The Doctor and Clara, with their old friend Rigsy, find themselves in a magical alien world, hidden on a street in the heart of London. Sheltered within are some of the most fearsome creatures of the universe, and Ashildr!
With a death sentence hanging over their heads, not all of the intruders will get out alive.
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Face the Raven
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The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara – Jenna Coleman
Mayor Me – Maisie Williams
Rigsy – Joivan Wade
Kabel – Simon Manyonda
Rump – Simon Paisley Day
Anahson – Letitia Wright
Chronolock Guy – Robin Soans
Alien Woman – Angela Clerkin
Habrian Woman – Caroline Boulton
Elderly Woman – Jenny Lee
Jen – Naomi Ackie
Written by: Sarah Dollard
Directed by: Justin Molotnikov
Gifs by: J-Ru
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Face the Raven was a decent episode of Doctor Who where the sum of its individual and simple parts add up to tell a solid story. The only time the story truly drags is during its most important moment – the departure of Clara Oswald, a drawn out moment that sees the death of the Doctor’s companion.
Graffiti artist Rigsy was only supposed to call the TARDIS in case of emergency, but this is a big one – a three digit tattoo on the back of his neck that’s counting down every minute, with just over nine hours until it hits “zero,” and no memory of how he got it. The Doctor and Clara, unable to resist a mystery, trace Rigsy’s steps to someplace extraordinary. In the heart of London is an alleyway, hidden from human eyes, where alien refugees of all kinds have sought sanctuary from the conflicts of the wider cosmos. The Mayor of this pocket of safety is none other than Ashildr, also known as Me. She is responsible for keeping the peace and security of the refuge via a series of strict rules. Failure to abide by these rules means a death sentence at the hands of a Quantum Shade, a creature who can track its target across all of time and space who has taken the form of a raven. Accused of murdering one of the alley’s inhabitants, Rigsy has been sentenced to death at the claws of the raven once the tattoo on his neck counts to zero. The Doctor suspects Rigsy is indeed innocent, but while he tries to decipher the puzzle surrounding the alleged crime Clara has something much more clever in mind to save Rigsy’s life…
After an absence of female script writers throughout the show’s history, this series of Doctor Who has given us two; The Woman Who Lived by Catherine Tregenna and now Face the Raven by Sarah Dollard, who has penned scripts for multiple BBC series including Merlin, Primeval, and Being Human. With Face the Raven, Dollard delivers a script that moves along neatly and quickly under the direction of Justin Molotnikov (Sleep No More) . Dollard uses the first act of this episode to establish who Rigsy is (an artist, a father with a newborn baby, and someone who would never murder anyone) and also to highlight how well the Doctor and Clara work together as a team as both of them contribute to discovering the trap street that marks the entrance to the alien refuge. It’s also a nice piece of writing to cover the passage of time between the nine hours Rigsy has at the beginning of the episode and the just under an hour that he has left as the trio truly dive into the mystery. Rigsy gets the bulk of his characterization during this first act, and it’s a bit of a shame that Joivan Wade, who many pegged as a possible companion after his fine turn in Flatline, sees his character reduced to a plot device after this point.
The second act is the true highlight of the episode in my eyes as Dollard and Molotnikov bring the alien refuge to life. It’s a cramped-but-cozy alleyway with shops and pubs to serve the huddled masses of a conflicted cosmos that can’t help to bring to mind Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter franchise, with aliens of all kinds (I counted an Ice Warrior, a Sontaran, an Ood, and a Cyberman under the eyes of the Judoon police force) disguised as humans. To me, seeing all these different alien races, many of them incredibly hostile, all living under one set of rules and wanting nothing more than a chance to live their lives under a set of firm rules meant to ensure their safety drove home the general plight of refugees much better than The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion did. Their murmurs of “murderer” to Rigsy as he walked past them added to the sense of unease, not just because of the nature of his supposed crime but the fact that he threatened their very security and lives. The Mayor of this refuge is none other than Me, aka Ashildr, aka Massie Williams, who enforces the rules under penalty of death. Me is the centerpiece of the ultimate conspiracy that surrounds Rigsy’s Chronolock, once again waiting on the Doctor to arrive to further her own goals. Williams does a fine job as Me, pulling off the firm leader as well as the smugness when she proclaims herself cleverer than the Doctor. Her character is a great study in immortality and how one deals with it when they do not have mental faculties to understand their experiences. The Doctor is functionally immortal, but he has the capacity to remember his mistakes, screw-ups, and poor choices. Every bad decision he’s ever made he has to live with. Me, on the other hand, only reads about her mistakes in her diaries IF she chooses to write them down or decides not to rip the pages out. It’s immortality without the capacity for morality. Having such a unique character show up in three out of six episode however dulls her impact. It’s almost as if Moffat is showing off his newest toy, ala River Song, and with that character a little went a long way, and a lot went a very short way. Me/Ashildr is no River Song, and her smugness is definitely not earned. But it does make the moment during the climax where she realizes how her plan has gone awry and how she’s earned the Doctor’s wrath that much sweeter.
Of course, the Doctor figures out the mystery, determines Rigsy’s innocence, and puts himself in harm’s way to set things right (although I wish they had spent a little more time on the Janus aliens). It’s here that Me reveals her trap and that she needed to give the Doctor a mystery to solve in order to deliver him to her benefactors, someone who offered to keep her refuge safe in return for handing the Doctor over to them. But when Me goes to removes Rigsy’s Chronolock…
Clara believed she found the loophole in Me’s Chronolock under the guise of “hospitality,” that Me couldn’t harm her since she has promised her personal protection to Clara for as long as she was in the alley. When watching this moment live, I have no problem admitting that I yelled “Clara, you gently caressing idiot.” The moment itself wasn’t a surprise however. It was the climax of Clara’s entire character arc with the Twelfth Doctor. Ever since Deep Breath the viewers have seen just how intertwined Clara’s life has become with the Doctor’s. She’s been a very bold and brave companion, refusing to be passive, much like numerous other companions. But whereas previous companions have used the Doctor’s presence to find a wellspring of confidence and courage inside of them, Clara began to imitate the Doctor in both word and deed. Flatline was the perfect example of this where Clara WAS the Doctor and saved the day, to the point where the Doctor told her “You were an exceptional Doctor. Goodness had nothing to do with it.” Clara always saw herself as smart and clever, someone who worked alongside someone else who was smart, clever…and always saved people. The Doctor won the day often by sacrificing or appearing to sacrifice himself, but he was always “less breakable” than she was. Clara’s reckless decision spelled her doom…and set into an action her death scene.
I like Jenna Coleman as an actress. I thought she had much better chemistry with Peter Capaldi than she did with Matt Smith and Clara was a more fitting companion with Twelve than she was with Eleven. And her final moments were very well done and could have been an absolutely perfect send off if they hadn’t of taken so bloody long. Me’s realization of Clara’s screw-up mixed very well with Clara’s realization of her huge mistake and the Doctor’s understanding that this is a problem he can’t solve. Capaldi’s furious anger at Me is a sight to behold, the distillation of a Time Lord’s fury into a few chilling lines.
The Doctor: Fix this. Fix it now.
Ashildr: It’s not possible. I…I can’t.
The Doctor: Yes, it is. You can, and you will, or this street will be over. I’ll show you and all your funny little friends to the whole laughing world. I’ll bring UNIT, I’ll bring the Zygons. Give me a minute, I’ll bring the Daleks and the Cybermen. You will save Clara, and you will do it now or I will rain hell on you for the rest of time!
Clara: Doctor, stop talking like that.
Ashildr: You can’t.
The Doctor: I can do whatever the hell I like. You read the stories. You know who I am. And in all that time, did you ever hear anything about anyone who stopped me?
Ashildr: I know the Doctor. The Doctor would nev…
The Doctor: The Doctor is no longer here. You are stuck with me! And I will end you and everything you love.
Clara’s never seen this side of the Doctor before. She’s heard about it in The Day of the Doctor but to stand at this very moment where the Doctor threatens to burn it all down is horrifying to her. But credit to Clara for remembering the central tenant of being a companion – keep the Doctor grounded.
Clara:You. You listen to me. You’re going to be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re going to be furious, and you’re going to be sad, but listen to me. Don’t let this change you. No, listen. Whatever happens next, wherever she is sending you, I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Promise me. Be a Doctor.
The Doctor: What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you?
Clara: Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So, I’m not asking you for a promise. I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer.
The Doctor: What about me?
Clara: If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave.
It’s a great acting moment for Coleman and Capaldi, it really is. Both Clara and the Doctor realize what’s about to happen, and handle it with dignity and grace; Clara’s death and the Doctor’s reaction to her death. Clara walks out into the street, ready for what’s going to happen, and faces the raven without flinching. It’s truly a powerful scene…but it just felt incredibly long and drawn out. A little too much hand-wringing and “be good for me” for my tastes. A moment like this, I shouldn’t be glancing at the clock, but I found my eyes flicking towards the cable box waiting for Clara to just…well, die. It was common knowledge that Clara was leaving at the end of this series and killing her off before the finale is a bold move. But it just didn’t have the emotional impact of Amy’s final decision in The Angels Take Manhattan or Adric’s stoic bravery from Earthshock. The acting was great and the moment emotional, but…
My less-than-Tumblr-gushing response to Clara’s death might be because I don’t believe this the last viewers will see of Clara. I believe she’s dead, but an image, a memory, a ghost will pop up during the final episodes in some capacity. Maybe in one of her “Impossible Girl” incarnations? I hope not…I believe when a companion dies, that should be all she wrote for onscreen appearances not counting archive footage…but I’m not holding my breath on this one. As of right now, I’m treating this episode much like I put Utopia with The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords. This episode isn’t officially part of the season finale, but it still feels like it’s going to directly tie in to those stories in some capacity. Which means we’re probably going to see Clara again.
If you put aside Clara’s death, Face the Raven is a solid “B+” episode of Doctor Who with a neat, fast-paced murder mystery in a setting that’s both Earthbound and exotic. The death of a companion should elevate this story to “classic” status, but I’m holding off on making that call until I see the season finale.
– The Doctor: I was lost a long time ago. She was saving you. I’ll do my best. But I strongly advise you to keep out of my way. You’ll find that it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you. Capaldi portrays the “Time Lord Pissed Off” better than any other Doctor.
– The return of the cue cards was a nice touch and drove home just how even the Doctor thought Rigsy was beyond help.
– And what IS the point of Me taking the Doctor’s last will and testament?
– For those of you who still haven’t seen David Tennant’s astounding turn in Jessica Jones, I just have one word for you. Smile.
Cobi’s Synopsis – Face the Raven tells a neat little murder mystery in an exotic setting, but it’s the emotional and well-done, if slightly overwrought, exit of Clara Oswald that helps this episode make its mark.
Next up – The Doctor faces the greatest challenge of his many lives…
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…Heaven Sent.