Last week I began a feminist take on the character of Clara Oswin Oswald in Doctor Who. It was necessarily incomplete, because we are missing a great deal of information about the character, for purposes of plot. But I voiced two concerns:
1) She does not seem recognizably human. She doesn’t show the kinds of human emotions or reactions I would expect from anyone, male or female.
2) Clara asks a lot of questions, but they seem like they’re mostly to explore the character of the Doctor.
3) The show isn’t passing the Bechdel test. (See below)
After this latest episode, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, I’m going to argue that the show is batting two out of three.
Bad: Clara is still inhuman
Watch this conversation.
Clara says, “I think I’m more scared of you right now than anything else on the TARDIS.” (To give some perspective, she’s just seen her own future possible self as a zombie being horribly burned in a fire.)
The Doctor says something and hugs her.
Clara says, “Okay, I don’t know what this is all about, but the hug is really nice.”
A minute later he is asking her to jump off the edge of a cliff with her.
“Trust me just this one time, please . . .”
She gives him a skeptical look.
She nods. They jump.
I’m not buying it.
Good: Her character is explored
Clara spends a lot of time in this episode exploring and running around the TARDIS, while the Doctor is not present. She’s got initiative, curiosity, and is overly willing to take risks.
Arguably good: I think it passes the Bechdel test
This deserves a whole blog post, which maybe I’ll do someday, but in short, I think it passes. To pass the Bechdel Test, a movie or show must:
1. Have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
It has two named women, Clara and the TARDIS. Clara talks to the TARDIS about something besides a man. The sticking point, though, is whether they “talk to each other.” The trouble is that the TARDIS is completely silent. A reason for this was given in an earlier episode, “The Doctor’s Wife,” when she entered a human body and spoke — because she has an existence across time, she can’t speak in any one moment. I buy it. She had all sorts of trouble even in a human body, because she kept referring to events that hadn’t happened yet. She has so much intelligence that she can’t be comprehended by regular humans. (For more on this sci fi concept, see the Wikipedia entry on technological singularity.)
Still, I’m going to argue that they do indeed talk to one another. Here’s Clara’s side of the conversation, followed by my translation of the TARDIS’ side.
Clara’s side of the conversation
Clara says, “It’s an appliance. It does a job.” (She knows full well that this is not true, because the two of them have already spoken in the previous episode. She is taunting the TARDIS.)
Later, as she is running along the corridors alone, she sees a spectacular telescope room and a fabulous swimming pool. Then she sees a library and says,
“Now, that’s just showing off.”
She opens a book and learns something about the Doctor, and a bottle tips over, leaking out more information.
Later she is routed into the console room, where she says, “Oh, thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you,” and kisses the console.
But there’s no door, so she says, “No — the door, where’s the door gone, no. You can’t do this! Oh, why are you doing this?”
The TARDIS’s side of the conversation?
I would argue that the telescope, swimming pool, library, book, and bottle all qualify as conversation. It has already been established that the TARDIS is manipulating her architecture on purpose. And it has already been established that she’s a bit snarky with Clara.
So here is my translation:
“It’s an appliance. It does a job,” says Clara.
“Whatever,” says the TARDIS. “Look, I have a telescope room. Isn’t it awesome? You could use it if you wanted. One of the Doctor’s other stray pets liked it. Oh yes, and a swimming pool.”
“And yep, my library is at its architectural finest,” says the TARDIS.
“You’re just showing off,” says Clara.
“Clara, did you know that I have a history? It’s true. I used to have a lot of sister TARDISes, and they got wiped out. So I’ll tell you a big, big secret. Then you’re just going to forget it, which makes it kind of a funny joke. Still, you will try to remember, won’t you?”
“Clara, this concludes my rather hasty tour. Into the console room! You’ll be safe there.”
“Oh, thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you,” says Clara, and kisses the console.
“You’re very welcome. Do you still think I’m an appliance?”
“No — the door, where’s the door gone, no!”
“This isn’t the console room, dear. This is just a copy, and I brought you here to keep you safe. Didn’t you notice my color coding? Red for dangerous, blue for safe.”
“You can’t do this!”
“That statement is clearly and obviously incorrect.”
“Oh, why are you doing this?”
“Well, DUH, to save your life. Please stay put, Clara. I know that in a few moments you’ll be running out the door only to be pursued by a horrific possible future, but really, could you please stay put? Oh, HUMANS.”
Later updates to my feminist take on Clara are here and here.