Doctor: What is the question?
Vastra: Who or what could have done this?
Doctor: No. That is not the question, that is not where we start.
Strax: The question is how? The flesh itself has been combusted…
The Doctor angrily dismisses Strax’s questions and begins ranting before Clara calms him down and asks
Clara: What is the question?
Doctor: A dinosaur is burning in the heart of London. Nothing left but smoke and flames. The question is, have there been any similar murders?
Vastra: Yes, yes by the goddess there have.
Doctor: Look at them all gawking. Question two: If all the pudding brains are gawking, then what is he?
The Doctor understands that the questions we ask and choose to pursue directly impacts the path(s) that we take. Our questions can lead us to answers that are illuminating or they can lead us to a dead end. Vastra and Strax ask the obvious questions that immediately pop into one’s mind when one comes across something strange or unexpected: “who and how?” The Doctor however, rejects such shallow, off the cuff questions. If they start with the “who” question and attempt to determine the person responsible they would have all of Victorian London to consider as suspects. They would not even begin to know what to look for or how to narrow down the search. Strax was already on his way to answering the how question, but Strax only has a one track mind-his focus shifts to military tactics and weaponry and that limits the type of questions he can ask. Instead the Doctor challenges them to look deeper, to pay attention to their surroundings and make connections. He notices that there is a connection between the murder of the dinosaur and other deaths throughout the city. He recognizes when someone or something is acting differently. Everyone else is naturally gawking at the dead dinosaur, who wouldn’t? But one person, is ignoring the action. Questions can lead us on a wild goose chase or point us to some deeper truths, but we have to be willing to pay attention and ask those tough questions, especially of ourselves.
I cried when Matt Smith’s Doctor made a cameo in this episode. I was not surprised by his appearance, a few months ago tabloids and the internet were already stating that the Eleventh Doctor would make a surprise appearance, plus earlier on Saturday, I saw a picture that the BBC one facebook page had posted of the Eleventh Doctor. So I was not caught by surprise. Yet I cried. I didn’t just shed a few tears but I cried hysterically for hours, and then while watching the episode again, I started crying again. Now I could dismiss my tears as evidence of me being over dramatic and berate myself for being so emotional. Or I could simply say that I cried because Matt Smith is my favorite Doctor and so seeing him again, saying goodbye to Clara (and the audience) and reassuring her and us that the new Doctor is still him, simply overwhelmed me. While neither answer is not necessarily false, I know myself. In my case, there is almost never a simple answer for why I am acting a certain way. Tears, when they are shed, mean something especially since I hate crying. While I have no qualms about other people crying, I hate when I cry. When something bad happens in my life, in order to prevent myself from crying I tell myself, “get over it.” When I witness injustice after injustice play out in our world, I tell myself, “Crying is useless. Crying does not solve anything.” I am much more comfortable with anger. I can and often do express my anger. Anger can be channeled into positive action, anger feels like a sign of strength.
Yet for some reason, I freely cried during this episode as well as during Matt Smith’s regeneration scene in the previous episode. Of course, I don’t cry in front of other people, but in the privacy of my own home. Yet I have such a disdain for crying that my strong reaction to this episode led me to ask myself, “why am I crying and why do I hate crying so much?”
11th Doctor: It’s me Clara, the Doctor.
Clara: what do you mean the Doctor?
11-I’m phoning you from Trenzalore. From before I changed. I mean, it’s all still to happen to me, it’s coming. Oh it’s a coming. Not long now. I can feel it.
Clara has been repeatedly described as a control freak. Control freaks require a certain degree of stability and for someone traveling to different centuries and time periods-not many things in her life can be described as stable-except for the Doctor. Her Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor. She knew him. She knew that he would always be there for her and that if she were in trouble that he would do anything possible to help her. If she were scared, she could turn to the Doctor for strength. In The Rings of Akhaten, she describes a story about how as a young girl one of her biggest fears was getting lost. When she was about six, her biggest fear was realized and she got lost at black pool beach surrounded by strangers. But when her mom found her, her mom stated: “It doesn’t matter where you are, in the jungle or the desert or on the moon. However lost you may feel, you’ll never really be lost. Not really. Because I will always be here, and I will always come and find you. Every single time.” “But then her mom died. Her life was turned upset down and she had to adjust to a new reality. Then years later the Doctor pops into her life. He takes her across the universe, they travel through time, yet no matter what happens he is always there for her. She never feels lost, because the Doctor-her Doctor will always find her. And the best thing is, that the Doctor could live for centuries not just through regeneration but in the same body. He would outlive her, which meant that she wouldn’t have to worry about being abandoned again.
But he does abandon her, multiple times during The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor understands what Clara does not want to admit-everything ends. And he knows that the battle of Trenzalore is one he needs to face on his own. And when he leaves her the second time, the Doctor knows that his time is running out. But all Clara can feel is the sting of abandonment. But a few minutes later when she hears the TARDIS she happily runs towards it, knowing the Doctor had not abandoned her after all. But at the control panels is Tasha Lem, who tells her to go to the Doctor because no one deserves to die alone. It is Clara, who convinces the Time Lords to help the Doctor. And they do. They give him a new regeneration cycle ensuring that he is be able to regenerate and survive long past the original limit. And Clara, who jumped into the Doctor’s time stream and saved him and his various incarnations knows better than anyone else what regeneration means. And while some fans insist she should not have reacted so poorly, knowledge does not change the fact that the version of the Doctor she knew is gone. Yes some core characteristics of the Doctor remain the same throughout each regeneration but new aspects of his personality come to the forefront. It is as if a whole new person has taken the place of the person she cared about and trusted. She is abandoned yet again. Regeneration does not exactly equate death, but it marks an ending. And Clara just isn’t ready to let go.
Clara has to begin again with a new Doctor and she is scared. Who is this person? Her sense of stability and safety is gone. Once again she is that lost little girl. And when the Twelfth Doctor seemingly abandons her to die she is left reeling. Who is this person that would so cruelly abandon her? Yet she holds onto hope, that somewhere deep inside this stranger, was the Doctor she always knew and loved.
Cyborg: Where is the other one?
Clara: I don’t know. But I know where he will be. Where he will always be. If the Doctor is still the Doctor he will have my back. I’m right aren’t I? God, please, please God say I’m right.
And he does have her back. And when he seemingly disappears once again after defeating the cyborg, Vastra has to remind Clara that not only is the Doctor still the same person, but that subconsciously she understands that.
Vastra: You would be very welcome to join our little household. But I have it on the highest authority that the Doctor will be returning for you very soon.
Clara: Whose authority?
Vastra: The person who knows him best in all the universe.
Clara: And who’s that?
Vastra: Miss Clara Oswald. Who, perhaps has, by instinct already dressed to leave?
Clara: I just wanted a change of clothes. I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore.
Vastra: It would seem, my dear, you are very wrong about that.
The Doctor still has her back. Yet she remains unsure. At first she refuses to travel with him. She can’t let go of her version of the Doctor. And it takes the reassurance of her specific incarnation of the Doctor to let her know that the person in front of her, is still him. That he hasn’t abandoned her or forgotten about her. This is the scene that had me in tears. I cried because I could relate to Clara’s fears and uncertainty-when you’ve been abandoned before-it’s hard to believe that it won’t happen again. Her mother died and negated her promise to always find her, and now the Doctor-the version of the Doctor she traveled with had seemingly disappeared leaving her with a stranger.
As a child I grew up with a particular notion of God. God was at the same time-all loving yet also controlling and demanding. Yet this God had clear expectations and after growing up in an abusive household I finally found the stability I craved. But as I grew older, the God I thought I knew began to seem more and more like a monster that I had to distance myself from. I knew I had to let go of this understanding of God, but I didn’t want too. Finally after years of battling depression, I felt as if someone finally had my back and loved me, yet the more I learned about this God the more I realized I had to move on. Yet letting go of what I thought I knew about God, left me feeling lost and alone. If there is a God, what is this God like? Can I trust this God to love me and support me during my darkest days? Like Clara, I felt like I was dealing with a stranger. Perhaps it would be better to abandon this whole notion of God I thought. Yet such a time period lasted only a short time. Deep in my soul I felt a tugging at my heart, as if God were begging for me to see God for what God is-the embodiment of love and compassion.
I spend a good portion of my time trying to avoid crying because I don’t want to be viewed as weak. As a control freak, I need to present a certain facade-and in my case, it is often one of anger and/or distance. Crying involves a vulnerability that I fear. Yet this episode, stuck a nerve. I cried because I understood Clara’s fear of being abandoned by the Eleventh Doctor and having to deal with what she perceived to be a stranger. And I cried because I know what’s it’s like to have to finally say goodbye to the past, yet still needing reassurances that things will be ok. I had to finally let go of the God of my childhood which meant getting rid of some toxic ideas but I also thought, the assurance of a caring deity. But time has shown me that only when I let go of the past and of what I think I know-can I be open to new experiences of God. There were many changes I had to make when moving from a childish understanding of God to a more adult understanding of God-an understanding of God that says no matter how much I think I know-there is still a sense of mystery and a sense of strangeness and otherness with God. But there is one thing deep down that I know: that if there is a God, this God loves me completely and unabashedly, and that God will always have my back.