put others’ lives at risk?"
Clara's chilling response to Cass' accusation, that she does what needs to be done, is just another reminder to viewers that she isn't just a cute, wide eyed girl. There's a lot of complexity to Clara: she's still grieving, she's very possessive of the Doctor, and she's more than a little self-centered.
Where could all this lead? Considering Coleman's impending departure from the show, Clara's current trajectory could lead her to do something rash that has dire consequences. Or maybe she'll just tire of her adventures with the Doctor... though right now she seems ready to travel the galaxy for years to come. Writing a companion out is never easy, but Clara's development certainly seems to be building towards something, and that something might not be a happy ever after.
Doctor Who season 9 episode 5 will air on the BBC on the 17th of October. Be sure to comment with your thoughts!