Facing the Consequences

Review of Face the Raven
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I am so glad Moffat finally got some women to write for Doctor Who. Both of those new writers this series have added strong episodes to the canon (however one defines that), and Face the Raven in particular uses character as its driving force to great effect.

I just wish I'd been able to experience the episode without expectations of where it was heading.

Over the last couple of years I've had bad luck with last-minute spoilers, and not just in Who. For example, in the first season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the mid-series cliffhanger revealed [um, couple-year-old spoiler] that one of the team members was secretly working for Hydra. A couple hours before I had the chance to see it myself (late, yes, but still... ~sigh~), I saw a tweet about it: "I still can't believe [So-and-so] is Hydra!" So much for that bit of dramatic tension. I spent the whole episode noticing the clues the other characters overlooked rather than overlooking them myself.

Similarly, the day before Face the Raven aired, a friend posted something on social media about how sad she was that this was going to be Jenna's last episode. Well. Foreknowledge like that certainly changes the way one views a story. I can only imagine now how other fans would have experienced it, because I didn't have the luxury of surprise.

I have to wonder if it was this feeling of inevitability that prevented me from being emotionally overwhelmed by her fate the way I often am by the fiction I consume, or if it was simply the fact that Clara has never been one of my favorites. Whatever the case, it (oddly) hit me harder on the second viewing.

I thought the almost-farewell she got a year ago in Last Christmas was pretty good; several folks talked about how it would be nigh impossible to top it (maybe that's why Moffat handed it off to someone else...). I must admit, though, that Dollard nailed it, giving us a Companion departure that will give every other in post-Hiatus Who a run for its money. (As an aside, I'll also note that this is the only time in modern Who's history that someone besides the showrunner has written out a character from the opening credits.)

Besides Clara's death, the episode served to lead into the (nominally) two-part series finale. Thus there is plenty here to examine both as it relates to Clara and to the series as a whole. First and foremost, I would say, is how the Doctor appears to have some foreknowledge of Clara's end. There have been hints throughout the series—like when he told her the time when he'd thought she was dead was "the longest month of my life"—and they continue here.

In the pre-credits sequence, the look he gives her as she's prancing about the TARDIS, so smug about how she saved him, says volumes. It's affectionate and sad in a way that some of us can't help but recognize—a look that says, I have to drink up every moment, because I know I'm about to miss you a whole lot.

The most telling moment, I believe, is when the two of them and Rigsy are in the map room. Clara cottons on to what the Doctor is looking for and restates, for clarity. "Like a trap street, only not." He gives her a sharp look, and if Capaldi had been able to make his face blanch on command, I'm sure he would have: "What did you say?"

The Doctor knows it's a trap.

I'm convinced that he goes in knowing that something is about to go horribly wrong. He may even know this is when (if not how) Clara will meet her end, though more likely he figures he himself is in trouble (that is, after all, par for the course). So what is the trap?

Mayor Me is scared. She's doing something to protect the street. "They take you, I take the key so you can't be traced. I do as they tell me, and the street is safe." We don't find out who "they" are, but we do know that they also know to ask for his confession dial.

I can't help but wonder whether or not Torchwood (or at least Jack) have something to do with all this. The Doctor alluded to Jack as another immortal back when he last met up with Ashildr/Me, suggesting that he'd catch up with her sooner or later. And it seems suspicious that Rigsy's been retconned. Or, more correctly, Retcon'ed. "Your pre-frontal cortex is marinating in it," the Doctor claims. It seems strange for him to talk about its effects that way unless he's referring to the drug Torchwood loved to use on the humans who happened across their path. I can't really see them bringing Torchwood in that way, but the connections felt too deliberate to dismiss entirely.

Regardless of what Mayor Me's trap portends, the heart of the story is all about Clara. Her entire life with the Doctor this season has been leading up to this end, one way or another. "Maybe this is why I kept taking all those stupid risks," she tells the Doctor. I've thought so all series; she's been flirting with a death wish ever since Danny died. It's like she can hardly bear to live in the quiet, so she throws herself at every dangerous situation she can.

So it's hard to tell how much of her arm-twisting of Rigsy is compassion for him and his family, and how much is sheer manipulation to get her fix. "What happens if you don't go home tonight to Jen and Lucy, eh? If you never go home? You really want your little girl growing up without a father just because he wouldn't take a risk?" It's she who is taking the risk—who needs the risk.

It's also clear that she's not forgotten about Danny for one instant. In the end, she just wants to emulate his bravery. "If Danny Pink can do it, so can I. ... Die right. Die like I mean it. Face the raven." I, for one, think she did an admirable job.

Just one question: who's Orson Pink, then?

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Comments

I thought when I saw the coming attractions for the episode "It looks like The Doctor is going to Diagon Alley." That was certainly how it felt. The archetecture was very was very Victorian, complete with magic gaslight lamps. And the inhabitants were all so eccentric it was unbearable.

So I'm afraid I was predisposed to be emotionally distanced from the episode from the beginning. Even though I hadn't seen any spoilers about Clara dying I wasn't moved or touched by her sacrifice. More like mildly irritated.

I've been much fonder of Clara this season. I really didn't much like her when she was paired with Matt Smith. The whole "Impossible Girl" mystery was annoying and felt like a retread of Amy and her "girl with a crack in the universe in her wall" mystery. Also, her generic perky girl personality grated on me. Last season the writing was so generally poor that I couldn't work up much enthusiasm for much of anything. And Clara was largely written as a manipulative liar, lying to both The Doctor and Danny because telling the truth to either of them would be more inconvienient than keeping them happy with her lies. A storyline which made her largely unlikeable to me and also backfired on her in spactacurlar fashion. I couldn't figure out why either The Doctor or Danny were wasting their time with such a dishonest person.

Clara was better written this season, more likeable and more admirable, seemingly devoted to helping others while combing time and space for dangerous situations to get herself into. Better, but I'm not sad to see her go. I'm afraid all her brave death scene illicited from me was a bored yawn.

I felt the action of this episode was largely uninvolving because it was all a means to an end. Riggsy and Ashildir and the fake murder and the countdown tatoo were all busywork to get rid of Clara and get The Doctor in a bad spot. Ashildir COULD have just contacted The Doctor and asked his help to save the inhabitants of her colony of expatriate aliens and he would have helped her. It wouldn't be the first time that, for the greater good, he allowed himself to be kidnapped by somebody who wanted to harm him. He already did it before in the first episode of this season. There was no reason for Ashildr to threaten Riggsy and, as she has been watching him for centuries, she would know that. So what was the point?

I did like the concept of a colony of assorted aliens hiding on Earth. It makes sense. After all the failed invasions there were bound to be strays left behind and why not band together for protection? I wasn't thrilled with the execution of this idea but it was a great concept.

As for Orson Pink, I would think that he no longer exists. If The Doctor had vanished from Clara's life after the events of Listen then Clara would have married Danny and they would have had children together and become Orson's great grandparents. But because The Doctor continued to meddle, Clara and Danny argued and this put Danny in a position to be crossing that particurlar street at that particurlar time, or at least to be paying attention to his phone call instead of traffic when he did cross that street. That caused his death and destroyed the timeline in which he and Clara had children. Poof! No more Orson Pink.

I've thought before about how The Doctor's lifestyle constantly changes the future and undos many of his actions. Escaping from the Daleks the (hypothetical) people of Altira 5 emigrate to a planet orbiting Canis Major and The Doctor visits them there and saves them from the Sontorans. Then he goes back to Altira 5 and stops the Daleks from invading, meaning that those people never emigrated to Canis Major to found a colony for The Doctor to save. But in The Doctor's timeline he saved Canis Major first, so he still remembers being there and saving the colony even though, in the new timeline he created, it no longer exists. It'll give you a headache if you think about it too much.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Oh, well, if you're going to look at it logically... ;)

By mrfranklin

I enjoyed it a lot, but Doctor Who always fails a bit when it's predictable though. I saw the tattoo, knew it was a doom clock. I saw Rigsy with a baby, knew he was going to live. Heard talks of swapping the tattoo, knew Clara would get it and die for it. The only thing I didn't see coming was Me sending the Doctor off, I thought it was all a devious plan to kill Clara and take her place so she would no longer be stuck on Earth but hey.

I also wasn't fond of the death scene to be honest. It actually felt cheap to me, like they were drawing out for drama and the slow-mo effect and the lack of a scream actually made it that more flashy to me. They turned her death into a "will she, won't she" scene, which I guess could work if she actually survived in some way but if she doesn't it was just too drawn out. And I like Clara, and didn't want her to die, but it was the only way her character could go.

I do feel that the idea of the trap street and the alien refugee camp was some great stuff (you think a Cyberman cares about a merciful death?). I was just disappointed that 30 minutes of the episode were things I knew were coming.

Looking forward to Hell Bent though, alien planets!

Also, maybe Time Lords? I don't think Torchwood would have this pull over trap street and the Doctor. But the Time Lord (or the one Time Lady) could be behind this..

By Ryo (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I concur that when something is predictable, it's less fun. I didn't cotton on to as many points as you did, though I also knew the instant we heard the conversation about passing the mark on how that was going to pan out.

I wish I'd seen your comment here before Heaven Sent aired, so I had documentation (as you do) that the Time Lords were who immediately came to mind when Me talked about doing what "they" say. :) I hope my review didn't give the impression I thought it was instead Torchwood behind this whole thing, because I never did. I did (and still do) think they may in some way have been in touch with Mayor Me and helping her keep the street hidden.

We'll see how the final episode of the season colors our view of all this! :)

By mrfranklin

Do the same angry bitter fans come on here every week and give every episode no stars just to mess with the results?

By travis (not verified)

I've given most of the eps this season 4 stars. I gave this one and last week 3 stars because I thought they were mediocre.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yeah, I understand that frustration. That's one reason when I do my analysis at the end of the series that I crunch numbers both with and without no-star votes. I might see what happens if I change those to one-star votes, too, just for kicks and grins.

Since I'm not one of the disenfranchised at the moment, I can't speak to what drives those readers to give zero stars. I have deliberately not paid close attention to whether or not the votes come from the same place every week, though I suspect at least some of them do. It makes me sad to think that people are hating the show that much, but I know it's all about personal preferences. All I can do is share my own perspective and hope those readers can find something to enjoy in there somewhere.

By mrfranklin
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