Doctor Who: Chalk and Talk

This looping story line thing that is evidenced by Listen, is definitely a thing. Jenna Louise Coleman called it the Moffat Loop and she should know.  And over at iO9 there is a succinct summation, putting it all down to The Doctor basically inventing a monster and letting the logic of that play out through loop after closed loop. In that deterministic assessment, it is pretty bleak. Not as bleak as the Fires of Pompeii, but pretty bleak for Clara and Danny Pink.

There are a lot of what ifs in this story. The Doctor’s big hypothesis about his monster, and his one about fear, the what ifs between Danny and Clara and the what ifs asked by Orson. That all have to do about the creation of identity. These are my first thoughts:

  • The child who believes in things under the bed who becomes the soldier he dreams about.
  • The soldier without a weapon who digs holes to save communities.
  • Of course The Doctor would return to his childhood if he was going to use The Moment. If he was killing all the children on Gallifrey he would first destroy his own childhood.
  • Characters are created, but not within a void. They are made of all sorts of stuff.  Just like real humans.
  • We create ourselves.
  • We are never alone. Not Madame De Pompadour. Not us.
  • We are shaped by others, even if, or perhaps especially if, we are not aware of it.
  • The child alone in The Home, Rupert, creates Danny Pink, the soldier teacher. Who can say if he would have become the person he became without Clara and The Doctor’s influence?
  • What moved the chalk?

All of the above is pretty obvious yeah? Because of the loops?

So, if I am to add anything new, (which in the last post I explained was almost always a fool’s errand – but that has never stopped me) I will focus on Clara. For all The Doctor’s big questions it is Clara who has more agency than initially suspected, even in a destiny trap.

Clara has been the antidote to the Doctor’s infected timeline, a kind of girlfriend in various episodes (The Crimson Horror), his student in some places (as in The Rings of Akhaten), and his teacher in Into the Dalek. Clara showed him which Tardis to steal, and became his guide and conscience when facing the annihilation of Gallifrey in the barn with The Moment, and for a brief exchange, his daughter in Listen.

About Listen.

If the Tardis shows Clara Danny Pink’s time line because it is linked to her own, then, with the Tardis showing Clara The Doctor’s time line, it similarly indicates a link to her own time line. With the Tardis making the physical connection, Clara finds the words to make it a fact. In that moment, by his bed, she is more than a healer or companion to the child who will eventually be The Doctor, but a mother.

As his parent, Clara becomes the agency for his creation, or rather the creation of his persona as The Doctor. And it’s not all about quoting his own words and thus allowing him to create himself. No. Because Clara doesn’t just  repeat his words, she adds her own. She, in fact, implants the notion of a companion in this scared little boy’s head. She invents her own role, because of the role she is in.

That last bit bears repeating because it’s kind of lost in the magic of that particular aha moment. In speaking to the boy in the barn, she invents the concept of companion as familiar to The Doctor. That’s a bit of a big deal!

However Clara keeps doing stuff like this, because one, she keeps getting the opportunity to, and two, she has the right words at the right time. Not Rose, Donna, Martha, not even Amy, had the right words with the right timing. This is her super power, or defining trait.

Clara’s use of language is able to:

– Transform the monsters under the bed of nightmares into companions.

– She is his conscience in The Name of The Doctor, giving him pause to stop before using The Moment.

– Convince The Doctor of a Dalek’s humanity as the Oswald version of herself in Asylum of the Daleks.

– Convince The Doctor of a Dalek’s ability to change, in Into the Dalek.

– Find the one perfect word (Pond) to inspire The Doctor once more when the Nanny version of her is quizzed by Madam Vastra.

– Hold herself in check to reason with robots intent on using her for parts in Deep Breath.

– She tells The Doctor to do something, and he does it, thus discovering her authority as an adult and with The Doctor, in Listen.

– She helps children become, by speaking and also listening, with empathy, wit and understanding, in Rings of Akhaten, The Snowmen, Nightmare in Silver and Listen etc.

In this way we can see Clara is a lot of chalk and talk as a teacher and as a companion. Somehow she manages to hit on the right words, find the right questions, make The Doctor shut up at the right moments, to inspire, calm, soothe, save and direct. She’s not an epic action hero like River, she’s not loud to hide her self-consciousness like Donna, she is not outspoken like Martha, or self-assured like Amy, she is her own self. And she knows it, in her confession to Danny at the restaurant, she reveals her power is also her flaw and that is because of her experiences and perspective as a time traveller.

There is a kind of irony then in her communication with Danny as it is the only time she doesn’t have the words. In this she is the opposite of Emma Grayling in Hide, who was all about detecting and conveying emotional energy: People like me… sometimes, we get our signals mixed up. We think people are feeling the way we want them to feel… you know, when they are special to us. Clara can read the signals, but this is the only time the signals she reads trips up her language:

Failure to Communicate

Failure to Communicate

In fact, Listen is a reflection of the episode Hide. There are other episode connections, too, but Hide is important. Right down to: running towards a difficult to detect suspected presence in the midst of fear; a supernatural atmosphere and travelling through time to find an answer linked to experimental time travel that results in awkward family encounters. And instead of The Doctor setting out to find out more about Clara as in Hide, Clara – and everyone else – finds out more about The Doctor! Furthermore, if these stories are opposite, then the ‘monster’ in Listen is real, because the ‘monster’ and ‘ghost’ of Hide were not monsters and ghosts at all.

Basically, these perfect hiding beings, are real, like the Vashta Nerada. Just because Clara becomes the nightmare under the bed, it doesn’t mean she is alone. Generally speaking too, nursery rhymes are only ever written about real stuff.

The Real Monster

The Real Monster

As for Clara, Hide was a nice tense episode and we can see her growth from then until Listen. She is more confident, more able to take charge and find solutions, but still able to ask the right questions and still able to shush The Doctor for his absence of sensitivity. And it is good too to see what The Doctor’s character retains. Still bossy, still immune to the sensitivities of others (like psychics or kids), and still willing to risk life and limb by jumping into the unknown.

Hide and Listen then, together complete a neat set of correspondences and juxtapositions that are either entirely deliberate or completely random, but definitely inspired.

If Clara demonstrates the power of speech or the right words, then she is also voicing, as subtext, the importance of stories, and of story tellers, and so to, the importance of writers. Without a writer, Clara is without form and function. She is powerless without the words written for her.

All of the above is why I don’t get those people who can’t find anything at all redeeming in the writing or story lines of Steven Moffat or the other writers of his series. They forget that stories involving events and people are braided, and intertwine. This is especially important because with stories involving time travel these braided arcs can twine backwards, forwards and sideways. Just because they take paying attention to, and are actively disorienting, doesn’t mean they are not internally and emotionally consistent as stories.

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