Lots of thoughts about Doctor Who: Face the Raven

Once again, I’m writing about the latest Doctor Who episode only a short time before it is not the latest Doctor Who episode.  Perhaps it just takes this long for me to process my thoughts about my favorite TV series.  Certainly, the dramatic happenings taking place in this most recent episode have prompted no small pondering.  So fair warning, if you are someone who cares about spoilers for this series, but for some reason hasn’t watched this episode, than don’t tread in here.

Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get right into the major, blog-worthy event that takes place in this episode:

Face the Raven

BBC/Simon Ridgway

The return of the Ood!

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I’ve never been a fan of those icky things.  But at least Russell T. Davies’ fans got their favorite producer’s name in the credits again.

Of course, in truth the Ood only show up briefly, amongst all the aliens whose mysterious disguises keep fritzing on and off.  Someone else wrote that the aliens shouldn’t have needed disguises since people who wandered in there had their memories erased, but clearly in the episode the disguises were part of the general energy field that kept most people from wandering into the alien refugee back alley at all, so there was an explanation there.

Anyway, the Ood are clearly not the headline here.  Indeed, it is the death of a companion:  Clara Oswald, the first companion to die a real, honest-to-goodness death since Adric helped to blow up the dinosaurs back in 1982’s Earthshock.

Although I guess we don’t know how honest-to-goodness it actually is.  I mean, we know Clara’s actress, Jenna Coleman, is leaving the show, so she’s got to go somehow.  But we also know that she’s slated to appear in the season finale (two episodes hence):  Hell Bent, which is also the conclusion of the three-parter that commenced with Face the Raven.  So, have we actually witnessed Clara’s departure as companion, or is the truth of that still coming?

I mean, we’ve actually seen Clara die, in a manner of speaking, three times before (unless I’m missing something).  Alternate iterations of her died in her first two appearances:  Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen.  (For those who haven’t been paying attention for that long, it was later revealed that Clara had jumped into the Doctor’s personal time-stream and had been split into an unknown number of copies who had positioned themselves throughout the Doctor’s life to save him at different critical times.  She nearly died then too, but was rescued by the Doctor himself.)

She also appeared to die of old age in last Christmas’ Christmas special, Last Christmas, but that turned out to be a dream.

Will the series really do a fake-death for Clara again?  It seems unlikely.  Indeed, the biggest argument for such a thing is the fact that it is so unlikely, and that maybe showrunner Steven Moffat is going to subvert our expectations again–something he is pretty good at.

The other possibility is that Clara’s reappearance is some sort of closure-allowing hallucination or alternate timeline, or even another of Clara’s copies come to save the Doctor one last time.  We had a similar “extra” appearance by Danny Pink during Last Christmas, which against all odds gave us some closure with his death a couple of episodes prior.  That precedent is another reason why it feels like we’re probably getting something similar in a couple of weeks, which is why it’d actually be pretty delightful if Steven Moffat managed to pull the rug out from under our feet.  Double points if he does so in a way that is still allows Clara to have a dramatically satisfying exit.

So that’s a lot of talk and speculation…but what about Face the Raven itself?

Face the Raven 2

BBC/Simon Ridgway

Overall, I liked it.  I thought the story and ideas were inventive, and I enjoyed seeing again both Ashildr and Rigsy (who I must confess, I’d almost forgotten, even though the episode he previously appeared in, Flatline, was excellent).  The mystery of the show was also engaging, although ultimately unsatisfying to find out it was all a quadruple bluff from Ashildr.  Let me get this straight:  she met Rigsy, faked a crime, sentenced him to death and wiped his memory, all knowing that he’d call the Doctor for help.  She waited for the Doctor to get interested in solving the mystery of what had happened to Rigsy, and played at being an unsympathetic judge while he carried out his investigation.  She let him discover her earlier deceptions so that he’d be motivated to try to free the supposedly murdered alien.  She made it appear that she had done all of this to get the key to the Tardis (which, let’s face it, is a pretty interesting motivation, actually), so that he’d stick his arm in a machine and she’d succeed in her ultimate goal…

Putting a bracelet on the Doctor’s arm.

Really, that was it.  She wanted to put a teleport bracelet on the Doctor’s arm because “they” asked her to, and “they” promised “they’d” protect her if she delivered the Doctor to “them”.

As other others have pointed out, there must have been an easier way to get a bracelet on the Doctor’s arm.

Nevermind, because once that was behind us, we got to the real meat of the episode, which was Clara’s actual death scene.  It was an interesting choice that they had this all happen because of Clara’s overconfidence and pride, rather than something like a truly heroic sacrifice. She thought she could solve the problem by doing the sort of thing the Doctor would do, but in the end she discovered that she was more breakable than he was.  A bit shocking, a bit depressing.

But what made up for that was the dignity and courage and humility with which she faced her death.  When the Doctor went all “oncoming storm” on Ashildr, I was roused with him to hope and anger, but then I was moved again by Clara’s beautiful pleas to him:  this was her own fault, she knew, and he was not to dishonor her memory by forgetting who he was.  Don’t be a warrior, she exhorted, be a Doctor.  That was some good stuff.  Good job, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.

There’s been a theme about death all the way through the season, particularly in relation to Clara.  The Doctor thought he was dying in the series opening (with all that stuff about the confession dial, which we see again here), and he is enraged for a chunk of the story because he believes Clara may have been killed.  In the next two-parter, the Doctor encounters ghosts and is angry at their creator for stealing away the security of death; and again, the threat of losing Clara is his strongest motivator to action.  After that, in the stories with Ashildr (one of the most interesting new creations the show has had for a along time), the Doctor is moved to undo a death, but in a way that he later has cause to regret; and he also talks about the value of spending time with people like Clara who are not immortal, because he knows they will eventually die.  In the Zygon story, the Doctor is working to stop a massive war and gives an impassioned plea for peace and forgiveness, to stop what seems to be inevitable death on a mass scale; and again he believes Clara is dead for a while.  And in last week’s divisive Sleep No More, there is threat that Clara may by dying because of her exposure to a sleep deprivation chamber (which later appears to be a red herring), and the Doctor again faces the possibility of losing her.

Face the Raven

BBC/Simon Ridgway

We have also seen Clara become consistently reckless all season.  Perhaps in response to losing Danny Pink, she seemed to have an alarming disregard for her own safety.

Face the Raven appears to be the culmination of all of that.  I love the way that Clara’s death scene involves some quick reference to daredevil-like attitude, and a brief shout out to Danny Pink.  In the face of her imminent destruction, she may have come to important realizations about herself.  Or she may not.  If only there were more time to talk about it…

But there’s never enough time.  That’s how it often seems, anyway.  Not enough time in terms of minutes of the program to develop every facet of a character.  Not enough time in life to fully understand ourselves and what is happening around us.  With that in mind, the show did a great job of developing Clara as a character while keeping things rich and nuanced and complicated.  I liked Clara better last season, but I appreciate the direction the show took her this year.

Her final death scene was perhaps a bit overwrought with its operatic soundtrack and repeated images of her “facing of the raven” (which may be why I may ultimately prefer Adric’s death from a dramatic point of view) but the material around it – both the character development we see before hand and the movement in the plot that comes immediately after with the cliffhanger – makes for pretty striking television.

Next time:  Heaven Sent.  A (nearly) one man show featuring Peter Capaldi and a monster?  The middle chapter of the first three-parter in quite a while?  Bring it on!

Steven Moffat has promised us a pretty shocking and unexpected cliffhanger for this next episode.  Hopefully, it’s not the return of the Time Lords because that’s already been spoiled on the Wikipedia page.

What could it be?

• Missy regenerates permanently into a Clara look-a-like.
• The Doctor is turned into a half Dalek / half Time-Lord hybrid (or discovers he already is one)
• The monster pulls off his mask and reveals it’s the Doctor, having become the Valeyard
• The Doctor discovers he’s a fictional character on TV
• The 12th Doctor jumps back into his own time stream and reboots his entire existence, becoming the “new” 1st Doctor

What do you think?

Whatever the answer, we’ll know soon!

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2 thoughts on “Lots of thoughts about Doctor Who: Face the Raven

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