TV Club

Who is Doctor Who’s Clara: A Time Lord, River Song, the Doctor’s daughter?

The Clara mystery: Theories and wild speculation.

Courtesy of BBC America

Season 7 of Doctor Who has increasingly coalesced around the mystery of Clara, neatly summed up by the Doctor in the clip below. Now that we’re more than halfway through Season 7, Part 2, with only three episodes left to go before we arrive at the finale—tantalizingly titled “The Name of the Doctor”—it’s time to put on our speculating hats. Let’s review where we are in the Season 7 mystery of Clara (otherwise known as the Search for Clara Prime) and where we might be going.

The Mystery

The Doctor has encountered the same human being in three very different eras: Oswin Oswald (Future Clara, for our purposes), an entertainment director on a starship in the far future; Clara Oswald (Past Clara), who lives a double life as a barmaid and a governess in London in 1892; and Present Clara, the Doctor’s ongoing companion this season, who seems to be from 2013.* How can this identical woman exist in (at least) three time zones? As the Doctor says, “She’s not possible!”

The Clues

  • The Claras have some intriguing similarities: Past Clara and Future Clara both like making soufflés (see “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen”). Present Clara and Past Clara are both drawn to caring for traumatized or lost children (again, “The Snowmen,” as well as “The Bells of Saint John” and “The Rings of Akhaten”).
  • That said, they have some big differences. Future Clara is a computer genius. Present Clara is bizarrely Internet illiterate for a twentysomething in 2013.
  • Past Clara keeps her double life as a governess and a barmaid a secret from everyone involved in each. She never explains why. The plot of “The Snowmen” doesn’t require her to be a barmaid at all. What’s going on here? It certainly suggests a facility for deviousness that may mean she’s hiding things from the Doctor.
  • The TARDIS has some sort of grudge against Clara (see “Akhaten” and “Hide”).
  • Present Clara contacts the Doctor across time using a phone number given to her by “the woman in the shop.” Who is the woman in the shop? Why does she want Present Clara to meet the Doctor? And why does Present Clara need a nudge to meet the Doctor, when he bumped into the other two by chance? (Unless, as we’ll explore below, it wasn’t by chance.)
  • The Doctor has pretty comprehensively vetted Present Clara as human. He’s spied on her parents’ courtship (in “Akhaten”). He’s run her by a proven psychic (in “Hide”). Why hasn’t he checked out Past and Future Clara in the same way? He does have a time machine. Unless he has, and we just haven’t seen him do it. He hasn’t been traveling with Present Clara continuously; he could check up on her doubles without her knowing.
  • We know that Alex Kingston will be returning in “The Name of the Doctor,” so whatever Clara is almost certainly has something to do with River Song.
  • In the clip, even under the threat of certain death, Clara doesn’t ‘fess up to any secret agenda. So that’s proof that she’s an unwitting participant in whatever’s going on with her. Unless she was really just that sure the Doctor would save them (which, after all, he did)?

The Theories

Clara’s an agent working against the Doctor for his enemies. Did the Doctor really meet Past and Future Claras by chance? He only met them because of plots by his old enemies The Great Intelligence and the Daleks. Maybe they’re in league with “the woman in the shop” (maybe Madame Kovarian of the Silence?) to keep bringing the Doctor into Clara’s orbit so she can enact some plot against him.

In favor: Moffat used the-companion-as-trap in Season 5, and he does like reusing plot points with interesting variations.

Against: “The woman in the shop” is almost certainly River, who is unlikely to be in an alliance with the Doctor’s foes. (Unless the Silence have retaken control of her? Dammit!)

Clara is a future regeneration of River Song who’s had her memory erased. River is, after all, a Time Lord. We’ve seen her regenerate before.

In favor: Doctor Who has a proven record of trading in its Time Lords for younger models (see The Master in “Utopia” and, oh, every regeneration of the Doctor). And after four seasons as a frequently recurring character on Doctor Who, Kingston may be ready to move on.

Against: River works in her current incarnation because she’s a sporadic recurring character. It would be a huge change for the series for the Doctor to be traveling with a clear, unrepressed, fully requited love interest. Seems like it would make both kids and old-school fans unhappy if there was suddenly kissing and mushy stuff in every episode.

Clara is the future child of the Doctor and River who’s had her memory erased. The two Time Lords must be up to something on their nights away from River’s prison cell.

In favor: See above for Moffat’s fondness for reusing plot points with slight differences. This would strongly echo the Season 6 revelation that River is Amy and Rory’s child. And that would make Clara a Time Lord, which would explain her numerous incarnations, apparent centuries of longevity, and ability to repeatedly return from the dead.

Against: Except … that isn’t how Time Lords work. They don’t keep regenerating into the same body, and they look different every time.

Clara is a future incarnation of the Doctor who has—you got it—had her memory erased.

In favor: The often impish Moffat would love springing a surprise like this. It would also explain the frequent rumors that Smith is leaving the show and be a great way of keeping his departure a secret. Jenna Louise-Coleman is quick-witted enough to play the Doctor. Heck, Future Clara almost is the Doctor. And maybe the TARDIS’s problem with Clara is it doesn’t like having two Doctors on board at once? Crossing time paths or whatever? So maybe this season is going to end with a surprise regeneration.

Against: Except we know from several BBC-released photos of the filming of this fall’s 50th anniversary special that Smith is very much involved in that episode.

It’s all about the leaf. A friend offers this theory based on Clara’s action at the conclusion of “The Rings of Akhaten”: “Remember when she fed ‘the most important leaf in history’ to Grandfather and the infinite possibilities it contained destroyed him and he exploded? I wondered if there might be something about that that created an explosion of infinite unlived Clara/Oswin lifetimes out into the universe.”

In favor: This theory is awesome. 

Against: If this season resolves on a plot point derived from one of the most disliked recent episodes of Doctor Who, fans will be howling in the streets. Though that might be fun to see.  

Clara is a Jagaroth, an alien from the 1979 classic series story “City of Death.” A Jagaroth can, under the right circumstances, can be splintered into identical bodies across several eras of time. Plus they can disguise themselves very convincingly as humans.

Against: There’s basically no way Moffat builds the season finale around a one-off monster from 1979. That’s crazy.

In favor: Except … the Jagaroth isn’t just any one-off monster. It’s the villain from a Douglas Adams–penned story that netted the show its largest audience ever.

All intriguing theories but none that are completely convincing. What are your theories? Let me know, and when Clara rips her face off in the finale to reveal one eye and a head full of seaweed skin … well, you heard it here first.

Correction, Dec. 4, 2014: This post originally misidentified Clara’s past incarnation’s double life. She was a barmaid and a governess, not a nanny and a governess. (Return.)