There are spoilers ahead. A lot of them. Consider this your warning.
I have watched Doctor Who only for about two years, but I am quite proud of (a) having watched the entirety of the available 7 seasons in the space of five weeks and (b) having been a part of the fandom on its best day yet, 23 November 2013. I also have a slightly uncanny ability to make references to very obscure moments, but that’s beside the point. The point is, as I believe I have said before, that I have only ever almost cried at an episode of Doctor Who.
I did not cry at Nine’s departure, not at Doomsday, not at poor Donna’s end, not at the Tennant regeneration even though I rewatched it. I did not cry, though I came close, at “Angels Take Manhattan,” at Matt Smith’s last glorious bellowing rant, at the ghost of Amy Pond, at the untimely, unfair, unselfish demise of angelic Danny Pink, and yes, I choked, but did not cry, at Clara Oswald’s last impassioned scream and the infinity contained in it.
In short, here’s what happened.
Rigsy (from “Flatline”) got a mysterious tattoo on the back of his neck without knowing where it came from. It’s counting down, as though time is running out for him. He, the Doctor and Clara try to find the place he got it, and discover that said place is a secret alleyway in London filled with refugee aliens and run by Me, an old friend and a creation of the Doctor’s. The tattoo is a chronolock, or a depiction of how much time Rigsy will live before a thing called a quantum shade (in the form of a raven) will kill him for a crime he committed without knowing he did so. That’s all much more complicated, but the Clara-related part is that she secretly convinces Rigsy to let her take the chronolock, on the assumption that Me’s promised “personal protection” will save her in the end.
I’ve seen a lot of feedback on the episode which says that Me’s response of “I can’t save Clara” is a shoehorned-in plot-hole-filler designed to ensure that Clara actually does die. And fair enough, it does kind of seem like Clara could have been saved, had they figured something out. But that’s the point. Clara Oswald could have lived. She chose not to.
Much of the literature surrounding Series 9 argues that Clara has become a quasi-Doctor, as arrogant and confident as someone who usually bends life and death to suit a whim, perhaps even a bit of Time Lord Victorious in her calm, controlled approach to everything. Therefore did she deserve to die? No. Of course not. Nobody deserves anything (Catherine Marshall). Again, she could have been saved. There could have been mercy.
Clara chose to die.
The next question, naturally, is why?
I think Clara understood. I think she understood she needed to be stopped. And so, instead of keep running, as the Doctor always does, she chose to face the consequences of her actions – chose to face the truth (definitely not a “Zygon Inversion” callback, definitely not). “Let me be brave,” she said. Let her make her sacrifice. She understands it. The Doctor does not because he does not need to. He cannot (indeed, should not) tarnish Clara’s life by presuming to know better than she did. You know how we say at funerals, “they would want you to go on living”?
Clara Oswald would not want us to wish away the truth. She was nobler than that.
Yes, I know that she then got an infinity within the numbered days in a diner-shaped TARDIS with Me as co-pilot. And that, chillingly and wonderfully, is reminiscent of something spoken by River Song in the very next episode: “Happily ever after isn’t forever. It’s just time, a little time.”
I am confident – no, I am convinced that Clara Oswald went back to die eventually, because she knew it was how she must end.
However, because time travel is delightfully nonlinear, I also know that she was immortalized throughout time and space, and so it should have been.
She said once, to the Doctor, that “Fear can bring you home,” and she was right.
She said to Danny Pink, “I wasn’t very good at it, but I loved you.”
Clara Oswald knew a hell of a lot about humanity, kept her eye for wonder, and understood the important things, understood that you love someone no matter how scared you are.
I will miss her.