Why the Doctor Can't Remember Clara Oswald on 'Doctor Who'

It's sad, but it's definitely for the best.


Spanning two iterations of the Doctor, three seasons and a big anniversary special, Jenna Coleman’s portrayal of Clara Oswald has been a huge part of Doctor Who since Matt Smith still yelled “Geronimo!” all the time. But at the end of the ninth season, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor lost his memories of Clara. It was moving, wibbly wobbly, and weird. Since Clara died a bunch of times before in different lives, erasing her from the Doctor’s memory seemed like the only way to really write her out. But, can Clara ever come back to the show? Should she?

Before Season 10 gets underway, here’s why the Doctor can’t remember Clara Oswald, why that’s probably good, and what it means for the future.

It all comes down to Season 9, Episode 12, “Hell Bent,” the last episode Who fans were treated to before the 2016 Christmas special. Clara was brought back from the brink of death (which occurred during Season 9, Episode 10, “Face the Raven”) by the Time Lords with the use of an “extraction chamber.”

In doing so, Clara fell into a kind of stasis, unable to age. But the Doctor, “hell bent” to save Clara and fresh off a billion years of torture, escaped the Time Lords with Clara at his side only to discover that Clara’s natural biology wouldn’t start up again.

In order to restart that biology, the Doctor took Clara in the TARDIS to the end of the universe, hoping that things would go back to normal since nothing could have possibly been damaged at that point (the end of the universe) by his actions of bringing Clara back from a fixed point: her death. There was a lot of other stuff going on, including the complicated return of Maisie Williams’s fan-favorite character but, really, the story lies in Clara and the Doctor’s relationship.


To fix things, the Doctor was prepared to wipe Clara’s memories of him and drop her off back on Earth so she could live a normal life. That would, in effect, save the universe and Clara from destruction at the hands of the Time Lords. “I insist upon my past,” Clara said upon discovering the Doctor’s plan, not wanting to forget him or what had happened. “I am entitled to that.” The Doctor and Clara struck a deal: They’d press the button on the neural block device at the same time and let the machine decide whose memory got erased. It was the Doctor’s memory that got erased, in case that hasn’t been clear enough.

So, Clara still has her memories and is flitting about in the universe in a stolen TARDIS with Maisie Williams’s Lady Me (another part of the story that’s not worth getting into), and the Doctor has no memory of the Impossible Girl.

Clara’s departure was a mixed bag for the Who fandom, much in the way Clara’s entire existence on the show was in the first place. The Doctor Who fanbase as a whole was relatively anti-Clara from the beginning of her run with Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. So her non-departure departure from the show leaves a lot open to interpretation. She could very much return one day.

And despite any thoughts the Who fandom has, Clara’s departure from the Doctor’s memory is a good thing. At least, it is for Bill Potts, the Doctor’s new companion.

Bill won’t be dealing with any of the Doctor’s trauma surrounding Clara’s life. As was common during David Tennant’s run, the Doctor is often deeply affected by the departure or loss of companions. Instead of being sad, the Doctor will most likely be confused — and a confused Doctor is always more interesting than a sad one.

But Clara had a big hand in the Time War, so who knows? It’s not impossible for Clara to pop back up.

However, Clara actor Coleman doesn’t seem too keen to undo showrunner Steven Moffat’s story. When asked by Radio Times about a possible return to the show, Coleman said: “I think the Doctor doesn’t even remember her anymore, so I’m not quite sure what story could be told there! Because she’s been wiped from his memory … I loved the exit. I thought [showrunner] Steven [Moffat] did an amazing job. And I like leaving it, in a way, where in the fan’s imagination she’s off in her own TARDIS still traveling. I wouldn’t want to unpick that in any way … And obviously, the show is regenerating forwards, so … I doubt it would be for a while.”

Clara’s return is unlikely, but not impossible. Season 10 of Doctor Who — sans Clara — premieres April 15, 2017.

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