updated October 4th
After a two and a half season stint on Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman bowed out as fan-favorite Clara Oswald in the December 2015 episode “Hell Bent,” penned by then showrunner Steven Moffat. In true Doctor Who fashion, Clara had met her death two episodes prior, but due to some morally gray decisions on the Doctor’s part, was pulled from her timestream a second before her death by the Time Lords.
She was a woman out of time, caught between heartbeats, who’d stolen a TARDIS and ran away with her very own companion, determined to make her way back to Gallifrey (and face her own inevitable demise)—the long way round.
Such an open ending all but begged for someone to continue Clara’s adventures as her very own Doctor, traveling about the universe with Lady Me (Maisie Williams’s fantastic character, the immortal originally known as Ashildr), and in due time the call was answered by fans Ruth Long and Caitlin Smith. They are two devoted Clara Oswald fans who decided to pick up where Clara’s story left off, by starting the ambitious fan project known as the Untold Adventures—a series of structured stories following the events of “Hell Bent,” written and illustrated by a handpicked group of wickedly talented Doctor Who fans.
My excitement for the series has been through the roof since I stumbled upon it on Tumblr, and I was more than thrilled at the opportunity to get a chance to interview Ruth, one of the showrunners. You can read what they had to say below!
Clara has, of course, been a hero and an inspiration to so many fans since she first hit our screens. In what ways has Clara inspired you, and what does she mean to you personally?
Ruth: I think if I were to fully answer that question, we’d be here for quite some time. To be as concise as I can, Clara is the reason I became a fan of Doctor Who. She was instrumental in me developing a passion for writing, the study of characters and storytelling, and engaging with the fan community. I’ve made a lot of dear friends as a result, many of whom I’m fortunate to be working alongside on this project. By extension, Clara and the show she led me to have been a source of great comfort, inspiration and escapism during some incredibly challenging periods of my life in recent years. They’ve become a symbol of hope, for me. Because ultimately that’s the message of both: that there is always, always, hope.
As far as the character of Clara herself goes, her journey across three series is truly fascinating; five plus years after her first appearance, and I’m still yet to grow tired of dissecting her psychology, motivations and metatextual influence. We’re presented with a young woman, and moreover a companion, who doesn’t conform to the conventions of the role we’ve become accustomed to – and indeed, actively defies them. She’s audacious, she’s subversive, and she’s very, very flawed indeed. Clara Oswald is the companion who looked the Doctor in the eyes and asked, “Why can’t I be like you?” She’s the ordinary, vulnerable, fallible human woman who stole a TARDIS and ran away. How can you not find that inspiring?
Doctor Who has a long history of fans stepping up and continuing the story of our favorite time traveler. What was it like doing that with Clara, and leading such an ambitious and professional project?
Ruth: You know, sometimes I still have to pinch myself that we’re actually doing this. Back when the project was first getting started, I could never have anticipated just how much it would grow, the kind of exceptional talent it’s attracted, and the enthusiasm it’s already received from the community. In short, it’s a privilege. It’s also a massive challenge; the workload feels intimidating and overwhelming at times. But I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, this is a highly ambitious endeavour, one in which great care and time is being taken to make it as good as it possibly can be with the resources we have, but that spirit feels so fitting for a project focused on Clara. A character who is herself so ambitious and larger-than-life; who began as just a dreamer with ideas above her station; who lived and left with an infinite number of stories waiting – no, asking to be told. And as you say, there’s something innately Doctor Who about taking the mythos of the Doctor and this universe and making it our own as fans; it’s in the very DNA of the show, and it’s so exciting to be a part of that.
The end of series nine saw Clara and Lady Me take off in their own TARDIS for a lifetime of adventures on their own. What kind of relationship and character development can we expect from them both?
Ruth: We’ve meticulously outlined arcs for both characters that we feel naturally continue their previous development on the show and complement/contrast each other. As you can imagine, Clara and Me’s relationship is fundamental to the series. They are both difficult, complex people with painful pasts who have experienced more than their fair share of loss. They each have reason to admire and respect the other, and reason, perhaps, to be just a little bit wary as well. It’s worth remembering that the young Viking girl Clara first met and bonded with isn’t really the same person as the ancient immortal joining her in the TARDIS, and I think that’s going to be quite an adjustment for Clara. Neither wears their hearts on their sleeve either, so there’s definitely an element of watching the walls they’ve each built around themselves gradually come down as their adventures progress and they grow closer.
Exploring Me as a character in her own right has proved very gratifying as well, if tricky at times! She’s a devilishly difficult character to pin down; seeing as each time we revisited her on the show the circumstances and indeed Me as a person have been wildly different. In Hell Bent we get all of two scenes with her for reference as far as who she is now goes, so in some respects we’re almost having to reinvent the character using what we’ve learned about her from her various appearances in Series 9 and the (excellent) The Legends of Ashildr book. I think we’ve succeeded in that; with each successive draft the character becomes more defined, and she works as such a perfect foil for Clara to create a truly unique dynamic quite unlike anything we’ve seen before.
When we begin The Untold Adventures, Clara and Me are both at a point at which, by all rights, they shouldn’t exist; they the women who lived even when the universe declared them dead (owed in no small part to the Doctor and a certain disregard for ‘the rules’). So the question then arises: where do you go next? The decisions these two women make, how they take their futures into their own hands and react to the consequences that result, form the emotional core of the series and its conflict.
Foror the last month or so, you’ve been doing a weekly Creator’s Spotlight on your website, small interviews with the writing and art crew. What was it like bringing together such a talented and diverse group of people?
Ruth: The team for this project is just incredible. Every writer, artist and person working behind the scenes has so much passion and dedication, and it shows in everything they do. The Untold Adventures is, quite simply, a total labour of love, where people from all over the world are coming together to bring these new adventures with Clara to life. I’m immensely proud of everyone involved, and feel very blessed to be on this journey with such wonderful fellow fans. Again it touches on that sense of magic; that beautiful, diverse spirit of Doctor Who and its community.
Clara can be ruthless at times, usually because the situation calls for it. Will we see any darker moments with Clara in the series?
Ruth: It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t explore that side of Clara more. I’ll refer to a particular quote of Steven Moffat’s that I’ve always found to be a superb summation of this:
“It would be hard to use Jenna just as a striking, lovely young girl who’s going to go out and be feisty; there’s something darker and more complicated about her. You can imagine her going to some quite dark places […] The Doctor and Clara are as heroic, and charming, and lovable as the Doctor and companion have ever been, but they do things that make you uncomfortable at times. You can still like them even though they do things that are a bit, ‘Wow, that’s really not good. You’re really not supposed to do that.’ They’re not goody two-shoes, either of them.”
Clara is the heroine of this story, but (despite what some may say) she’s far from perfect. Indeed, it’s her flaws that make her such an interesting, relatable, and compelling character to follow in my opinion. Especially as she’s now in command of her very own TARDIS, with (‘apparently’) no limitations beyond those which she sets for herself, there will inevitably come times where she’s placed in situations that bring out the best, and worst, in her. Clara’s greatest strengths are often her greatest weaknesses, after all, and sometimes it’s hard to tell where the distinction between the two lies. Her time on Doctor Who functions as an origin story more than anything else; there is still so much room for her to grow as a person and an independant time traveller. Clever and capable though she is, Clara has a hell of a lot still to learn, and this series is going to be quite the baptism of fire for her.
Considering Clara officially has no ties to Earth, and her death is a fixed point in time – will we be seeing any more of her famed recklessness?
Ruth: We see it right there in there final scene on the show (Twice Upon a Time cameo notwithstanding): at the end of Hell Bent she acknowledges the need to return her death, yet still chooses to go there “the long way round”. That choice in itself is reckless, and indicative of the fact that even after all that she’s been through, Clara just can’t resist the temptation to keep going. Of course, that isn’t to say that being confronted with the ramifications of her recklessness in Series 9’s finale hasn’t had a strong emotional fallout, and given her a newfound sense of circumspect; it most certainly has, as we’ll explore. But it remains to be seen which of these internal forces will ultimately prevail…
It wouldn’t be the Whoniverse without plenty of terrifying monsters, but can we expect any familiar foes to appear in the series?
Ruth: The majority of the monsters and villains in this series are original creations, something which we felt was important to help establish Clara’s adventures as distinct from a series of Doctor Who. I firmly believe the ideas that the writers have come up with are as inventive, memorable and chilling as anything we’ve seen on the show, and uniquely tailored to Clara and Me’s characters at that. With that said, there’s also something irresistible about the idea of Clara facing old foes, and how her approach might differ from the Doctor’s. But that’s all I’m saying for now.
How would you describe this series in a sentence?
Ruth: If you watched the final shot of Hell Bent with any desire to follow that diner TARDIS, you’re finally about to discover what happened next…