I just watched the latest episode of Doctor Who, “Hide.” Here’s a conversation between the Doctor and his newest companion, Clara. She is rather a remarkable character. The Doctor has traveled with dozens and dozens of different companions, most of whom take him at face value as a time-traveling hero. Not Clara. She is no wide-eyed innocent, and she definitely grasps the kind of trouble she took on when she decided to hang out with a time traveler. The Doctor, meanwhile, is concerned about Clara because she is “the woman twice dead” and therefore can’t be taken at face value. It makes for a rather unnerving dynamic.
Here is a snippet of their conversation:
Clara: “Have we just watched the entire life cycle of Earth, birth to death?”
Clara: “And you’re okay with that?”
Clara: “How can you be?”
Doctor: “The TARDIS, she’s time . . . we . . . wibbley vortex . . . and so on.”
Clara: “That’s not what I mean.”
Doctor: “Okay, some help, context . . . cheat sheet . . . something . . .”
Clara: “I mean, one minute you’re in 1974 looking for ghosts but all you have to do is open your eyes and talk to whoever’s standing there. To you I haven’t been born yet and to you I’ve been dead 100 billion years. Is my body out there somewhere in the ground?”
Doctor: “Yes, I suppose it is.”
Clara: “But here we are, talking, so I am a ghost. To you I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts, to you. We must be nothing.”
Doctor: “No – no. You’re not that.”
Clara: “Then what are we? What can we possibly be?”
Doctor: “You’re the only mystery worth solving.”
He gives her a tentative little grin, but she just looks back at him, not reassured, and he finally looks down.
This is unnerving because it is so very out of character. He usually has something touchy-feely to say. He expresses his love and admiration for the human race. Maybe he talks about how important it is to live in the moment. But here, he offers no comfort.
Why wouldn’t he? My favorite interpretation is that Clara is so perceptive he feels he can be honest with her. Although . . . if so, he should have explained to her that traveling with him might leave her dead or stranded.
Another possibility is that something is going wrong with him. In the same episode, an empath tells Clara that the Doctor has a sliver of ice in his heart. Maybe this is meant literally, as I speculate in the Doctor Who livejournal community. Maybe that’s a plot point.
Another possibility is that the scene is exploring another side of his personality. One of the fabulous things about the Matt Smith Doctor is that he plays his “darkest moments” with light dialogue and acting. It’s like fizzy champagne that packs a hard punch. And this scene has a strong “darkest moment” subtext, in the form of visual references to the episode Waters of Mars. That’s the episode in which the 10th Doctor decides to pursue ultimate power, choosing evil over good.
And here he is, wearing the same astronaut suit and striking the same pose:
And looking out on the same red and fiery landscape:
It’s subtle, but unnverving.