10 “Face the Raven” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

Well, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

When the next series of Doctor Who rolls around, somebody please remind me to stop making predictions about series structure? Clearly I just wind up embarrassing myself.

Despite what I said in my review of the last episode, “Face the Raven” is not another standalone episode. It is, in fact, in the same vein as the third series’ “Utopia”, the first part of a climactic trilogy.

Which, naturally, means that we are now approaching the endgame of the series. A series which has gone blisteringly quickly, and mostly without missed notes. I’ve been banging on about this in basically every review so far, so it can’t be a surprise to anybody really, but I‘ve been very impressed with the quality of the storytelling this series. Like, really impressed.

But as everyone must surely get bored of me saying, the most important part of anything is how it finishes. That’s what you take away, that’s what sticks with you. Disappointment there can be fatal.

When Rigsy contacts Clara and the Doctor with a tattoo on the back of his neck counting down to zero and no memory of how it happened. Investigating what has gone on takes the trio to a hidden street, an alien refugee camp, and an old, familiar face.

If you ever wanted a Doctor Who/Harry Potter crossover, this episode where the Doctor visits Diagon Alley is probably the closest you’re going to get.

Anyway, you remember Rigsy from last season? (No you don’t -Ed) Well, he’s back. Clara gave him the Doctor’s phone number after the whole two dimensional alien thing, and now he’s called up because he’s got a tattoo that he doesn’t remember getting. Nothing particularly odd about that, but what gets the Doctor’s attention is that it seems to be counting down, which is rarely a good sign.

So Rigsy is going to die. And the Doctor is unusually resigned to it at first, until Clara persuades him to try and figure out what’s going on.

And what is going on is the aforementioned discount Diagon Alley. Basically, the Doctor goes looking for missing streets, off the grid, a rumour of a secret place where aliens can live on earth in peace. Basically disguised with a chameleon circuit like the one that the TARDIS is meant to have. And, of course, they find it.

So the story is that Rigsy wandered into this secret street, and winded up killing one of the residents. The punishment for which is death, by a “quantum shade” with the mayor of the street giving Rigsy time to put his affairs in order, hence the countdown. Which is a bit cruel, really, since they wipe the memory of anyone who leaves the street. So how precisely was Rigsy to say his goodbyes if he didn’t know he had any goodbyes to say?

Oh, and that mayor? It’s Ashildr, the Doctor’s immortal friend from the Viking village. She keeps the law on the street with an iron fist, and a quantum shade in the form of a raven, who takes the life of those who break the law. A bit…harsh.

So the episode becomes a murder mystery, as they race to prove that Rigsy didn’t commit the murder before his time runs out. The answer seems to lie in the victim, who is a Janus.  Predictably, they have two faces, and the female Janus’ second face sees into the past. The dead woman had a son — who actually turns out to be a daughter disguised as a son, and who sees that all of this, everything, is about the Doctor. And Ashildr has disappeared.

So they go to Ashildr’s house, and find that actually the dead woman isn’t dead after all. Because….it’s a trap! (Cue Admiral Ackbar -Ed) The poor woman is in stasis, and can only be released, to form the evidence that they need of Rigsy’s innocence, by the Doctor’s TARDIS key. Of course, he does it, it nabs the key and puts a teleporter bracelet on his arm and lo and behold Ashildr reappears.

Because it was a trap, right?

Someone threatened the street unless she helped trap the Doctor, but he gets time to say his goodbyes, because she’s nice. But of course it’s not that simple…

When the trio entered the street, Ashildr gave them her personal guarantee of protection. Later on, they witness the quantum shade punish a thief, and Clara unearths that the marked person can pass the death sentence onto someone else. So since she’s safe, under protection, she persuades Rigsy to transfer it to her. But Clara only had half of the story: once it’s transferred, it’s out of Ashildr’s control, and she can’t lift it.

Now, Clara has eluded death loads of times before (Though she’d died a fair few as well -Ed), so it’s a little odd to see her and the Doctor accepting her fate so meekly. There are also echoes of Danny Pink’s death last season — deliberately referenced by Clara, who wants to face her end with dignity — as a plot framing device for the series climax. So die she does, making the Doctor promise not to swear revenge, after he threatens to bring Ashildr’s world down around her, walking bravely to face the Raven.

And the Doctor is whisked off to face whoever wants him so badly.

So this was a surprise in a number of ways. Firstly the connection to the finale(s). Secondly the reappearance of Ashildr. Thirdly, Clara’s death.

Clara’s exit was coming, we’ve known that for some time. And presumably she’ll still reappear in the final episode in some form. But as deaths go, this was…pretty moving. Clara has been trying to be the Doctor all season, and here it finally gets her. That recklessness. This is what we have been building to, that running theme of what the Doctor turns people into.

Clara blames herself, and yes she did get far too smart for her own good, but this is the Doctor reflected back at him. It’s a poignant moment, the latest in a series of poignant moments. We’ve also had Clara’s possible or threatened death a number of times and how the Doctor copes with it. Now we get to find out for real, and in the face of whatever has him will he be able to cope? Well of course he will, but nonetheless there is that heartbreaking moment when he asks Clara what the point of being a doctor is, if he he cannot save her.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Doctor is impressed with Rigsy’s baby daughter, the “new human”.
  • I like the way that Rigsy only freaks out when the Doctor starts being nice to him.
  • My God, a whole London street just up and disappears, and you lot assume it’s a copyright infringement.
  • The fact that they start off looking for a “trap street” is a big clue, really.
  • Is that the first ever Doctor Who post credits scene?
  • So who do we reckon has the Doctor? Probably not the Daleks, after the opening two parter, but Missy perhaps? Or the Time Lords?
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