Photo: Adrian Rogers / BBC; Illustration: Previously.TV

I Won't Be Your Father Figure

The Doctor puts Clara on notice that he's not going to be there till the end of…tiiime.

The first time Clara stepped back into the TARDIS with the current Doctor, he starkly laid down his first ground rule: "I'm not your boyfriend." In this week's episode, "Kill The Moon," he even more starkly demonstrates what else he's not.

Perhaps as an inevitable result of the obvious age difference between the two leads, a clear father-daughter dynamic has been emerging between the Doctor and Clara. Last week, it was made as explicit as it's going to get when Danny, realizing he was in a room with at least one alien, jumped to the conclusion that Clara was from beyond the stars and that the Doctor was her "space-dad." How far wrong was he, really, about the latter?

Well, since this is Capaldi's Doctor we're talking about, the question isn't whether Danny was wrong, but what the contrary old crank is going to do to prove him wrong.

Quick setup: Clara's student and disruptive influence Courtney Woods is in crisis after being found wanting during a brush with the vastness of the cosmos -- personified in part, as usual, by the Doctor himself. And so the Doctor whisks Clara and Courtney off to the moon to make a point, which is the primary reason the Doctor ever does anything these days. Over the course of events, which includes meeting a trio of soon-to-be-dead and might-as-well-be-dead astronauts in 2049, the Doctor discovers that the moon is actually a giant egg, the hatching of which is imminent. Leaving aside the fact that this fanciful theory of lunar formation makes the Silurians' origin story look like Cosmos by comparison, the question becomes what to do about it. Should the innocent creature be nuked in its womb, or should it be allowed to emerge from its eons-old cocoon to destroy the moon and all life on Earth?

As always, Doctor Who is borrowing from its own history here. The source material in this case includes the eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond's second episode, "The Beast Below." As in that story, the Doctor investigates a subterranean1 threat, and solving the mystery leads to a much more difficult question: whether the future of humanity outweighs the right of a gigantic, unique, beautiful, spacebound organism to exist freely. In both episodes, the Doctor faces two impossible options and, as he always does, picks a third. This time, however, his non-choice is to opt out entirely, leaving the terrible decision up to the three isolated representatives of humanity chosen by freak circumstance: the Disruptive Influence, the Impossible Girl, and the most inert astronaut ever committed to film.

Normally the Doctor's function is simply to figure out how to do what needs to be done, impossible as it may seem. But in this case, the means to resolve the problem is already in place, supplied by the expedition from Earth. The only question is whether to use it. And so when Clara turns to the Doctor to ask him what to do, it does seem a little clingy; whatever course they choose, they can do it without his help. Also, we're at the peak of one of those semi-regular cycles in which the show hammers away at the theme that the Doctor is Not One Of Us, which is more bad luck for Clara. Sure, the Doctor's excitement over his discovery that the moon is an egg could be read as a clue that there's a right answer, but it could also be read as the Doctor's excitement over his discovery, period. He's nearly as excited to be all, "Not my job!"

Just as in "The Beast Below," one of the two unthinkable choices, unilaterally selected by the Doctor's companion in a last-second press of a button, turns out to be not only not awful but win-win. The difference here is that, three seasons ago, Amy realized that and the Doctor didn't. Whereas in this case, Clara didn't know it but suspects that the Doctor did, and she is hella pissed off about it. And his refusal -- or inability -- to give her a straight answer about it afterward doesn't help. But after the way he bailed on her, she was probably going to dump him anyway.

Last week, Danny warned Clara that the Doctor was going to push her too far at some point, which was an obvious setup for the Doctor to do exactly that (even if not necessarily on their very next outing). Viewing the situation from the perspective of his military experience, Danny envisioned the Doctor pushing Clara the way an officer pushes a soldier. What happened instead was more like a father pushing a daughter -- shoving her out of the nest, so to speak, a metaphor that's even less of a stretch given that this is an episode about hatching. The separation between parent and child is inevitable, and inevitably painful, and one party is always going to be more ready for it than the other. And the Doctor's never been graceful about it, from the way his first incarnation ditched his granddaughter Susan on 22nd-century Earth for making googly eyes at a boy to his recent bout of Ponds Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As Danny realizes, Clara's trust in the Doctor -- particularly this Doctor -- has begun to border on toxic. Like a child who still thinks her parent has all the answers, she assumes that the moon is safe because if it had died in 2049, the Doctor would know about it. But for various reasons, he can't promise any such thing (see also 1975's "The Pyramids Of Mars," in which Sarah Jane Smith incorrectly assumes the world won't end in 1911 if she and the Doctor do nothing). When my son asks me about my experiences in fifth grade, or high school, or adulthood, he's asking me about his future the way Clara is asking the Doctor about humanity's. And the answers my son gets from me aren't usually much more relevant than the answers Clara gets from the Doctor. The difference is that unlike Clara, my son realizes that.

The Doctor's relationship with any given companion often reflects his attitude toward humanity as a whole, fluctuating from affectionate protectiveness to irritation and sometimes even disgust. Clara's been mostly exempted from this, but not always. The Doctor justifiably bristles when Clara presumes to lecture him about "duty of care"; after all, one of Eleven's favorite phrases (not to mention one of his favorite threats) was "under my protection." After centuries of keeping the earth safe, I'm sure this Doctor didn't appreciate Clara's attitude. So the Doctor probably thought he was giving Clara, and by extension humanity, a gentle and possibly somewhat vindictive nudge toward independence when he left her (and us) to her own devices. What Clara felt, on the other hand, was an almighty kick in the fanny.2

That's partly because the Doctor did it the way Twelve does everything, which is to say rudely. Later, he claims to have left the decision to Clara out of respect, which rings rather hollow given that he's clearly trying to get out of the doghouse with her after the fact, and also given that he had previously said it was time for her to lose the training wheels3, which is pretty condescending. Clara accuses him of abdicating the responsibility toward Earth that he willingly took on, and while a lot of her anger undoubtedly stems from knowing how close she came to making the wrong choice, she's not entirely off the mark.

Now, given the frequency with which the Doctor has, does, and will save our collective bacon, breaking up with him on behalf of all humanity (which Clara does) is arguably a more momentous decision on her part than whether to allow a six-billion-ton exo-parasite to come into being 1.5 light-seconds from my house. Danny suspects that she's not actually done with the Doctor, and he's undoubtedly right. But given the Doctor's reaction after Clara storms all Tegan-like out of the TARDIS, maybe he's realized that he went too far. It's probably not the end of their relationship, but it might well be the end of that father-daughter dynamic, for better or worse.

Both Clara and the Doctor are forced to learn difficult lessons in this episode, so there is reason for optimism. Perhaps Clara will become a more fully realized character, and perhaps this Doctor will stop acting like such a dick.

1 Technically a misnomer in both cases.
2 Yes, I know that word means two different things on opposite sides of the pond. Works either way.
3Actually he said "stabilisers," but this is a rare case in which the American term is more colorful.

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