Bang & Kaboom … a major shift in direction here and while it’s one we all saw coming, it’s still somewhat troubling in this excellent episode written by Sarah Dollard. Clara played the Doctor a little too well, made a decision that was true to her character, and died as a result of that decision. This is both good — in the “if you have to die, die saving someone else” kind of way — and bad — in the “don’t stare at the details too much” kind of way — but on balance… it’s a pretty decent way for the Story of the Impossible Girl to end.
Also welcome back to both Maisie Williams’ Lady Me and Jovian Wade’s Rigsy. I actually quite liked the fact that in all three encounters the Doctor has had with Ashildr/Me, she has been a different version of the person that he and Clara met all those centuries before. That makes the character unpredictable, and that’s always welcome. That she kept her word and has spent the years “cleaning up” after the Doctor is good and its also good to see that some thought has gone into the idea of dealing with the refugees of the many invasions of Earth over the run of the show. It’s also worth noting here that without his making an immortal out of Ashildr, the Doctor would not be facing Mayor Me and her terrible decision to betray him for the safety of the Street. The Moffat years have often made it clear that the actions of the Doctor have consequences. Me is a person who can, will, and does make her own decisions. The Doctor didn’t make her set up the Street, or bring the alien refugees together. The Doctor didn’t make her make a deal with the Quantum Shade or with whomever is behind the threat to the Street and its inhabitants that led her to betray the Doctor.
Blameless in all of this is Rigsy, and again, welcome back Mr. Wade. Some time has obviously passed for Rigsy and his life is seemingly a good one, and that’s very cool to see. Rigsy acts with honor and compassion himself throughout the story, and that post-credits scene where he has painted the TARDIS with a tribute to Clara is almost heartbreaking. I’ve enjoyed both of Wade’s appearances and hope he comes back, although I suspect that the Doctor would like to avoid him for a while.
It starts out with a brilliant mystery that sees The Doctor and Clara scouring the streets of London, both on foot and from the comfort of the TARDIS in flight mode above the city. They’re trying to find the truth behind a sinister countdown that has appeared as a tattoo on the back of Rigsy’s neck, who phones the TARDIS when he notices the weird marks and can’t remember what happened to him the day before.
When they eventually get to the bottom of it all they find themselves mixed up in another intricate web spun by the immortal, Ashildr, who had sentenced Rigsy to death for the murder of a woman within her refugee sanctuary. It’s a finely crafted story that keeps you hooked right the way through, building up to its devastating culmination and leaving you with no doubt that there was no reprieve this time.
So Clara takes the Chronolock (should have called it the Raven’s Mark… missed opportunity, people!) off of Rigsy, which breaks the contract with the Quantum Shade, and Me and the Doctor ignore the stasis chamber in the room, the teleporter in the room, and just act as if there really is nothing they can do. There may not be, and in the context of the story, that’s what is the case. The problem there is that we don’t have any information leading up to that moment where we know anything about the Chronolock aside from the warning that death cannot be outrun, and without that, the revelation of the still-vague rules of the deal between Me and the Quantum Shade comes pretty much out of nowhere.
Series 9 has been jostling the notion that it had become common knowledge that Clara would be getting written out of the show at some point during its twelve episode stint, and every episode saw her coming close to biting the dust. However, in Face The Raven it takes on the challenge of giving Gemma Coleman a fitting end with little uncertainty that the raven would signal her final adventure with the Doctor.
It was always going to be sad saying goodbye to such a significant part of the show for the last few series and that’s definitely the case here. The dialogue and tension are wound to perfection, pulling at your heartstrings as Clara and the good man say their final goodbyes. Jenna Coleman is on exceptional form, as she’s been throughout Series 9, and she delivers some very moving lines, confirming her place in the history of the show. Because Clara makes the decision to save Rigsy that way because she believes the Doctor will find a way to save her, and we do, too. Even knowing that this is Clara’s final episode, even with all the clues the season has given us that Clara was likely to die, the idea that the Doctor would be helpless to save her, that he would have to watch her die… who saw that coming, really? It’s that last word that she ignores because she knows that people die on the way to those wins, and she’s even called him out on it, in episodes like “Mummy on the Orient Express”. Sure, she was still coming to terms with the new nature of this Incarnation, but still, she’s aware of the body count that follows the Doctor. She’s had that terrible calculus he makes thrown in her face when she applies it herself to the events of “Before the Flood”. She just can’t see that it would be her, and that is the logical culmination of the increased recklessness and thrill-seeking that we’ve seen grow in her over a season and a half.
Peter Capaldi also does a very good job of giving Clara the sendoff she deserves, looking as sad as we’ve ever seen him when the reality of the situation hits home. His part is added to by an equally credible performance from Maisie Williams as the scheming Ashildr, whose duplicity is undone by Clara’s intended cunning, which seals both their fates. We’re clearly going to see more of the former Game Of Thrones star and with the Doctor’s newfound anger at her intervention it should be even more of a tumultuous relationship from now on. It was good to see Rigsy back in action and Joivan Wade does a very good job of bringing a fitting level of gravitas to the episode. He’s well poised and natural in the role and we’ll be surprised if he isn’t an early contender for the next companion for the Doctor.
The reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s narrative poem The Raven also acts to bring more weight and deathly intent to the episode and the presentation of it as a spectral raven is genius. Both Sarah Dollard and director Justin Molotnikov should get a lot of praise for crafting such a special episode to see off the impossible girl. And that leads to one of the two best moments in “Face the Raven”, where Clara extracts the promise from the Doctor that he will not become the Warrior again because she knows him and that’s exactly what he’ll want to do. She accepts what is about to happen to her and accepts that she made the decisions that led her there, and she demands that he does, too, and if she hadn’t… well. This Doctor likely would burn the Trap Street to the ground in revenge, and then hate himself more than he already does for doing it. Because the Doctor does hate himself for all the lives he couldn’t save, for the deaths he is responsible for, for turning his Companions into weapons against Evil… and for being so lonely that he lets someone like Clara become so close to him, so needed by him, that he lets her become too much like him. For that reason alone — his own self-hatred — Clara saves him, one last time.
And next week the Doctor will face the entity(s) behind the threat to the Street, and there his promise to Clara will be bent if not broken. Because not only did they kick off the events that led to Clara making that particular choice, but they wanted the Doctor himself, and his anger and self-hatred and burning desire to fight the evils of the Universe will have a target that he may not be able to resist. And not becoming the Warrior doesn’t mean the Doctor hasn’t made his anger into a weapon before…
Face The Raven is a truly brilliant episode and the remaining two stories in the series, along with the Christmas Special, will have their work cut out for them to live up to the high marker it has set down. While Series 9 has had its ups and downs, Episode 10 does a lot to confirm it as a classic series in the making, and we’re impressed that they managed to create such tension about the end of Clara, despite the fact that it had become common knowledge that she was leaving the show. It also sets things up for one hell of a finale to the series as the Doctor must face the people behind Ashildr’s deception.