The following review contains all the SPOILERS for Doctor Who Series 9, Episode 10, “Face the Raven.” If you haven’t seen said episode yet, we’d STRONGLY urge you to do so before reading. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Series 9 of Doctor Who has been full of excellent two-part episodes, a couple of thematic continuations, and an episode I frigging hated (which was last week), but it seems that all of that was leading to the final three episodes, only we didn’t really know it. Someone wants to destroy the Doctor, and the first way to do that, whether intentionally or not, is to take away his companion, the one person who keeps him in check. Granted, it was sort of her own fault, but Clara Oswald left the show in a manner as finite as Adric crashing into the earth in a time ship to kill the dinosaurs. Yes, unlike “Sleep No More,” which meant literally nothing, Sarah Dollard’s “Face the Raven” had huge implications, and it showed us a part of London nobody but maybe J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman could have imagined.
So, let’s get the big thing out of the way. Clara, as played by Jenna Coleman since 2012, said goodbye in this episode by dying. Only four companions have died in the history of the show, and she’s definitely the first to do so in the new series. At 35 episodes, Coleman is the longest-serving companion since 2005. A lot of people are Clara detractors, but I’ve always liked her for her combination of bull-headed determinism and unrivaled compassion. Showrunner Steven Moffat put an enormous amount of importance on Clara’s shoulders, being the one who saved him from being the killer he though he was (“The Day of the Doctor”) and the one who saved him from dying finally (“The Time of the Doctor”), not to mention all the head-butting she did with the Twelfth Doctor in Series 8. Clara is a favorite, and this will surely be a very sad moment for a lot of people.
But, let’s also talk about the story itself, because if Clara didn’t have a good or justifiable death, it would have felt cheap. Naturally, she goes out trying to save a friend, in this case Rigsy (Joivan Wade) whom we met in last year’s “Flatline.” It’s a classic Doctor-baiting mystery: Rigsy has no memory of his previous night and he now has a tattoo in his neck of numbers counting down. They also, smartly, established that Rigsy has a family, with a “new human” at home. How could the show kill a character with a brand new baby? They needed Clara to be justified in her sacrifice.
Our own Jesse McKeil edited this awesome farewell to Clara video. Watch, weep, and then read more.
Once the mystery is uncovered, that there’s a “trap street,” which is a perception-filtered street hidden from people on Earth that contains all kinds of alien refugees, we find out who’s actually behind everything – Mayor Me, nee Lady Me, nee Ashildr (Maisie Williams) who has put herself in place as the untested leader of the small community, where aliens “hide” in human form. These include a dog guy, a fish guy, a Sontaran, an Ice Warrior, a Silurian, Cybermen, Oods, and Januses, whom we haven’t seen before, which have two faces. Female Januses can see into the future and the past. Convenient, eh?
Anyway, the Trap Street itself feels very much like something out of Harry Potter or Neverwhere, especially with the presence of the Quantum Shade, which takes the form of a raven. Me has made a pact with the Shade; she can control who gets sentenced to death, for the tiniest of infractions, and once the timer counts down, the Raven comes for them, and it can find them anywhere. It’s established at the midpoint of the show what the Raven does, which nicely sets up how unfortunate it is.
Now, what exactly possessed Clara to think she should take Rigsy’s sentence for herself is kind of beyond me. It seems she’s gotten far too used to being “invulnerable,” or always saved by the Doctor. She’d become reckless, arrogant perhaps, but always she wanted to be just like the Doctor. But she isn’t, and even though Mayor Me was contracted to trick the Doctor with a fake murder plot in order to get the Doctor trapped in a teleport bracelet, Clara’s actions weren’t strategy so much as a fall of hubris.
Clara’s final scene where she gets to be “as brave as she gets” is really nice and touching, I thought. Coleman and Capaldi give tremendously tender performances and Coleman especially gets to have maybe one of the best final speeches of any companion. It’s both heroic and senseless, necessary and unnecessary. After what would have been a bittersweet exist after Series 8, Clara instead gets more adventures only to then be snatched away tragically. Sad but fitting.
And then, holy crap, the Doctor. He promised not to take revenge on anyone for this, and Lady Me thought it was for his sake that Clara made him promise, but the Doctor assures that it was for her sake. He warns that he never hopes to see her again, because the universe is a very small place if the Doctor is angry with you. Daaaaaamn. Capaldi doesn’t mess around. Ever the bad cop.
But who exactly could have been behind it? Obviously it was someone who knew about the Confession Dial. Is it Davros again? Is it Missy? Or is it someone else entirely? The synopses for the next two episodes seem to indicate it’s some person or persons entirely other, but who can say for sure? I think it’d be silly to assume Missy won’t return, but would it be at the end of this series since she was just here? Who do you think it is? (And if you’ve read spoilers, please don’t share them. Thank you!)
At any rate, next week’s episode, “Heaven Sent,” sees the return of director Rachel Talalay to again direct the final two episodes of a series. According to the press notes and interviews by producers, this episode is going to be a “one-hander,” with Capaldi essentially acting on his own. There’s only one other actor listed, that being Jami Reid-Quarrell as the Veil, the ghostly figure in the trailer. Reid-Quarrell also played Colony Sarff, the snakey acolyte of Davros in the premiere eps. Could the Veil be Colony Sarff or is it just the same actor? Who can say, but we might get 55 minutes of a grey-haired Scotsman talking to himself. Ten minutes longer, this episode.
I really liked “Face the Raven.” It had its own flavor and a great whodunit type of mystery which ended in one of the sadder companion exists. It also had HUGE implications on the future, and I’m even more curious for the rest.
Let me know your thoughts on this episode, and theories about the rest of the series, in the comments below or on Twitter!
Images: BBC America
Kyle Anderson is TARDIS-deep in Doctor Who and wants to have someone to talk to about it, so follow him on Twitter!