Aired 21 November 2015
This has been a strange series for the Doctor since he’s spent so much of it without a true companion. Sure, Clara has been there for the adventures proper, but it’s not been uncommon to see him travelling alone at the beginnings of episodes and picking her up at a later point. Even when Clara is around, there’s been a sense that the writers haven’t quite known what to do with her this year following Danny’s heartbreaking farewell(s). She certainly has had her standout moments, and it’s clear that she’s been assuming more of the Doctor’s traits and personality as time has progressed, but now the confidence that she’s never lacked has apparently backfired on her as she finally reached too far, resulting in what seems to be her death. Only time will tell if this death is final, as recent Doctor Who has made a habit of bringing characters back from seeming death, but as of now that is the case.
Doctor Who has proven increasingly adept at toying with the typical structure of episodes and, instead of offering a cacophony of explosions at the climax, isn’t afraid to instead slow things down and allow characters time to talk. The two-part format of the early stories this season certainly helped in that regard, but new writer Sarah Dollard finds ample opportunity to do the same in the forty-five minute running time allotted ‘Face the Raven,’ allowing for a beautiful farewell. Coleman and Capaldi are both perfect in this scene, the Doctor as he realises what Clara has done and Clara as the realization and acceptance of the situation hits her. Clara knowing her death is coming and having to face it as it literally comes flying toward her is a powerful image, and Murray Gold’s incredible accompanying audio heightens the emotion wonderfully. Coleman may not have been asked to do too much this series, but she absolutely delivers when needed.
Really, though, it’s the unique relationship between the Doctor and Clara that makes this scene work so well. The Doctor desperately needs Clara in order to retain his sense of humanity as Clara is quick to remind him; after all, how many times has his darker side been alluded to, even being compared to a Dalek? At the same time, Clara so desperately wants to be the Doctor, and it’s the pairing of these two broken souls together that has been the driving force of their adventures for so long. The Doctor asking what the point of being a doctor is if he can’t cure Clara is surely the heartbreaking climax, and it will be very interesting to see what path this leads the Doctor down now.
Yet before that ending, there is still a very good episode. Joivan Wade returns as the enjoyable Rigsy from ‘Flatline,’ alerting the Doctor that he has a tattoo that is counting down. The Doctor concludes that alien forces must be at work in London, and that initial mystery leads to a trap street, a street that’s hidden and can’t be found on a map. This is a very clever idea for an episode, although the search for the street is necessarily condensed to make way for the tale it holds.
It’s on this street that Maisie Williams makes her return as Ashildr, running a sort of hideaway for those who can live by a certain code of ethics. This leads to a rare sighting of a Cyberman, a Judoon, a Sontaran, and other aliens living together, but it also sets up big ramifications regarding Ashildr going forward. By drawing the Doctor to her street, she has made him the focus of all of her rage and guilt. And even though the Doctor gave Clara the belief that she could face anything and come out unscathed, a belief that cost her her life as she chose to face the raven in Rigsy’s place, the raven came from Ashildr and so she becomes the focus of the Doctor’s rage and guilt, at least until he realises the truth.
‘Face the Raven’ is a fantastic piece of drama, brimming with standout performances and emotion. Normally the departure of a companion would be the culmination of a series, but with two episodes left, a very angry Doctor, and a confession dial to explain away, there’s still plenty of life left in this current run of episodes.