Last week I had a few issues with Doctor Who. This week fully redeemed the show and you get a perfect example of how to do a bottle episode the right way in “Face the Raven.” Yes, for the second week in a row, Doctor Who stays contained to a single location for ninety percent of the episode. Where they do things differently is by giving us an engaging mystery that holds every iota of our attention with amazing performances.
The mystery starts, innocently enough, with Clara and The Doctor returning from yet another harrowing adventure that we only get snippets of information from. They really have enjoyed teasing us this year. Constantly showing us the immediate events after an amazing unseen trip. This time though, a phone call starts our heroes down their path this week. Ironic when you realize that a phone call is what originally got Clara and The Doctor together. Missy gave Clara The Doctor’s number to engineer their first true meeting. It can’t be just a coincidence that a phone call would start this important adventure as well. We’ll come back to that later.
Also, from this point on, obviously spoilers are coming. If for some reason you’re reading this before watching, stop, go watch a great episode, and come on back, okay? On we push.
So the mystery phone call? It’s Rigsy, the graffiti artist from last season’s “Flatline.” After waking up with no knowledge of the last twenty-four hours, Rigsy discovers a tattoo of numbers on the back of his neck, magically counting down to zero. This leads to a return of the index cards The Doctor used to try to be more human earlier this year. Though he gives up and tells us there’s no nice way to tell someone they’re going to die.
Fortunately for Rigsy, Clara forces The Doctor to do what he does best — save people. After a short little touch that could only be on Doctor Who, to find a mysterious lost street (appropriately called a trap street) the gang has to find a place in town where your memory goes all wonky, and counting becomes difficult to keep track of. On the way there Clara spends some time hanging out of an airborne TARDIS head first and enjoying the heck out of it. The Doctor says that this behavior has become a problem. All season has been building Clara’s recklessness and desire for adventure, so of course there will be consequences.
On finding the mysterious street where Rigsy lost a whole day of his memory, we find that it’s in actuality a refugee camp for aliens of numerous races stuck here on earth. A place where these creatures can find Asylum. Unfortunate timing that an episode dealing with refugees would air this week, just one of those odd coincidences in life that I’m sure some will try to politicize.
Speaking of coincidences, The Doctor finds that Ashildr is in charge of this alien safe haven and has taken the name The Mayor. Maisie Williams again does a great job with this character. The decision to give her eternal life but a normal memory is an interesting one. The fact that she has to read her old journals and thinks of her old memories as little more than stories she has written to herself is something I can’t remember having seen in science fiction before.
We find that Ashildr, or The Mayor, has obtained power over something called “The Shade.” Appearing as the tattoo Rigsy has, it counts down until your death. The Shade appears as the titular Raven of this episode and comes to claim you. We never get down to just how Ashildr gained these abilities, though I suppose living hundreds of years you pick up a few tricks. I would love to see more of her adventures through the centuries.
Some nice character moments this week: Clara telling The Doctor he can’t be the good cop because of his face; Clara again talking about her friendship with Jane Austen, giving a wink and a hint they might have been closer than “friends.” Fairly early on it was easy to see where this one was heading. After we find the death tattoo can be transferred, the red flags were really waving. Of course this year Clara has been trying to be more and more like The Doctor. It’s unfortunate her attempts to be as clever as her hero lead ultimately to her downfall.
As Clara thinks she is free from danger and takes Rigsy’s tattoo, you knew immediately she must have overlooked something. As we find out, by transferring it the terms of the curse have been altered and can no longer be removed.
There was some mystery and questions raised but really the focus this week was reminding us why Clara was special, and why her story could never have a happy ending. Clara became far too comfortable, even addicted to her life of danger. She fancied herself as The Doctor’s equal, but as we know The Doctor himself has died many times throughout his adventures. Following his path, Clara was bound to do the same sooner or later. The tragic anti-climactic way her own wit brings her down is heartbreaking, as is seeing The Doctor’s seething rage as he has no way to save her.
Their final words to one another are well written and heartfelt, Clara imploring The Doctor to live up to his name and not become a warrior to avenge her, showed her heart and insight into what makes The Doctor tick. Clara even brings up Danny Pink, confirming he never left her thoughts after his death. Then Clara makes the brave choice to “Face the Raven,” accept death bravely.
Even having known for weeks Clara’s tenure was coming to an end, it was still sad to see her go like this. Even before the “To Be Continued” pops up, it’s obvious there is still much more to this story. Ashildr orchestrated all these events at someone’s request, and I have a theory as to who might be behind all of this.
Ashildr simply says “they” when discussing who forced her to betray The Doctor. She takes the key to the TARDIS and his last confession, now stay with me here. As I said earlier, Clara called The Doctor, initiating their first meeting because of Missy. Missy chose Clara but we never really found out why. This season started with Davros and the Daleks trying to obtain The Doctor’s confession, which was willed to Missy. By the end of that episode Missy’s fate, as well as Davros’, is left up in the air. I would bet that Missy or Davros, or even both in collusion, are orchestrating this whole messy affair.
For Ashildr, someone immortal and brave, to be visibly shaken by a threat tells us it must be someone powerful. Then adding the personal nature of the requests, it has to be someone tied closely to The Doctor. Though this season has been mostly standalone stories it feels like this week, along with the final two to come, are heading for a conclusion that ties several of this years episodes together into something greater than the sum of its parts. A thrilling entry and a sad send off for our latest companion that has left our Doctor enraged and ready for war. After all, though he promised not to seek vengeance, The Doctor lies … always.