‘Doctor Who’: Face The Raven Review [Spoiler Alert]

As always with Doctor Who, each new episode generates a multitude of questions. Questions like, “How and when will Clara leave?” and “When is this season going to get its act together?” Well, unusually, Doctor Who: “Face the Raven” is an episode that provides answers. In a startlingly good effort from first time Doctor Who writer Sarah Dollard, the audience is treated to what can be regarded as a classic mixture of elements, with Doctor Who: Face the Raven providing references, topicality, new concepts and multiple facets of The Doctor’s character.

Doctor Who: Face the Raven
Ashildr is somewhat eclipsed by events in ‘Face the Raven’
[Image Courtesy BBC)
The opening of Doctor Who: Face the Raven builds further on this season’s “good times’ Clara. Their banter as they breathlessly re-live their latest off-screen adventure shows us once again that Clara has lost her doubts and hesitations about life with The Doctor. Her recklessness and bonhomie have a kind of doomed and tragic quality about them. We can’t help but remember Danny Pink and all that Clara lost through his death, and this adds a disturbing element of foreboding to the carefree thrill-seeking manner that Clara has adopted. The Doctor’s emotional attachment and dependence on his companion is also highlighted, with Clara generating one of his rare smiles and also highlighting just how key she has become to his success in their various adventures.

Doctor Who: Face the Raven
‘Face the Raven’ sees the return of highly likeable character Rigsy. [Image Courtesy BBC]
‘Face the Raven’ sees the return of one of the most likeable incidentals, Rigsy (Joivan Wade), the fairly transparent reference to Banksy from the episode “Flatline.” Weirdly, Rigsy now lives in London (not Brixton) and has a partner and daughter. Doctor Who TV speculates that this might have something to do with the fact that Doctor Who: Face the Raven was originally written as a standalone episode and then modified to form part of the season’s major story arc. This seems very plausible, but it’s also somewhat unimportant: Face the Raven delivers on so many levels that little discrepancies like this don’t do anything to compromise the overall impact of the episode. It is interesting, though, that this is the second time Rigsy has been persuaded to suppress his heroic impulses in order to allow Clara to save him. In “Flatline,” we saw him dissuaded from making a kamikaze run in a train and, in this episode, Clara persuades Rigsy to transfer the fatal Chronolock to her so that she can save everybody. The fatal results of this decision make it very clear that The Doctor’s hubris is survivable only by The Doctor. As he says towards the end, his companions are “more breakable” than him.

Doctor Who: Face the Raven
Rigsy’s floral tribute was a perfect moment in a strong episode. [Image Courtesy of Doctor Who FB]
Doctor Who: Face the Raven also sees a continuation of this season’s topical references. While the idea of a trap street is classic Doctor Who, being the adaptation of a familiar but obscure concept to fit the Whoniverse, the fact that it’s a refugee camp is a definite nod to current events. It also builds on the very clear vein of anti-war messaging that we have seen this season. Gone are the epic battles of the more warrior-like Doctors, with the heroic David Tennant and trickster god Matt Smith. Capaldi’s Doctor is far more focussed on the side and after-effects of war. It’s darkness and fear instead of laser bolts and inspiring battle cries. We also (somewhat inconsistenly) see some traditionally implacable enemies of The Doctor cast in a more sympathetic light, with some improbably vulnerable Cybermen and Ice Warriors flickering in and out of view as we pass through the trap street refugee camp. Some fans have been upset by this, but logical consistency has never been a major element of Doctor Who, a show that has always been far more concerned with morality than with lore.

Doctor Who: Face the Raven
The death of Clara is the first outright death of a companion in 30 years.
[Image Courtesy BBC]
And of course, this is the episode where Clara dies. The handling of this sequence lacked the perfection of touch that marked the exit of Billie Piper. The scenes were drawn-out and overwrought, having stronger elements of melodrama than pathos, but this was far from fatal (no pun). Clara’s exit was heroic, affecting and still very, very sad. It also provided a vehicle to remind us of an element of The Doctor’s personality that hasn’t been properly explored since the days of David Tennant: the dark power of The Doctor. It was a timely reminder that underneath the bumbling eccentricities there is an ancient creature of great power, whose only real restraints are self-imposed. The Doctor, in one of his best speeches of the season, threatens to “rain down hell” on Ashildr (Maisie Williams), and is forced to promise Clara that he will not seek revenge for her death. At the climactic point of Doctor Who: Face the Raven, we once again get a foretaste of The Doctor as he was in episodes like The Waters of Mars – vengeful, angry and powerful. So Clara gets to go out saving not one, but two people – Rigsy and Ashildr.

As we sat in stunned silence through the credits, digesting the death of Clara, Rigsy’s floral tribute to The Doctor’s late companion hit the eye as a masterful touch, reinforcing the sadness of Clara’s passing. It would seem that the next episode, Heaven Sent, is going to see The Doctor alone, trapped in a puzzle box, and very angry indeed. Doctor Who: Face the Raven was the first in this season’s three part finale. It is perhaps fitting, then, that this also feels like the point where the story, and the season, have soared to new heights of quality. And there’s every indication this standard will be maintained until the final episode.

[Image Courtesy of the BBC]

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