Saturday, 21 November 2015

Doctor Who - Face the Raven

Contains spoilers.

Doctor Who's ninth series has been its best ever. I haven't made any attempts to hide my admiration for this series across the previous nine reviews. Even with the misfire of last week's Sleep No More, series 9 was head and shoulders above anything this show has given us before. If last week's somewhat weak installment left any viewers questioning whether the show's superb standard had been dropped entirely, Face the Raven should pick them up and dust their shoulders off.

This was a simply transcendent piece of television. Not only did it transcend and exceed the standards set by any prior companion exit episode, but it managed to surpass every other stellar episode this season. The writer for this episode, Sarah Dollard, had never written for Doctor Who before, and I think I'm not alone in saying that she needs to become a series regular. Face the Raven was a beautiful, dramatic, heart wrenching forty five minutes that was as packed with smart, innovative ideas as it was with emotion. What a devastating treat this was.

I'll tackle this episode in chronological order, I think. I will try my utmost not to discuss Clara's death until later in the review, but when this episode was so packed with foreshadowing and nice touches alluding to it, it'll be hard to ignore it completely. Face the Raven begins with the Doctor and Clara returning to the TARDIS after another exhilarating adventure, before the TARDIS phone rings. Clara answers it to hear Rigsy, now a father to a young child, who informs Clara and the Doctor that he has woken up with no memory of his previous night and a strange tattoo of a number, that just happens to be counting down. The Doctor's investigation leads to the idea of a trap street, and the three of them set out to find the street in which Rigsy had this done to him.

As set up, it all flows wonderfully. It doesn't last overly long as to force the episode into sketchy pacing, but isn't whipped through so fast as to leave viewers muddled. Once we enter the street, we remain there for the rest of the episode, giving the whole thing a powerful sense of claustrophobia, as well as the set design and costumes alluding to a wonderful feel of magic. The episode then runs its course nicely, the mystery deepens, Me is reintroduced (who is now Mayor of the trap street, which acts as a safe asylum for stranded aliens) and the Doctor begins to work out how to save Rigsy from his impending doom.

But then Clara does what Clara has been doing a lot of lately. She takes matters into her own hands. Clara acting like the Doctor has been a recurring theme this series, with warnings and indicators flashing up in almost every episode this year as to how much the Doctor dislikes this side of her. So it was only fitting that Clara should offer to take Rigsy's death sentence for herself, of course under the impression that she would be safe and that the Doctor would be able to keep her alive. Except, this time, he can't. Clara's reckless behaviour went a step too far, resulting in her inadvertently causing her own death.

Everything that occurred in the final fifteen minutes of this episode was breathtaking. The cinematography changed; the framing became tighter as Clara slowly realises her own impending death, much like how the lighting grew darker as the episode progressed. We were treated to some foreshadowing of the upcoming two part finale, as Me tells the Doctor how she was ordered to trick him into being teleported away to an unknown location. Rigsy takes a back seat as the Doctor and Clara bid one final farewell to each other, Me watches from the sidelines. An episode loaded with characters suddenly becomes all about our Doctor and his wonderful companion. And it is utterly heartbreaking.

What sells this moment the most is the performances of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. Both have already established themselves as the greatest in their respective positions in the show, but they took it to levels tonight I still didn't believe they were capable of. This series has seen a drastic increase in quality scripting, with many episodes more than prepared to drop action and spectacle in favour of elongated pieces of dialogue, and Face the Raven is no exception. Once the Doctor discovers that Clara took Rigsy's sentence, there is no action. There are no explosions, no time travel and no big spectacle. The Doctor and Clara simply talk to each other, and it hits harder than any companion exit thus far.

The anguish on the Doctor's face tells us all we need to know about this situation. Whilst he understands what will happen almost immediately, Clara comes to her own realisation rather slowly, allowing us to watch as Clara's face progresses from contentment, to fearful, to sorrowful, before finally landing on courageous. After the Doctor says his emotional goodbye to Clara, she walks away from him, tears in her eyes, ordering herself to be brave. Seconds later, she dies right in front of us, and drops to the floor lifeless. And with dialogue and acting this good, it makes for the most bravura companion exit this show has ever produced.

Face the Raven doesn't stop here, either. Once Clara has passed away, the Doctor turns his attention back to Me, who has tricked him into momentarily being teleported to an unknown location. Any possibility of Me being the show's next companion was abolished in this episode's final minutes, as the Doctor attacks Me with some of the darkest and most aggressive dialogue ever to come from the Doctor's mouth. "You'll find it's a very small universe when I'm angry with you" he tells her, shortly before he, too, is taken away from us. The episode then holds on an empty door frame before the credits roll, and once they end, we cut back to a flowery tribute to Clara graffiti'd onto the TARDIS by Rigsy.

The realisation comes flooding back. Clara Oswald is dead. Not living life in an alternate universe, not living peacefully but with no memory of the Doctor, and not teleported into the past and allowed to live a full, happy life with her husband. Clara Oswald is dead. It's a fitting end for the character, her sudden lack of a real life outside the TARDIS left no other options, and it fits the season's thematic content seamlessly. It's an utterly devastating farewell to the best Doctor Who companion yet. Clara began the show miserably, but across series eight and nine, she became an exciting, revelational character, with a wonderfully endearing personality that was difficult not to fall somewhat in love with. Jenna Coleman has been simply phenomenal across her tenure, and she'll be missed sorely.

Rest in peace, Clara Oswald.

  • The dialogue between the Doctor and Clara as she accepted her fate was just beautifully written. When a primarily action driven show turns to emotional scripting, the results can be mixed. Series 9 has landed every attempt at emotion, and this one hit the hardest. It was wonderfully upsetting. 
  • Both Maisie Williams and Joivan Wade were excellent in their supporting roles. I don't think Rigsy will be returning again, but should Me make another appearance, it will definitely be interesting to see. 
  • I got a real Harry Potter feeling from the street we spent this episode in. It was a nice feeling. 
  • Please can Sarah Dollard return to Doctor Who every series forever?
  • Could Jenna Coleman do the same please?
  • Please?

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