Wow. Just… wow.
‘Face the Raven’ was perhaps the greatest episode of Doctor Who we’ve had during The Moff’s tenure – it was certainly the best of Clara’s journey. It was bold, ambitious and heartbreaking in equal measures – quite an achievement for a new writer to the show. There was so much going on this week that it could have quite easily become bogged down, but inexplicably it didn’t. If anything, it excelled on every single level.
The idea of a trap street of illegal aliens (Doctor Who is once more commenting upon immigration in an ingenious way), the return of Ashildr, the return of Rigsy, the death of Clara Oswald, the kidnapping of the Doctor… each and every idea presented this week could have served as a solitary episode in its own right, and most probably would have worked very well. But to throw all of these ideas together (a kitchen sink sort of notion) and reign it all in to a smart and daring episode is credit to writer Sarah Dollard. If she doesn’t write for series 10 it’ll be a travesty.
The trap street was a beautiful idea and allowed for several fleeing cameos – I glimpsed the Judoon, the Ood, a Sontaran, a Silurian, the Cybermen and an Ice Warrior. What about you? Much like the cameos in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, these returnees allowed the universe of Doctor Who to feel fleshed out, without forcing these monsters down our throats. Because these weren’t the main threat of the episode. The only idea that didn’t quite work was that of a Cyberman being married – Cybermen, like the Daleks, have no concept of love, so this didn’t gel for me.
The lurk worm misdirection filter that caused everybody to look human was a stroke of genius, as was the Quantum Shade and the Chronolock. Because once somebody has been sentenced to death, a death must be claimed by the Shade, and that is where Rigsy comes into play.
Jovian Wade is instantly likeable, perhaps more so than in his turn last year, but his return is simply an aid to facilitate the trap that is circling around the Doctor. When they are searching for the hidden pocket of London, Clara also stumbles upon a trap street, so surely that’ll pop up sometime soon, right?
Once the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy reach the trap street, Ashildr/Me/Mayor Me reveals her presence as the mayor of the illegal aliens. Her turn this time is a bit more sinister, and Maisie Williams is clearly relishing the idea of playing several different versions of the same character. Once more her idea of unlimited life/limited memory works wonders, as she introduces herself to a bewildered Clara who has met her previously. But as Mayor Me said, she can’t remember.
What follows is a whodunnit as the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy canvas the street to look for witnesses. The biggest surprise? We were meant to believe that Letitia Wright’s Anahson was a boy, when she clearly was a girl. But the Janus race of aliens, with their ability to look into the past and the future, reveals concrete evidence of Rigsy’s innocence. Again, this alien race is an idea that could have encapsulated an entire episode, so I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see them return.
But everything has been leading to the demise of Clara Oswald. Her recklessness and her desire to be more like the Doctor has been amassing since at least last year’s ‘Flatline’, and for those that have wailed that Clara is becoming the Doctor 2.0, this is the perfect ending for her. There simply is no other way to write Clara out. Like Rose before her, she wouldn’t willingly choose to leave the Doctor, and as she has no real family to stay with, death is the inevitable narrative ending for her.
Clara takes Rigsy’s death sentence, believing that they’ll be able to barter with Ashildr, but everything comes crumbling around her once Ashildr’s plan comes into play. Now I don’t see Ashildr as the big bad of this episode – she is clearly working on behalf of the sinister figure glimpsed in the next time trailer, and she just wanted to ensure the survival of her ragtag band of hiding aliens. She’ll be back at some point, that’s for certain.
Once the repercussions of Clara’s decision dawn upon her and the Doctor, ‘Face the Raven’ reaches heights of pure despair. Both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman excel in their roles – perhaps their greatest acting to date on the show, which is certainly saying something. The Doctor is heartbroken and angry, Clara is steadfast and stoic.
It’s horrible to see the Doctor helpless, to see both of his hearts shatter. Remember the last time the Doctor was so angry? He waged war on Demon’s Run to rescue Amy Pond, and he didn’t care who died in the process. Now that Clara has died, I hate to think what’ll happen.
Warning: Spoilers follow
Clara’s ending was perfect for her. There should be no coming back. But, unfortunately, there probably will be. We still have two episodes left – the one-handed ‘Heaven Sent’ (well, aside from the threat), and then the glorious ‘Hell Bent’.
But Jenna Coleman’s swansong will actually reach its ending in ‘Hell Bent’, somehow. If she is brought back to life I won’t be happy. All I’ll accept is a final goodbye, akin to River’s haunting farewell in ‘The Name of the Doctor’. To resurrect her will rob any and all emotional punch from ‘Face the Raven’, and that would be the worst thing that Doctor Who could do. Like I said, Clara wouldn’t choose to leave the Doctor, so her death has to be permanent.
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‘Face the Raven’ is an instant classic in my eye. Not a foot is put wrong. Of course it all hinges upon the following two episodes (as this is the first part of a trilogy), but if things play out well, I think The Moff’s fifth series will go down as the best since the revival.