‘Face The Raven’, written by Sarah Dollard, features the return of Rigsy from ‘Flatline’. He phones the TARDIS after finding he can’t remember the last 24 hours and he now has a tattoo counting down to 0.
Investigating what happened leads the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy to discover an alien refuge camp hidden in the heart of London by the immortal Ashildr (last seen in ‘The Woman Who Lived’). They must race against time to save Rigsy’s life but is Clara’s increasing recklessness putting her in danger?
This is a good murder mystery in an interesting location and a host of intriguing characters. It takes Clara’s story arc to its natural conclusion and could be a major turning point for the series.
Spoilers From Here On In!
A reoccurring theme this season (and part of the last) is that Clara is becoming too much like the Doctor. She takes risks and has come to believe that if she thinks like the Doctor she’ll come out unscathed.
We’ve seen how she treats it like a game and how that alienates others around her. The Doctor has expressed concern over this but the headstrong Clara has ignored him, believing she can handle anything.
This is touched upon in the opening, as the Doctor and Clara bundle back into the TARDIS narrowly avoiding death. Clara is laughing, enjoying herself and boasting about her feats while the Doctor implies that Clara is responsible for placing them in danger in the first place.
When the phone rings director Justin Molotnikov makes it feel ominous. The time travellers adventures have been interrupted by this jarring event. The bell tolls and it tolls for Clara as she takes the fateful call that signals the end of her journey.
They are summoned by Rigsy to solve the mystery of his tattoo and the stakes are established as we are shown he has baby and partner. When the Doctor discovers that Rigsy will die the viewer understands that this won’t just affect him but his family.
The addition of Rigsy, who was also one of the high points of ‘Flatline’, is well handled. He is a more grounded companion that Clara, who puts the events in their proper context, showing compassion and concern contrasting with Clara’s giddy joy (such as when she is dangling out of the TARDIS flying over London).
The scene in which Rigsy pleads for his life and for the Doctor to save him is very effective and Joivan Wade plays it well. It is interesting that Clara doesn’t need to say anything further here, it only takes a glance at her from the Doctor for him to decide to do the impossible and save Rigsy.
The sequence in which the TARDIS floats over London searching for the hidden trap street in which the aliens must be hiding is exhilarating. Reminiscent of when the 11th Doctor dangled from the TARDIS in ‘The Day Of The Doctor’ it makes effective use of the sonic glasses, with Clara scanning the city below. The music goes a long way to give this an epic feel.
The search for the trap streets with the data collected is another fun sequence, even if they can’t disguise the fact that they are in Cardiff rather than London. It captures the feel that the heroes are approaching the edge of the normality and about to cross the boundary into weirdness.
Discovering the trap street they run into a collection of aliens under the rule of Ashildr, now calling herself ‘Mayor’. She hides the aliens away, brokering a peace treaty to keep everyone safe.
Despite early impressions from the trailers this wasn’t too much diagon alley from ‘Harry Potter’. The special effects allow little flashes to show the human appearing inhabitants as they really are without blowing the budget. It plants the idea that everyone is alien so that throughout we always keep that in mind and wonder about the true nature of the people the main character encounter.
The trap street continues the politically charged themes of the season, as it is effectively a refuge camp. The idea of aliens hiding on Earth has been touched upon in Who, from the Doctor Who book ‘Return of the Living Dad’ and the short story ‘A Big Hand For The Doctor’ to the recent Zygon story line (which at least gets referenced.)
We discover that Rigsy was found standing over the body of Anah, an alien from Janus (who has two faces to see the future and past), and was assumed to be her killer.
As punishment Ashildr marked him with a quantum shade (an ability that hasn’t yet been explained), giving him time to be with his loved ones. Ashildr believes that she is been just here but both the Doctor and Clara point out the flaw in becoming both judge and executioner without any solid evidence.
The fate that awaits Rigsy is demonstrated by an old man who stole medical supplies for his wife and is hunted down by the quantum shade. Taking the form of the titular raven it swoops down on him, turning to smoke and choking him to death from the inside. The transformation effect of the quantum shade is effective, illustrating that it is an inescapable death.
With time continuing to countdown the heroes interview the hostile refuges for clues that might clear Rigsy’s name. They find out that Rigsy was summoned to the street by a mysterious phone call and that Anah’s daughter (who is disguised as a boy to hide her similar psychic gifts) senses there is something not right about the mayor.
Unfortunately Clara also learns that the curse of the quantum shade can be passed on. Believing that she has been clever like the Doctor she persuades Rigsy to pass the curse to her, hoping that Ashildr’s boon of protection will save her.
Following the clues leads them to Anah’s body where they find she is in a stasis device and not dead at all. In releasing her the Doctor surrenders the TARDIS key and has a teleporter bracelet attached to his arm.
Ashildr arrives, revealing that this has all been a trap so once again the Doctor is indirectly responsible for placing an innocent companion in danger. After forcing the Time Lord to hand over his confession dial Ashildr attempts to remove the curse but finds that Clara’s actions have broken the terms of the contract. She is powerless to stop the quantum shade collecting its prize.
This is an effectively dramatic scene as the characters deal with Clara’s impeding death. Having already moved past bargaining the Doctor makes threats before Clara reaches the stage of acceptance.
This is a nice moment as the Doctor and Clara say their goodbyes. Clara has had a big impact on the 12th Doctor and obviously been very important for him, helping him through a difficult transition.
Her concerns for his future and instructions for how he is to behave are very affecting. Knowing she is going to die her thoughts are still for his wellbeing. As ‘The Zygon Inversion’ demonstrated she’ll have left a lasting impression on him when she is gone.
As much as I grew to dislike the cocky attitude of Clara there is no denying the impact of her demise. It is a great high for Jenna Coleman to go out on, with Clara realising that maybe she had a death wish which kept her running and pushing her luck. She accepts that and rather than stay with the Doctor she runs, praying that she’ll be brave in her final moment.
When death comes it is beautiful handled, with moving music replacing her screams which affect all those around her. The Doctor can only watch as she dies yet again in front of him.
The Doctor can barely keep him promise to Clara not to seek vengeance for her death, warning Ashildr to keep out of his way. Teleported away by Ashildr mysterious employer we can only speculate who the true mastermind of these events were and what their motives are.
In a rare post-credit stinger we see that Rigsy has tagged the abandoned TARDIS with a memorial to Clara, surrounded by flowers.
Peter Capaldi is on good form here full of emotion and communicating his loss without a single word. This is a more serious 12th Doctor, demonstrated by his Pertwee-esque costume, who is far removed from the buffoon we saw in ‘The Girl Who Lived/The Woman Who Lived’.
Maisie Williams is much improved over her previous performances but is still not great. She at least nails the final scenes where she has to transition from the villain to being filled with remorse that her plan has led to Clara’s death.
It remains to be seen how final Clara’s demise is (it is, after all, part of her nature to come back from the dead) but this is a well crafted, emotional story. It explores what happens when those around the Doctor have so much faith in him that they believe they are untouchable and are sadly proven wrong.
With two episodes left there are lots of questions that remain and the Doctor’s future seems uncertain.