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Face the Raven Review

Posted by SonicR on November 26, 2015 at 3:55 AM

 Australian writer Sarah Dollard's Doctor Who debut is the episode with the Big Event.

It's rather curious that, considering how dangerous travelling with the Doctor appears to be, only a handful of companions have actually died while doing so. Adric's death in 1982 is the one everyone remembers, but there have been others as well - two in the 60s, and two others later on in the 80s. So statistically speaking, it's quite a surprise that Clara should be the one to join this short list. And she does so in the best episode of the series so far.

Face the Raven sees the Doctor and Clara receive an urgent call from Rigsy (from last year's Flatline), who asks them to check out a tattoo that has inexplicably appeared on the back of his neck. Their investigations lead them to a small alien settlement under the command of Ashildr, who also controls a foreboding raven...

Let's cut to the chase right here - the final moments of this episode is what it's all about. And perhaps the most interesting aspect about those final moments is the fact that they're simply the result of an honest mistake on Clara's part. Rather like Danny's Pink's death in Dark Water last year, it's so mundane by Doctor Who standards - one could easily expect her to go out in a blaze of glory, sacrificing herself for the Doctor so that he could finish saving the day. Instead she was only acting too clever for her own good. Had she just thought about things for a minute, then everyone would have survived the story, and it's that unfortunate fact that makes her death so tragic - it was needless, ultimately pointless, and easily preventable.

But it also seems as though Clara wanted this to happen, at least to some degree. At one point, she flat out tells the Doctor that "Maybe this is what I wanted. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is why I kept running. Maybe this is why I kept taking all those stupid risks. Kept pushing it." The idea of her having a death wish ties in perfectly with her behaviour in Dark Water, where she also pretty much said she wouldn't hesitate to commit suicide if she could be with Danny afterwards. That's a very dark theme for Doctor Who to explore, even if it was only mentioned very briefly last year and didn't come up again until this episode, but it does narratively justify Clara's more reckless actions over this series - she had a subconscious desire to join her boyfriend in the afterlife.

So while Clara's death may have been good narratively, the way it's portrayed in the episode leaves a little bit to be desired. I've never been one for overblown companion departures, and while Clara's is more subtle than others, the first time I watched the episode, the scene dragged a lot - and the issue remained (though to a lesser extent) on the rewatches. It's not hard to see why, either, as the goodbye scene takes up about eight minutes of the episode. It's a sizeable and noticeable chunk of the episode, and I think it could have been trimmed a bit; it doesn't help that the raven takes ages to actually reach Clara as well. Having it leave its cage as she's walking out of the building would have made the scene feel faster, I think, as the audience is otherwise left waiting and anticipating the raven to reach Clara.

I also find it quite strange that the Doctor focuses all his anger towards Ashildr. While she is the one that orchestrated the whole scenario, it was Rigsy who sealed Clara's fate by agreeing to transfer the Chronolock. To be fair, he was coaxed by Clara, but it seems to me that he's more responsible for Clara's death than Ashildr is. Not that I want Rigsy to be on the receiving end of an extremely ticked off Doctor, but I do think the unequal amount of scorn is interesting. I suppose it all balances out when you consider that Rigsy will likely feel guilty about this for the rest of his life.

I will admit that I'm nitpicking here - I really did enjoy the episode. Rather unfortunately, however, it's just one of those times where an event in the last ten minutes of an episode overshadows everything in the preceding thirty-five. Yes, discovering just what was going on with Rigsy's tattoo was a nice, intriguing mystery, and the idea of an alien settlement hidden in London is also quite clever  (though just why races like the Cybermen would be there completely bewilders me, as does the idea of a Cyberman running, terrified, from a raven), but they just aren't as 'important' as Clara's death. In fact, you could say that they're so 'unremarkable' compared to her death that there's not really find anything to say about them apart from 'they were good'.

So all in all, Face the Raven is a fantastic episode that will forever be remembered for the first death of a companion since the show returned. Clara's departure is well done, if a tad drawn out, and the rest of the episode is great, if rather 'normal' compared to the episode's denouement.



Categories: Doctor Who Reviews

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Reply SM
4:44 AM on November 29, 2015 
Great review. I was also a bit surprised that Rigsy escaped any of the Doctor's anger. An awesome first episode for an Australian writer- what a coup to be able to write a companion departure episode! I hope we get to see more from her in the future!
Reply Photon
5:02 AM on November 29, 2015 
That was a very good review Sonic !
Reply Tardis001
1:48 AM on November 30, 2015 
Yes, excellent review, Sonic, as usual.

Everyone is assuming that Clara is dead, which maybe the case. But I'm not convinced of that, but we will know for sure (I hope) by next week.
Reply SM
3:21 AM on November 30, 2015 
Tardis001 says...
Yes, excellent review, Sonic, as usual.

Everyone is assuming that Clara is dead, which maybe the case. But I'm not convinced of that, but we will know for sure (I hope) by next week.

Yes, time will tell, but for now it is wise to call Face The Raven a companion departure episode.