Doctor Who #970: Face the Raven

"Let me be brave."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.21 2015.

IN THIS ONE... Rigsy returns to lead the Doctor and Clara to a hidden street where a quantum raven will claim one of their lives.

REVIEW: Though I do have some criticism for the first couple acts of this episode, I want to talk about Clara for a bit since this is her "death" if not her departure. And I have to compare her to Rose Tyler. They've had the same arc, in a way (though with some reversals, admittedly). Bad Wolf and the Impossible Girl went from capable companion to overconfident "wannabe Doctors" in their last season, and both ended dead/not dead, but very definitively separated from the Time Lord they thought they'd never leave. But the way Clara meets her fate puts her far above the blubbering Rose, which has something to do with how they justified her overconfidence as much as with how it was played. Clara is most definitely suffering from a death wish, and has been acting increasingly reckless since Danny Pink's death. The Doctor's noticed and has become more and more apprehensive about it. Rose acted "Doctorish" because she so wanted the Doctor to be her equal/boyfriend; Clara adopts that persona to better handle loss, which she believes the Doctor is mostly impervious to (though she's wrong). So when she takes Rigsy's killer tattoo, she's playing the Doctor's part, putting his lessons into practice, but she's lacking his immense experience and knowledge. So it's a mistake, and it leads to her death. And she goes to that death bravely, with no whining, fully accepting her mistakes. And more than that, she wrings a promise out of the Doctor not to get revenge on Ishildr/Me or anyone responsible for her demise. Her last act is to save people from his wrath, putting into practice one more lesson she took from the Doctor, and recently too - the notion of breaking the cycle of violence he just taught the Zygons. It's all very touching, even if it's not the last we see of her.

And it's to the episode's credit that this cheat doesn't hurt the moment on repeat viewings. It is, after all, part of the season's themes, and Clara's journey will mirror Ishildr's AND act as another Doctorish thing for her to do, i.e. survive death. We'll get to that in due course. The "regeneration stance" she adopts isn't exactly accidental. The episode does have other cheats that are less excusable. As with Sleep No More, a good part of the plot is a hoax. The murder supposedly committed by Rigsy, having to investigate it and talk to witnesses, etc... It's all a lure to get the Doctor to the trap street's, well, trap. It ties into the plot, that's not the problem, but we just HAD an episode that was basically lying to us and the Doctor. And parts of it don't really make sense. Like if everyone is cloaked to look human by the light worms' field, why are we seeing Januses with two faces? Shouldn't they be cloaked too? An Ood? Really? What's the hurry in putting your TARDIS key in the stasis pod's keyhole, except plot expediency? Weren't there other ways to lure the Doctor to the trap street that weren't so elaborate and potentially deadly? He was tracking Me anyway. Where did she get all that crazy tech, and why not at least attempt to address it? (See Theories, where I do.) Do the quantum shade's loopholes make sense to you? People tend to forget all the plot holes once Clara is marked for death, but on repeat viewings, they're more noticeable.

That said, I'm mostly positive about the exercise. Mayor Me "protecting" Earth from reprisals from the Doctor's defeated foes or from aliens who, traditionally, might be inclined to regenerate or call their race to the planet, with a blanket treaty, is fairly intriguing and not where I thought her story might lead. Rigsy having a daughter, probably there to raise the stakes and make Clara save him more readily, but I can't help thinking how cool it would be if she became the Doctor's next companion once she's all grown up. The Judoon policemen. Clara name-dropping Jane Austen (another Doctorish touch). The Doctor's bad cop face. How he knows Rigsy is doomed but puts on a brave face for him. Me's very real regret that it all went pear-shaped. The Clara memorial on the TARDIS during the credits (did you miss it by changing the channel?). Plenty of nice bits hung on a flimsier-than-you-remember plot.

THEORIES: So who WAS behind the Doctor's abduction? Obviously, those who have seen the next episode know, but was it obvious from clues in this episode? Yes... and no. Taking its cue from the concept of the Hybrid, the episode could point to either the Daleks or the Time Lords, though only the latter is truly convincing. The transmat bracelet, for example, has two stones with scribbles that could be Gallifreyan script, but one of them appears to be cast in Dalek bronze AND sort of acts like a Time Ring. The featured stasis pod's green energy beings recalls the Master's cage on Skaro in the TV Movie, but even back then, its design looked more like it was borrowed from the Time Lords. And Mayor Me's access to a quantum shade that can hunt down souls across space and time, that seems to be a Time War terror weapon, and thus could have belonged to either side even if it's not particularly Daleky. But here's the thing. The trap street hides in plain sight and might even be "bigger on the inside", which is a TARDIS trick. The stasis pod has a key hole that fits a TARDIS key. And Mayor Me's house has hexagonal "roundels" in the Time Lord style. But if these clues litter the trap street, why doesn't the Doctor recognize them?

VERSIONS: Several scenes were cut out from the episode, but made available on the DVD. There's more looking for the trap street, the Janus is touched by Clara's sacrifice and dares discovery by following the group, and a crying Rigsy comes home to his girlfriend after Clara's death.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Clara's death is top notch, but there are signs that the episode cheats a little bit to get us to that point.


Anonymous said...

This episode was subterfuge-y enough to leave me confused, but I think the showrunners felt it was necessary to do that to also confuse Clara. It worked.

The thing that got me was the simple rule that any and all law-breaking results in the same penalty. Didn't we see that on a first season TNG episode and learn it was a crappy system? Ashildr may be under the thumb of the Time Lords but it feels like an element that doesn't really fit. If Riggsy did (apparently) kill someone, then okay, that's the sort of thing where a death penalty might be called for. But stealing food or medicine? I pinch a loaf every morning and I don't see that I should be sent to jail for it.

LiamKav said...

I do feel that Clara's "death" in this episode is excellent. I don't think I've been more moved by Doctor Who since "I don't want to go". As to her "regeneration-ish" stance, isn't that more the fact that in today's world no main TV character is allowed to die without doing a Jesus pose?

Siskoid said...

The accumulation of Clara-Doctor parallels all season tells me it's a little more than that.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I have not liked Clara, for a long time. To me, her shtick and ever-changing persona got obnoxious almost from the moment Capaldi arrived on the scene. I think I've said this already, so I won't go into detail.

I groaned aloud when they ruined the perfect write-out of The Last Christmas; I growled in frustration every time the show (or characters) sang her praises. I was very vocal about wanting her GONE, relieved when this was announced as her last season... and annoyed that her departure would inevitably be a big to-do of epic proportions, because New Who companions can't just say 'I'm ready to leave,' they need a soul-shattering intergalactic event to tear them away from the Most Wonderful Man In The Universe(tm) that they'd never leave by choice, etc. (Even Martha needed a nightmare dystopia year to convince her to walk away, though she's been the closest to a natural departure thus far.) "Wouldn't it be nice," I said, "If they'd actually have the guts to kill off a companion, instead of inventing some crazy deus ex machina to separate them from the Doctor forever, but not by choice?"

Face the Raven made me regret saying some of those things. Seeing Clara's hubris get paid off, lethally, as she underwent her fate with such bravery, did for me to a lesser degree what Amy's choice (twice) to be with her husband instead of the Doctor did for me in Angels Take Manhattan; it completely threw the character into a different, retrospective light as I said "Ah- so THAT'S what the character has been about this whole time!"

Suddenly, seeing the way she faced her end, I actually felt sad that Clara was going; felt sympathy and sadness for her as a character- *appreciated* her as I really hadn't since day one, when everyone went a little TOO gaga over Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks. To me, this was the absolute highlight of the series (spoilers: until next episode!), and the second-best companion departure of the new series- a bold and gutsy move that retroactively made me appreciate the character, and redeemed an utterly unlikable character into a tragic but fondly-remembered figure.

(SPOILERS: Until the finale took everything into the opposite direction, completely undid that, and rewarded the character with an absurd panto fate, a level of writing ineptitude almost unparalleled in the show's history and the most utter screw-up I can think of in the Moffat era, retroactively DOUBLING my hatred for the character because of the show's insistence on squandering a Gallifrey story to instead say a protracted farewell to a character that had already HAD the perfect goodbye; the Journey's End of the Capaldi era. But then, that's a discussion for another episode...)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Part 2 (I guess I was a little too long-winded this time...) (Cue someone asking "THIS time?" followed by a rim-shot...)

...In the benefit of hindsight, this is still a powerful episode, but it is undercut a bit by knowing how stupidly and absurdly they'll reverse it in the end. (To me, the fact that Clara can't be the Doctor is the point; thus having her rewarded by 'surviving death' isn't even thematically appropriate- just once more writer who can't break the absolute monument that each new Who companion builds to themselves.)

And the Ashildr we see here is, once again, a morally ambiguous and dangerous character who makes examples of people and has the Anonymous-mentioned 'any violation leads to the merciless death penalty'- a dangerously callous individual that the Doctor quite rightly would NOT want to have unfettered access to time and space. (Once again leaving the mind BOGGLING as to how any writer could think that qualified as a happy ending, rather than a horrifying portent for the cosmos- a second all-powerful, time-traveling immortal roaming the cosmos, only without the Doctor's conscience! Anyhow, once again, vitriol for another episode seeping through into the wrong thread...)

Still a good episode, but it would have been much nicer not to see its legacy insulted by the follow-up. (So in that way, very much like Utopia as the beginning of a three-parter in the Tennant era.) I agree with you about the nice touches, if not the appropriateness of the follow-up.

Siskoid said...

I like Clara and I like what they've done with her in the Capaldi era (just a cipher to me when she was with Matt Smith), but every companion has his/her/its fans and detractors and I totally get where you're coming from.

And yes, Hell Bent (we'll see how I react to it on second viewing) is as cheap a move as bringing back Rose at the end of Series 4.

I will say that Ishildr DOES have a conscience, we've seen it in every appearance to date, but like Clara, she doesn't have the clarity of thought to juggle the big picture the way the Doctor usually does, and mistakes are made, sometimes because of emotion, sometimes because of inexperience.

Anonymous said...

Also I wonder how much of the trap street is the Time Lords using Ashildr as a puppet / proxy. Her mastery of archery, horsemanship, and clog dancing isn't going to be enough to keep rogue Cybermen and other alien weirdos in line, especially if she's imposing insane laws. So maybe it's not really Ashildr and a raven in charge, maybe she is just the middle manager, and the REAL force comes from Gallifrey? Perhaps Ashildr attempts to mediate between the two and keep the trap street from being a problem the Time Lords deal with directly? I am pulling an awful lot out of my butt with that, but it makes things make more sense, and it makes me like Ashildr more.


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