Clara and Me have enjoyed many grand adventures, but they have also endured many trials, testing their resolve and their friendship. The final act of the series will define who they are, and what they are willing to stand for. We conclude our series preview with Episodes Nine to Twelve.
Episode Nine: A Quick Succession of Busy Nothings Written by Janine Rivers
Illustrated by Aralis
“She’s a human being, just a normal human being living on Earth. To everyone else on this world, she’s a nobody. But one day, everyone will know her name. And to me, she is everything.”
Winchester, 1817. Beneath an exterior of pomp and ceremony, a rural health resort hides a very alien secret. Two cosmic enemies join together for mutual advantage – but at the cost of one young man’s freedom.
Winchester, 1817. Behind the brick walls of an old English house, a dying authoress is visited by a lost love. Clara Oswald has returned – and Jane Austen knows that this adventure will be their last.
Now this story has been a long time coming.
As the ever-evolving relationship between Clara and Me has come to inform their choices, both characters must find solace in their respective paths, and – perhaps – their pasts. Whilst this is further explored throughout the episode, with both women dealing with the fallout of the previous episodes in their own way, Janine River’s A Quick Succession of Busy Nothings shifts its focus to the relationship between Clara Oswald and Jane Austen, one that precedes Clara and Me’s. This first series, in essence, is about what Clara is, what she wants to be, and what role she has to fill in the universe; faced with these questions, who better to turn to than a confidante and lover?
But when Clara and her timeless companion turn up in Regency era Winchester, she discovers she has arrived at the end of Jane’s life, her last unfinished novel by her bedside. It’s the story of what they believe to be their final adventure together; a way to keep their shared history at the reader’s discretion (if unquestionably romantic), with things mostly hinted at through allusions and the occasional flashback. With so much emphasis this series on the people who have influenced Clara across time and space, it feels only natural to revisit a figure who has been an inspiration to her since she was a little girl, in a very different way to someone like the Doctor. But meeting your heroes is both the greatest gift and greatest curse that time travel can offer you.
And indeed, the story ends up being defined by contrast: set in a seaside health resort run by a prosperous family with some rather murky motivations, channeling ideas not unlike some of Austen’s own satirical works, it places Clara in an interesting environment. She tends not to have much time for the mundane, but has always loved and respected Jane’s work; she is, in a way, experiencing the thrill of fiction, but it’s a fiction that is channeling the very reality she has sought to escape. Not to mention the fact that she and Jane come from wildly different time periods – and that one is functionally immortal while the other might soon come to face her death...
This a character piece at its core: a study in how three strong characters react to each other’s presence, each other’s lives, and each other’s complex and fraught relationships to storytelling – tenderness and bitterness both accounted for. And more than anything else, A Quick Succession of Busy Nothings is a celebration of queer love between complicated women.
Episode Ten: Heroes for Ghosts Written by Alex King & Ruth Long
Illustrated by Rosie Vernon
“You find something to hold onto. You make it your life raft through it all and no matter what you never let it go.”
When the news of Miss Oswald’s death was broken to the students of Coal Hill School, one boy in particular was left devastated. Two years later, still beset by grief, Isaac Okorie is astonished to encounter his former English teacher, apparently back from the dead. But when his every waking hour is tormented by a malevolent creature, how is he to know that she isn’t just another phantom?
Clara Oswald, by no design of her own, has ended up in the very place she vowed never to return to: home. Stranded on the streets of London, separated from Me, Clara must walk the Earth that only knows her as a ghost, and, together with Isaac, do what she’s always done, even beyond the TARDIS: stop the monsters.
Though originally one of the companions most determined to maintain their life and responsibilities on Earth while travelling with the Doctor, we witnessed Clara’s commitment gradually fall away over the following years: from the strict every Wednesday rule of Series 7, to the push-and-pull between two worlds of Series 8, to the untethered recklessness of Series 9, until – with her death – Clara was cut off from her former life altogether. There’s something inherently tragic about the trajectory of her character, evoking the hero's journeys of old mythology; where the protagonists would return from their adventures in another realm to find that the place they left behind no longer had a place for them.
Heroes for Ghosts, written by Alex King and Ruth Long, mainly deals with two concepts: how returning to the world of her past affects Clara, and how this world is affected by Clara’s return. It’s an emotional journey, both for Clara and her former student Isaac, as they respond to meeting each other again. This teacher/pupil relationship, in addition to the familiar setting, presents us with the opportunity to see Clara at her most human, in doing so learning things about her life we may not have been privy to before. It deals with some very heavy topics, but entwined with moments of levity and an abundance of heart. This story is ultimately one about finding light, hope, and friendship in times of darkness.
For that reason, there’s a metatextual commentary of sorts to Heroes for Ghosts. Thematically, it could be seen as an analogue for our own experiences as fans of Clara and Doctor Who – the way in which we’re inspired by these characters and their stories, how they can provide a source of comfort, optimism and escapism when we need it most. Clara Oswald, one could argue, is herself something of an allegorical Doctor Who fan; a woman who thrives on stories, aspires to the myth of the Doctor – so much so she claimed it as her own. Much of her character, including her workplace, her date of birth, and her influence on the show’s history, is interwoven with the mythos of this series, and we hope to capture that spirit here. If The Untold Adventures is a love letter from the fans, then this episode reflects that sentiment better than any other.
Episode Eleven: The Promise of a Soldier Written by Kevin Burnard
Illustrated by Mogamoka
“Oh, Danny Pink, you did it to me again. You lied to me.”
Captain Tamara Harding expected this mission to be easy. But that was before her crew started turning up dead, then turning up as ghosts, and sometimes even the other way around.
Trapped in a labyrinth of a shipwreck, a small team must face the people they’ve lost, or find themselves joining their number.
The dead are coming back. They are so, so alone. And among them rests a soldier, long-forgotten, with a message for Clara Oswald.
The stakes have never been lower.
To hell with playing coy, let’s just get it out there: Danny Pink is back!
But this episode isn’t about him, as such, given how brilliantly his story ended on the show. It’s honouring his legacy: what he was to Clara, the lasting impact of their relationship and his loss, and the problematic aspects of how Clara treated and perceived him. Danny may be dead, but ghosts can be tenacious, and have some hard truths to impart to the ones they love. It’s a bit Dickens’ Christmas Carol, except nothing like it.
Because this is a story about what Clara has become in the years since ‘Death in Heaven’, and what she might do when given an impossible hope. It’s time to ask whether Clara can ever go back to who she once was, and whether she even should. She’s forged herself an ethos, over the course of the series, but now she has to face someone who remembers a very different Clara Oswald. The choices she made were necessary, for her story, for the show as a whole – but were they good? Is the Clara of today a better person? In what remains of the afterlife, writer Kevin Burnard pushes her undeath to new emotional and physical limits. It sets up the big questions Clara and Me are going to have to reckon with in the final episodes, and as a result it’s quite desperate and brutal, though not without a romantic side to keep the darkness at bay for a little longer.
As Clara comes face-to-face with old friends and flames who help guide her on this journey of introspection, Me has her own mission. Her arc serves to juxtapose and complement Clara’s, and by this point has reached a threshold. Her role is more understated alongside the central dynamics of these episodes, but – as you’d expect – she firmly makes her presence felt nonetheless. Her bond with Clara is the linchpin of this series, and though it might go to unexpected places, in the end the ancient immortal may just be the one Clara needs the most.
The Promise of a Soldier goes for the heart – quite literally in places. And it does so in the ruins of the show’s past. This series has some intentional parallels with Series 8, so to have an episode that deals directly, on a thematic level, with not only its aftermath, but its imagery, its sense of the gothic, is crucial to close us off before the concluding statements. It’s the sort of mix of homage and recontextualisation that came to define the late Capaldi era – an unexpected classic Doctor Who monster even plays an integral (if thankless) role. It also, to an extent, works as a response to another story that channeled that Capaldi era Gothic: ‘Under the Lake’ and ‘Before the Flood’. But not simply on an aesthetic level like The Guardian of Azantia. Here, it’s not just that people die and walk again, but that they might not necessarily do that in the right order. It blurs the boundaries between past and present; life and death. It’s an exercise in controlled chaos, as everything crashes around Clara.
And once the dust settles, you might just find that someone is waiting in the rubble....
Episode Twelve: She Who Remains Written by Ruth Long
Illustrated by Jo Bartelds
'It is the curse of mankind to court myth. From the annals of prehistory, when our ancestors gathered around the fire, until we outgrew our world and sought others, venturing so far our own Earthly past became a distant fairytale. It is through myths we divine our universe, our society, ourselves.
There are those of us who make a career of it. The storytellers, of course, with their words of tongue and screen and pen, and the archaeologists. Archaeologists strive to uncover the stories long buried by time. For we are the detectives of history, investigating lost sagas of the so-called highborn and lowly, the epic and the mundane; it’s all the same to us.
Truth is our objective: ostensibly, the antithesis of myth. And yet, what is it that drives us? Is it truth, or the idea of it? The data we glean from broken crockery and old bones, what is it but a narrative we fashion out of what remains? Reanimating reality into its own form of myth in the necromantic ritual known as the study of antiquity.
So truth is the soul of myth, and myth the vessel of truth. But she is a pernicious temptress. For an archaeologist of the modern age, there is one word she will use above all others to lure them in, one mystery so vast in its reach and perplexing in its origin it has become synonymous with the impossible:
'Perhaps, in our obsession with myth, we should have heeded her warnings.’
Ah, that elusive penultimate episode. So mysterious we won’t even give you a proper synopsis! That is because, like the finale that follows it (the title of which we are yet to reveal), this is a story that benefits from readers going in knowing as little as possible. All of this secrecy isn’t without careful purpose, and our hope is that the payoff will be all the more rewarding for it. However, that isn’t to say we can’t reveal anything about the climactic stories.
She Who Remains is a self-contained mystery haunted with an inescapable sense of foreboding. It’s a deconstruction of Clara’s deepest ambitions, playing with the conventions of modern Doctor Who by deliberately casting them in a twisted light. Inspired by Grimm’s fairytales and Slavic folklore, this is an eerie parable about how one’s dreams and identity can be distorted into something monstrous; by fate, by the narrative, by ourselves.
As for the finale itself… well, you’ll find out eventually, but things should become clear as the threads woven through the series come into view.
In the meantime, enjoy this series of cryptic clues:
Annihilation. An expedition. Air. Fire. Earth. Fear death by Water. A forest without end. High Remorse. In a clock shop, a clock breaks. The Spear. The Blade. History. Perpetuity. Poetry. The lone and level sands stretch far away...
And there we have it. Twelve episodes of twelve epic adventures, and the Thirteenth chapter waiting in the shadows. We hope you've been suitably teased, and rest assured there will be more news to come in the following weeks!