Saturday night saw a major shift in the world of Doctor Who as Clara Oswald faced the raven, appearing to become the first companion to have died during the show’s revival era. What did our team make of it? Read on to find out!
After Sleep No More, it’s quite clear from the off that Face the Raven is on firmer ground. With an enjoyable first act introducing the clever and original concept, the episode seamlessly began to transition towards something with far greater consequences for the future. It’s great to see Maisie Williams back as Me, a character whose immortality and limited memory gives the writers a perfect chance to shape this intriguing creation as the story sees fit – and likewise, Joivan Wade is an affable, grounded presence as Rigsy. Of course, however, it’s the final ten minutes that everyone will remember. Aided by a terrific script by Sarah Dollard, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman knock it out of the park in Clara’s death scene, adding a huge amount of emotion to a death that felt completely fitting for Clara, lacking the overblown melodrama of previous departures for something that felt more emotionally realistic. The plotting surrounding Clara’s death is fairly contrived, with the script briefly twisting itself in knots to explain everything, but this was an excellent send-off for Clara and a thoroughly satisfying prologue to the two-part season finale. 9/10
Ben (Assistant Editor)
The main focus of Face The Raven will of course be the tragic death of Clara that closed the episode, but let’s not forget that it was a pretty good episode in its own right. Considering this was Clara’s last adventure, her character did rile me a little at the start by knowing what a trap street was. It seems that every episode, Clara has had sufficient knowledge about something that relates directly to the plot. However, moving on from that we have the return of Rigsy, a fan favourite from Flatline. I wasn’t especially bothered about his return, but it’s nice to see what the the Doctor and Clara’s friends get up to outside of saving the world. The idea of the trap street itself was very interesting and a quintessential Doctor Who idea. The alien cameos didn’t excite me too much – I’m used to them now with Ood popping up here, there and everywhere – but I really liked the idea of this hidden little community that could be there in real life. As well as Rigsy’s return, we also saw Ashildr/Me again. After The Woman Who Lived, I wasn’t Me’s biggest fan and this episode – and her causing Clara’s death – really made me dislike the character even more, which is a shame because I adored Ashildr in The Girl Who Died.
Then we come to the inevitable situation of Clara’s death. Despite the event having been spoilt weeks before, I was still intrigued as to how they would kill her off, but about 10 minutes into the episode her fate was glaringly obvious, so the rest of the episode was spent hoping – in vain – that Clara wouldn’t fall into the trap. However, no amount of shouting at the television could change the outcome and the episode concluded with one of the saddest goodbyes of any character in the show. After losing Danny, she became reckless and her recklessness was ultimately her downfall. It was clear, especially in this series, that Clara would eventually go too far and have to face the consequences, but even still, Clara’s final moments were very touching. I didn’t cry when Rose was trapped on a parallel world and I needed no tissues when Donna’s memory was wiped, but I will admit that during Clara’s passionate speech and dramatic death, there were a few tears shed.
My only quarrel watching this back is why the Doctor didn’t do more to try and save her. Okay, Me told him that nothing could be done, but the Doctor we know would do anything to try and save Clara. There were plenty of things he could have tried, including the stasis pod, which maybe could have brought them some time. Instead, he just stood there, admitting defeat and watching his best friend die. Still, Clara’s time was over and it was a fitting exit for the brave companion. Now we have the enraged Doctor to look forward to, with the promise of Gallifrey only a short TARDIS trip away. Despite there being a few niggles in the episode, it was a strong episode with a great story and emotional ending. 9/10
The episode in itself is great, a lot happened which still incorporated plenty of TARDIS action, something I feel has been lacking a bit in the Series – the Doctor’s mode of transport after all has always been one of the greatest delights in the show. To see some hands on flight control and also some cool TARDIS tech at work was fantastic. Since the development of character’s such as Madame Vastra, Doctor Who always seems to do ‘Dickensian’ particularly well, and the olden day street setting in this episode was nicely detailed and very atmospheric, the flickering appearances of many of the Doctor’s timeless foes (encased in humanoid disguise) was a lovely touch, and, complete with Judoon policemen, this was all very well thought out.
There was a grimness flowing through this episode which served well in preparing us for the morbid conclusion, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman showed off their acting capabilities in fine style, providing a dazzling and moving final exchange between the Doctor and Clara. This should last long in the memory, but I guess mostly what we got was power in the understatement and it worked well. The bringing together of the characters Rigsy and Ashildr I felt illustrated the great scope of Doctor Who. Ashildr has been a massive hit this series and to risk featuring her a third time certainly paid off. With Rigsy it is encouraging to see how characters can be successfully re-visited, providing they are not completely done and dusted!
So that brings me to the death of Clara, I’m still finding it slightly surreal that she has gone. She was truly an epic companion to the Doctor and for one thing it’s going to be absolutely fascinating to see how the Doctor survives without her, how will he react and adapt? Those who had been crying out for Clara to leave full stop will have got their pound of flesh in the brutality of her death. However poetically done, the implication is pretty much that she has her insides burnt out. The final breath of black smoke is certainly an effective way of making Jenna Coleman’s final scene a pretty shocking and haunting moment! There is finality and sadness in this episode, but a feeling too of a new beginning for the Doctor, one that, in anger and grief, is going to test him to the extreme. 9/10
The end has finally arrived for our beloved Clara. Her demise has been prophesied over the course of the series, to the extent that I feared knowing Jenna Coleman’s exit was nigh would severely dampen the inevitable departure. The fact that I still wept over Clara’s death is rightfully testament to the stunning acting and writing on display in Face the Raven. Debutante writer Sarah Dollard immediately leaves her mark with a masterful control over The Doctor and Clara’s ever burgeoning relationship, twisting and pulling at the heartstrings. This is no more apparent than in the phenomenal final scene between Peter and Jenna, two actors who may never have or give a better performance in the show. Capaldi exudes raw sadness and despair, knowing he is going to be alone again very soon, self guilt all over his face, the first face this face saw. Jenna well….she blew the episode away with the palpable fear Clara holds of leaving her best friend behind. In this scene alone there is no greater embodiment of the relationship between these two great characters and actors, and seeing it ripped apart with such haste hurt much more than a prolonged goodbye. The overall speed with which Clara’s death was handled did seem somewhat disingenuous to such a monumental character in the Doctor Who mythos, yet to kill her in her prime, the self assured confidence of The Doctor driving her head long into danger, I feel deals the bigger blow.
The main threat of the episode, the quantum shade, was an excellent plot device to act as the harbinger of Clara’s demise. It served perfectly as the embodiment of her flight from the loss of Danny, the never-ending chase across the time and space. Clara knew she could travel with The Doctor forever in an attempt to flee her despair; the raven a beautiful symbol for the shadow she could never escape from. The imminent death itself was ultimately more violent than I anticipated, likely because a companion’s death is both so rare and never highlighted beyond The Doctor’s own reaction. A clear view of Clara’s corpse was a horrifying reminder. A criticism of Face The Raven could be that this is very much about Clara; the plot of the episode around her very nearly descended into exposition, however Dollard does a fantastic job of weaving a small, intimate tale within the greater narrative, all lead by a continually brilliant Maisie Williams as Ashildr (Me).
The sub plot of an alien refugee camp hidden within a trap street in London is on its own in a separate episode an excellent idea, yet even in Face The Raven the idea is delivered with great believeability and visual style, a collage of The Doctor’s enemies at their weakest and most vulnerable after facing his wrath. Whilst very much Clara’s moment, Face The Raven also feels like the culmination of The Doctor’s influence on those who follow him and those who face him; do so and you may lose everything you are and hold dear. Clara’s death is very much on The Doctor, his arrogant tackling of the obstacles he faces driving Clara to battle a fight she could never win, and perhaps, worst of all, never wanted to. The loss of the Impossible Girl was raw, sudden and painful above all else. Yes we knew it was coming, yet it is still quite hard to believe Clara is finally gone. Expect a true goodbye in the series finale, when the Time Lords return. 9/10
Face the Raven can be described as a game of two halves, not in terms of duration but there is a clear divide between the story and then Clara’s death. Firstly the story. Returning character Rigsy provides a useful conduit to draw the TARDIS to modern day London, it’s always London. There is plenty of intrigue with the Torchwood ‘aliens amongst us’ mantra, set in a Harry Potter/Diagon Alley environment. The countdown tattoo is also an element borrowed from Justin Timberlake/Anna Seyfried movie ‘In Time’ but it does grip the viewer as does the intriguing murder mystery which sadly turns out to simply be the ruse for a trap. So we must now address the second half, the demise of Clara Oswald. For an actress who has been in the show since 2012, she possibly deserved a more publicised send off, occurring largely under the radar.
I was not very emotional about it all but I’m sure plenty of others were. Unfortunately a precedent has been set that a character’s death rarely prevents that character from reappearing, Clara in particular. Perhaps having the latest issue of DWM on the coffee table didn’t help with the sense that it is not the last we see of Clara. It seemed a very innocuous way to go too and boy did they milk it for all it was worth. I’d be interested to see the script, Jenna must’ve had 3 pages of lines to learn. After so many years on the show she probably deserved more publicity that this was her last but it almost certainly is not.
Recently so much has been made of the time shift viewing figures so it is a brave call to drop a huge sea changer which lots of viewers will inevitably have spoiled before they have a chance to watch it.
The real test of this episode will be how it is followed up. The Doctor’s behaviour, attitude and emotion can elevate this episode, like Utopia in 2007 which although thin on content had enormous repercussions for the remainder of the series and as a result it is more highly thought of. However the last word must go to Jenna Coleman who has hopefully enjoyed her time on the show as much as viewers have enjoyed watching her adventures. 7/10
And the average totals out at 8.6/10, one of the higher scores this series. Face the Raven slots in at number five on our team leaderboard:
- The Magician’s Apprentice – 9.25/10
- The Girl Who Died – 9/10
- The Witch’s Familiar – 8.92/10
- The Zygon Invasion – 8.7/10
- Face the Raven – 8.6/10
- The Zygon Inversion – 8.21/10
- Under the Lake – 8.2/10
- Before the Flood – 8/10
- The Woman Who Lived – 7.5/10
- Sleep No More – 6.3/10