Doctor Who is a science fiction program on the BBC that revolves around the relationship of the Doctor and a companion as they jump around different universes through time and space saving people, planets, and whatnot. They travel in a blue TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which looks like an old, British police telephone box from the outside, but is enormous on the inside. The Doctor has a fondness for protecting humanity.
At the end of one season, Clara Oswald, the Doctor’s companion, has died. Probably.
Clara doesn’t die a noble death. Not really. She died because of a misunderstanding. She transferred the death sentence on an innocent person to herself, and expected the Doctor to do something to save her, which he always did. Her act was one of compassion, not sacrifice, but she was caught in a scheme to nab the Doctor, and the Doctor could do nothing to save her.
But is Clara really dead? Clara is an unusual Who companion in that she has died a number of times over the centuries yet keeps coming back in new incarnations. She also leapt into the doctor’s time stream and multiplied into a thousand versions, so, theoretically, she could keep reappearing for a long time.
Clara’s reappearance after her death by raven touches on the afterlife, or at least the part where one’s spirit hangs around for a matter of weeks or months, which many religions believe. Forget the four billion years Clara has been dead when we step back in time in the “Hell Bent” episode to borrow her just before she died. It’s the diner scene that intrigues me.
The Doctor walks into a diner where Clara is the waitress. In their conversation, the doctor says he would know Clara if he ever saw her again, although he can’t remember what she looked like, because his memory of her has been wiped clean. While Clara knows who he is, and wants him to recognize her, apparently there’s a rule that she can’t tell him. He doesn’t pick up on the “Clara-ness” of the waitress, and doesn’t recognize her caring, wit, or notice her tears.
Would we know our loved ones if they stopped back in for a visit and spoke through a stranger, or would we be so blind with grief that we also wouldn’t notice?
As for the doctor, he is having trouble grieving someone he can’t remember. He knows that he misses her, and that she told him something he needed to remember, but he can’t remember. He’s left playing Clara’s melancholy song on his electric guitar.
How much does our grief reside in the spirit of the person and how much is tied to the details — the experiences we shared, their prized possessions, hobbies, favorite foods, and music? Without specific memories, would we grieve as deeply? Would we grieve at all? Maybe we would also be left with a vague sense of missing someone we think changed our lives.