We’ve kept you waiting for long enough! It’s time to take a closer look at the stories in the series. Each week we’ll be showcasing four of the episodes, providing you with a synopsis in addition to some exciting teasers about the premise, characters, arcs and themes at play. So without further ado, let us set sail on the time winds to discover what’s in store for Clara and Me...
Episode One: A Citizen of the Universe Written by Ruth Long, Alex Wakeford & Zoe Lance
Illustrated by Caz
“The creators and destroyers of the cosmos... the architects of change and the agents of chaos... the light-bringers and the world-enders... the masters of gravity and the sovereigns of time... the citizens of the universe.”
Auros. The City of Burning Sapphire. One of the wonders of the galaxy, home to the greatest among stargazers and astronomers. But beneath its celestial tapestry something terrible stirs; unbound, it will claim the lives of all who dwell on its surface.
And there is no one to save the day.
Clara Oswald. A woman suspended in her final moment, drifting through time and space with an immortal associate in a stolen time machine. Setting forth on a decisive journey, in honor of past travels.
And there is one fateful destination that will change her course forever.
How do you follow on from Hell Bent? The groundbreaking story that redefined the role of the companion in Doctor Who, and ended Clara Oswald’s journey by launching her on an entirely new one? This is a question the whole writing team has wrangled with for the best part of over two years, and nowhere is the answer more critical than in the episode to start it all: A Citizen of the Universe. Naturally, a story bearing so much expectation is suitably ambitious, with project lead Ruth Long enlisting the talent of experienced writers and editors Zoe Lance and Alex Wakeford to bring the opener to life. So, what can we reveal about Clara and Me’s first explosive adventure?
Planning for this story (and indeed, the series at large) began with a thorough exploration of Clara’s (and Me’s) head-space in the aftermath of the Series 9 finale. It’s one thing to analyse how the triptych of episodes (‘Face the Raven’, ‘Heaven Sent’, and ‘Hell Bent’) culminates her three-series arc on Doctor Who, but when planning a continuation from that there’s new meaning to be found; narrative threads set-up as others are resolved. In fact, one only need watch Clara’s final scene with Me in their new TARDIS to see the promise of conflict to come amid the triumph and exhilaration. What does “the long way round” actually mean for Clara? Why, fully aware that she has a commitment to return to her point of death, does she make that choice? When you’ve been given a second chance after losing everything and embracing your end, what the hell do you do with it?
A Citizen of the Universe is about wrestling with these dilemmas. It’s taking the fallout of what’s come before and channeling it into something new and exciting. And as such, we wanted to launch this series with a story that throws our characters in at the deep end. The city of Auros, and the dangers found within its walls, reflect that goal. Part of the intention behind this setting was to channel the wonder and awe of the ‘first trip to an alien world’ stories that were a staple of the Moffat era (‘The Beast Below’, ‘Smile’ and obviously ‘The Rings of Akhaten’). Except, of course, this is generally the kind of premise that’s used to introduce a new companion to the mechanics of the show. Here, the setting is alien, but so are, in their own ways, the two lead characters. We’re exploring how things have changed for them, and how their respective paths have taken them to improbable places.
In keeping with the tone and aesthetics of Clara’s era, there’s a certain fantastical, quasi-mythic underpinning to The Untold Adventures, and A Citizen of the Universe is no exception. This is a story of big ideas and larger-than-life characters, but with a profound sense of intimacy and the simple human need for companionship and purpose at its heart. It serves as both a pilot and an ode to times past, with all of the magic and surprises one can expect from such a narrative.
Episode Two: Áhreddan Written by Laine Ferio
Illustrated by Redundantz
“Memory Stations are known across the galaxy as places where one’s memories, whether analog, digital, or synaptic, can be stored, retrieved, shared, deleted, re-experienced, re-mixed.”
It’s an urban legend that the Alpha Quadrant’s Memory Station is haunted, but Captain Waldron, space pirate extraordinaire, wasn’t expecting the most vulnerable member of her crew to vanish shortly after they boarded it, nor did she plan for the strange creatures roaming its corridors.
Then there’s the bizarre matter of the American diner in the cargo bay, and the undead woman inside, offering her help to organize a rescue mission that will lead them through layers of time and thoughts.
They’re all going to take a trip down memory lane, but what the past hides isn’t always pleasant…
If a Citizen of the Universe is a transitional story, bridging Doctor Who with the brave new world of The Untold Adventures while establishing the themes and arcs central to the series, then the second episode, Áhreddan, is probably where its aesthetics really crystallise. In many respects, this is the first ‘ordinary’ adventure for Clara and Me, setting up the new status quo. It’s a huge responsibility, but writer Laine Ferio more than stepped up to the task.
She is an archivist by trade, and this heavily influenced the story. There’s a very Jamie Mathieson (known for acclaimed Twelfth Doctor episodes ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’, ‘Flatline’ and ‘Oxygen’) streak to it, in that the episode draws from a lot of classic Doctor Who tropes (haunted space stations, technology out of control, etc.), but superimposes, onto the physical space that the characters traverse and navigate, this idea of exploring memories and the past, of reality-twisting. If it’s a base-under-siege, what’s laying the siege is the characters’ own interiority. Me as a character very-much fits within that framework. She is largely defined by memories; her limited supply of them while she lived an infinite life, and, of course, her diaries. Áhreddan interrogates the practicalities of archive work, of what storing information on computers or paper can mean for those involved, and inevitably, this brings to light subjects of particular significance for Me. Indeed, it was the first story of the series to be completed, and was used as a reference point for writing her character throughout the rest of the process.
After the opener, which was focused on embracing the size and scope of all these new narrative possibilities, this story is a lot more self-contained, with an ensemble cast more rooted in reality (well, as much as ‘space pirates’ can be); they’re smugglers, just doing their jobs. This, as one would assume, leads to some tension with Clara. Without the Doctor by her side, we’re seeing her take on that role more than ever before, but this comes with its own challenges; not least becoming accustomed to her new physical state post-extraction, and the unease and suspicion her presence elicits. Said crew is also a family, and that further informs the episode’s themes: the idea of legacy, after all, is a key theme in the series, with Clara having to carry (or maybe, sometimes, distance herself from) the Doctor’s name and principles. Ultimately, Áhreddan is about what people leave behind, and ‘how’ exactly they leave things behind.
Of course, none of that tells you who or what Áhreddan actually is. Well, you’ll find out soon enough...
Episode Three: Stealer of Souls Written by Caitlin Smith, Tayla Fonseca & James Wylder
Illustrated by Charlie Godmer
“It’s called Solas. It’s… an escape. A place of rest and recuperation. They take in the tired and the weary, those who’ve been fighting or running for too long.”
Eloise and Elijah are Architects, ancient and beautiful beings that have shaped entire galaxies; enjoying a peaceful retreat on the planet Solas, with only the company of a few enlightened visitors, like Clara Oswald and her immortal friend, who has sought them out on her own personal quest for answers.
But a sinister force is on their trail, and when the mysterious Soul Collector arrives on Solas, Clara, swept up on an intergalactic chase, will have to learn how to battle gods...
One of the most fascinating aspects of Clara as a character is her moral complexity. She’s a woman of principle with a kind heart, of that there is no doubt, but she is also deeply, deeply flawed. We, as long-term fans of Clara, would never be content if we didn’t embrace these flaws just as much as her virtues, and Stealer of Souls presents the perfect opportunity to do so. Project lead Caitlin Smith and writers Tayla Fonseca and James Wylder have combined their efforts to create a world of imagination and nightmares, that not only pushes the scope of the series to new places, but Clara and Me themselves.
At the core of the story is the relationship between the two women. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a conventional Doctor/companion relationship; on the contrary, we’d be hesitant to call it that at all. While Clara does fulfil the Doctor role in her own way, taking to leadership like a duck to water and welcoming adventure with equal measures of reckless abandon and chutzpah, Me far exceeds her in knowledge and experience. She is also a character who, though not without her own code of honour, doesn’t possess nearly as many scruples or moral qualms as the Doctor or those they traditionally travel with. This makes for a dynamic painted in many shades of grey, and one that’s endlessly compelling to see develop and deepen.
In Stealer of Souls, the titular antagonist serves as a catalyst who further galvanises this relationship. They say the deepest bonds are forged in adversity, and the threat posed by the Soul Collector is as formidable as either has ever gone against. The Untold Adventures aims to introduce monsters and villains that are every bit as spine-tingling and menacing as the show’s, but that are also uniquely tailored to our lead characters. The life of a time-and-space traveller is rarely a simple one, nor are the rules of the Doctor infallible, and when faced with overwhelming evil, one may be forced to ask how far they are willing to go to save the day...
Episode Four: As You Like It Written by Tori Das
Illustrated by Sugarize
“I do not regret the times I do not hate you.”
“Where learned you that oath, fool?”
Clara and Me, on a whim, have decided to travel with a theatre company on their maiden tour across the galaxy. Because you do only live once, no matter how long you delay your last heartbeat, right?
Nothing, of course, goes according to plan. The company find themselves on a planet unheard of by most spacefaring civilisations, where dragons live and die in fear and silence alongside humans desperate for sustenance in an endless winter. They live in the shadow of a forest of light shining night and day; a haven from which no one has ever returned.
And now silence, captive audience! The curtain rises…
A balance of all elements is needed to tell a story. A controlled play of light and shadow makes all drama. As You Like It, written by Tori Das, will take you by the hand through a lyrical tale that, first and foremost, is one of deep thematic significance. The experience of reading it is somewhere between an evening at the theatre and a whimsical dream, making for one of the most unique, experimental and creative episodes in the series.
The story sets the stage for a clash of different genres and values, different traditions from different planets and cultures. The theatre company, the Troubadours, see themselves as representing art and harmony; something that has been lacking for a very long time on the mystical planet they end up crashing into. The dragons and humans have become warped by the extreme isolation and misery they have endured for millennia. Enter Clara Oswald and Me, two women with very, very different backgrounds and personal ethics, and no one – the company, the dragons, and the humans – will escape unchanged. Yet, change may be the thing they all fear the most.
As You Like It marks a change of pace for Clara and Me after the first three episodes. What each character has yearned for most until now – for Clara, to have the courage to be extraordinary; for Me, to find peace within herself after a lifetime of uncertainty and forgetting – will no longer help them. As we move into the second act of the series, so to speak, both character’s arcs are nearing pivot points. We’re all stories in the end, and no one knows it better than Clara Oswald. But what happens to Clara if stories decay and die? In the absence of sustainable relationships and a stable memory to create a sense of identity, Me had bound herself in a distinct set of skills and principles to guide her actions and thought processes. But as Me slowly reclaims her memories, she's also thrust into a situation she hadn't expected; something that invalidates most of her deepest notions about herself.
Both of their identities are rooted, to an extent, in this idea of performance. Clara wants to ‘play’ the part of the Doctor, or more specifically, her own interpretation of that ideal; Me is, to an extent, a composite being, an identity forged by countless versions of herself, different takes on the same individual. As You Like It takes that and throws it into this very Shakespearean notion of the liminal space, the fairy, fantasy world, where identities fundamentally shift and change, where roles and relationships are rewritten. And what arises from these almost alchemical transformations is a story that sheds light on some of our lead’s innermost fears and secrets.
Join us next week when we'll be previewing Episodes Five to Eight!