Published on November 23rd, 2015 | by Brad0
Doctor Who – Face the Raven
Due to the nature and purpose of Face the Raven, it’s basically impossible to talk about without massive spoilers. So this is your first, last and only SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t already, go and watch the episode. It’s really rather good. Come back and join me after the image, where nothing and no one is safe.
So I’ve been predicting Clara Oswald’s impending demise for a couple of months now, and in Face the Raven, it finally came to fruition. With two episodes to spare it’s a big change-up in structure, as normally a death or departure of this magnitude will be held back for a finale or a special, to give it that big, climactic impact. As such, I imagine we’ll see Jenna Coleman again in the finale in two weeks, though I do hope that this death sticks.
Thematically, the nature of Clara’s death has been foreshadowed for quite a while. After Danny’s death last series she’s been getting more and more reckless, and trying to be more and more like The Doctor. Indeed, when she explains her scheme to Rigsy (previously seen in series 8’s Flatline) she describes it as Doctor 101 and 102. Unfortunately, Clara isn’t The Doctor. She lacks his knowledge, perspective and experience, so when she makes her scheme to act like him, it backfires in the worst possible way; she accepts Rigsy’s death sentence, and signs her own warrant in his place.
Clara’s attempts to make herself into The Doctor leading her to her death run as a parallel to what’s happened to Ashildr this series. Maisie Williams makes a welcome third appearance as The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived, now calling herself Mayor Me and overseeing a refugee camp for aliens on a hidden street in central London. Trap Street, as I’m going to call it, has the feel of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, and is a location I would love to have seen more of. The Doctor infected Ashildr with immortality but didn’t stick around to lend her his perspective or worldview, allowing her to become a tyrant who rules her little fiefdom through fear of the death sentence she controls. Between Clara the reckless martyr and Ashildr the ruthless immortal the two of them may have added up to a rough approximation of The Doctor; unfortunately, Face the Raven showed that fate had other plans.
Clara Oswald comes in for a lot of criticism from a lot of quarters. The cynical part of me wants to say that the majority of that is down to the fact that she’s the current companion on Doctor Who and that’s just how the internet works, and I think that there’s a lot of truth in that, but some of the grievances people have are valid. That said, surely even the most hardened of Clara-hater would have to admit that Jenna Coleman’s work in those final scenes of Face the Raven is just bloody majestic. From the moment we know that Clara is going to die and there’s nothing The Doctor can do to save her, Coleman and Peter Capaldi take the episode to an entirely different level. It’s opposite the Twelfth Doctor these past two series that Clara has really grown into her own as a character, and their final scene together – if that’s what it is – is one of the most poignant moments of new Doctor Who so far.
Clara’s death itself is a brutal moment. Over the course of Face the Raven, we get to see the titular bird in action. It’s actually a creature called a Quantum Shade, which carries out Ashildr’s executions for her. When someone is marked for death, a countdown clock with how many minutes they have left appears on the back of their neck. Only Ashildr can call it off, and the only other way to escape is for someone else to willingly take your death. Unfortunately, if you do that, it cuts Ashildr out of the equation and guarantees that the Shade will kill you, something Clara didn’t realise until after she takes Rigsy’s death for him. After a heartfelt goodbye, the Shade comes for Clara. And she stands in front of The Doctor, arms outstretched and screaming, in a dark reflection of his regeneration, but rather than the white and gold light of life that pours from The Doctor, a black cloud of death pours from Clara and she drops to the ground. It’s absolutely harrowing.
But, true to form, she tempers The Doctor’s more vengeful urges before she goes. She demands that he not sully her memory by launching into a reign of terror which would end at the sight of the first crying child anyway. His impulse is to threaten all manner of hell for Ashildr, who caused this by manufacturing Rigsy’s death sentence in order to capture The Doctor. When he threatens her, the look of terror on Maisie Williams’ face pretty much reflects that of the audience, such is the strength of Capaldi’s performance. The Doctor is teleported away to meet those who hired Ashildr to capture him, and we’ll see what comes of that next week. Face the Raven leaves the rest of us, like Rigsy, to pay tribute to the Impossible Girl, Clara Oswald.