Sunday 22 November 2015

Reviews in Time & Space: Face the Raven

Doctor Who s09e10 - Face the Raven

It's only a matter of weeks until this year's series of Doctor Who draws to a close, so now it's time the stakes start getting raised. We've seen the Doctor and Clara face off against the Daleks, ghosts, Zygons and more, but as audience we have known that Clara's time in the TARDIS is slowly drawing to a close. That time has now come in Face the Raven - a story penned by series newcomer Sarah Dollard that also brings back a few familiar faces. Making their return are Rigsy (played by Jovian Wade, who previously appeared in the excellent Flatline) as well as Maisie Williams' Ashildr/Me, who appeared earlier this year in the episodes The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived. Doctor Who has been building up to this for quite a while now - it's time to say goodbye.

Rigsy Returns

After Rigsy phones the Doctor and Clara about waking up with a strange tattoo that seems to be counting down to something, the Doctor deduces that he will die when the countdown reaches zero. The three then embark on a mission to find out who placed this sentence on Rigsy and why, leading them to a hidden street of alien refugees managed by none other than Ashildr/Me, now going by the title of Mayor Me.

Explaining that Rigsy is the lead suspect in the murder of one of the street's citizens, the trio must now prove his innocent before the timer reaches zero and the raven hunts him down. As they begin their interrogations, they soon discover that not only has Rigsy been framed but someone has also purposely drawn the Doctor in. And Clara, who has perhaps come far too comfortable living the Doctor's lifestyle, also has consequences to face.

Mayor Me
Me again.

Obviously the truth is there's only one part of this episode that's on everyone's minds, but let's push that to one side for a second and focus on the story itself, which has it's fair share of ups and downs before the big moment rolls around. Things get off to an incredibly rushed start, as the revelation of Rigsy's death sentence leads straight into some breakneck pace detective work. Before the viewer is even able to fully process the situation the Doctor has made the rather enormous leap from "alien tattoo" to a street hidden in plain sight (like everything seems to be in Doctor Who these days), taking the cast on a rather detailed tour of Cardiff city centre (I'm sorry, London) that rushes by equally as quickly. Eventually the trio arrive at Me's "trap street", whose shades of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley are far from subtle. So that's the first ten minutes of the episode already over and done with, which go by so fast they can't help but feel inconsequential.

Some of the monster cameos
An unlikely couple

But to it's credit, the claustrophobic sets of the trap street are gorgeous - tall, looming and tying nicely into the fairytale vibe Steven Moffat's vision of Doctor Who has always thrived on (for better or worse). The cameos of various aliens in disguise is also a nice touch, even if some of them just raise numerous questions that prevent them from being enjoyed as a simple nod. Why is a Cyberman getting maintenance from an Ood and not following it's obvious directive? It could easily be hand waved off as a faulty Cyberman but then Me later asks the Doctor if "a Cyberman fears a merciful death"? The answer is no, because fear is an emotion and the whole point is that Cybermen lack them. The idea of the refugee street being filled with numerous species responsible for all kinds of atrocities also doesn't hold much weight when they're all branding Rigsy a murderer, but I guess the audience is just meant to roll with it. In the end these are all very minor nitpicks, but when they do begin to add up it presents a problem.

What follows is an incredibly predictable story, where nothing proves particularly shocking because it's all quite clear signposted. One could argue that perhaps the fact that its done in such blatant fashion means that the viewers were supposed to know what was coming, but if that is truly the case it also immediately sucks out any tension or surprise. From the second it was established the sentence was transferrable the episode lacked any surprise twists, other than perhaps the fact that for once the Doctor wasn't going to be able to save the day in usual fashion - but that's been rather heavily implied for a while not as well. The revelation that Anahson (daughter of murder victim Anah and the only one capable of clearing Rigsy's name) is a girl and not a boy falls equally flat - even when dressed up as a boy the whole charade is thoroughly unconvincing.

The Quantum Shade Death Sentence
Time is running out.

While brings things on to the episodes big showstopper - Clara's death. That's right, there's no happy ending for the Impossible Girl here. Ever since the Doctor regenerated into his twelfth incarnation we've seen Clara drawn further and further into the Doctor's world, taking things to an almost dangerous level since Danny Pink's death. Despite being mostly wasted here it's almost fitting that Rigsy reappeared for Face the Raven, given in that in his first appearance Clara was practically playing the Doctor. This past season has had her becoming more and more reckless, to the point where several characters have even called her out on it. There had to be repercussions eventually, and Clara eventually paid the ultimate price for her lifestyle. It's a pretty gruesome end for a full-time companion to meet, especially with it's low key nature. The ultimate irony is that her actions were completely unnecessary because apparently Rigsy never truly needed saving. She died for nothing.

But was this the ending Clara Oswald truly deserve? While I applaud Doctor Who for having the backbone to take out a main character in such a manner, even with the way Clara's been going for a while now this seemed uncharacteristically stupid even for her. Taking the tattoo in such a blasé way certainly, but then not revealing it to the Doctor until there were only eight minutes to go? You also have to consider that Clara has been built up as a rather special companion to the Doctor. Admittedly she can't remember a lot of it, but this is a character that has peered into every facet of the Doctor's life and come face to face with the darkest chapter in his life. For her to have seen that, and understand that quite often he doesn't get it right (especially when he's alone) and to think she could pull off what she did isn't just stupidity - it's arrogance. Because of that it's hard to feel an appropriate amount of sympathy as the character bravely faces her demise - even when both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are acting their hearts out. The Doctor's angry side has always been a joy to watch since Capaldi took on the role, and without Clara around to pacify it any more things are going to get very interesting indeed. This goes without mentioning the beautifully done post-credits sequence, which really pulls on the heartstrings.

Clara faces the raven

Under the Raven is an episode that is most certainly going to be remembered in notoriety for years to come, but it is still far less than the sum of its parts. The set-up is overly convoluted, robbing the story progression of any surprises as it primarily focuses on a moment that has been heavily speculated for months. The death of Clara was a bold move, but with two episodes left to go whether it will actually stick is far from confirmed. Especially since the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine features Clara in a diner waitress outfit on the cover - something she's also been seen filming in. With the way deaths have previously been circumvented in Doctor Who it wouldn't be a surprise to see another alternate Clara living a long and happy life somewhere while the Clara Oswald we know is gone. All that's left to see now is if the show can prove that theory wrong.

Next week: the Doctor finds himself all alone on an alien world when he is Heaven Sent.

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