DOCTOR WHO: “Face the Raven”

The Doctor always wins. He always saves those he cares about, right!?

Take a deep breath, Whovians. Last week’s found footage debacle was a stunningly bad episode in an already mediocre season, and we could all use a palate cleanser to get the bad taste out of our mouths.

As Clara and the Doctor arrive back inside the TARDIS after another rollicking adventure, the TARDIS phone rings and the Doctor has Clara answer it. Does the phone ring frequently now? I honestly can’t remember, but I do remember the last time it rang memorably. It seems like forever ago that we heard the long dormant TARDIS phone, aka The Bells of St. John, ringing, and the Eleventh Doctor answered it and heard the voice of a young woman named Clara Oswald for the first time…

Picture shows: Joivan Wade as Rigsy, Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara
Picture shows: Joivan Wade as Rigsy, Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara

Today’s phone call brings the voice of an old friend, Rigsy, the young graffiti artist last seen in “Flatline.” When Clara scolds Rigsy that the news of his new tattoo isn’t the type of emergency that she gave him the TARDIS number for, he assures her that it is. Not every tattoo is a counting clock that changes as the minutes of your life tick away. The Doctor and Clara rush to Rigsy’s aid and find a man much changed from the young street artist they once knew. He has a serious girlfriend and, to the Doctor’s delight, a new baby who he can’t stand the thought of not being around for. Whoever is behind the tattoo on his neck also wiped his memory, and he can’t remember anything about the attack. The Doctor, however, assumes such an attack implies the presence of aliens hidden in London, and the three of them set out to discover their plan and save Rigsy. “Don’t bring the new human,” the Doctor says to Rigsy as they turn away from the baby. “It’ll just distract me!” Good ol’ Doctor.

It’s no wonder that Rigsy has such faith in the Doctor’s ability to save him. The Doctor doesn’t fail very often. He has a knack for solving mysteries that’s downright improbable. If he needs a lucky break, he gets it. If he wants to save someone, he often can. Just ask the Viking village he saved from the Mire or the Londoners and Zygons he led from certain Armageddon to truce. And that’s just this season. “You’re going to save me. You’re the Doctor. That’s what you do!” the emphatic Rigsy tells him. We’ve seen the Doctor’s luck before, and it’s so entrenched in Clara that she only laughs when she nearly tumbles out of the TARDIS as it soars over London. The Doctor would be able to save her if she fell.

FACE THE RAVEN (By Sarah Dollard)

Soon the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy find a hidden street secreted away in London, an alien-filled Diagon Alley of sorts. It’s cloaked to prevent normal passersby from even noticing it exists, but it survives as a 19th century-styled refugee camp for weary aliens from war-torn pockets of the galaxy. Some of Doctor’s greatest enemies hide out here among the gas lamps and cobblestones. There’s a Sontaran and a Judoon. An Ood nurses a sick Byberman back to health. But lording over them all is the Mayor of their tiny community – none other than Ashildr. She still prefers to be called “Me” over any other discarded name, but now it’s Mayor Me (I’ll still refer to her as Ashildr for clarity’s sake), and she rules with an iron fist. She placed Rigsy’s tattoo as a punishment for a murder he committed in her town and then sent him home to say goodbye to his loved ones, but when his timer reaches zero he’ll have to face the titular raven.

The raven is the form taken by a Quantum Shade which is “chronolocked” to the tattoos and can track them down anywhere in the universe. You may run and buy yourself a few extra seconds, but the Shade will inevitably catch, enter your body, and end your life. This death cannot be cheated. As Rigsy, Clara, and the Doctor look on, another sentenced man sees his last minutes count down, and the raven pursues him across the street until it finally completes the execution. His crime? He stole medical supplies for his sick wife. His pleas to Ashildr fall on deaf ears. She assures Clara, the Doctor, and Rigsy that such tough rule is the only way to ensure a truce between all of the refugees, often from opposing cultures.

Face the Raven Graphic 2

As the Doctor, Clara, and Rigsy split up to prove Rigsy has been framed, Clara learns an interesting piece of news. Death cannot be cheated, but it can be transferred, and she begs Rigsy to transfer the chronolock tattoo to her since Ashildr swore an oath to not harm Clara while they first arrived. “This is Doctor 101. We’re buying more time,” she tells him, and Rigsy reluctantly allows her to take the chronolock and shoulder his burden.

The three soon find the child of the murdered female alien. Both are a species known as the Janus, with a face on both the front and back of their heads. The face on the back allows the Janus to look into someone’s past, and Anahson the Janus uses the ability to see that Rigsy is not responsible for her mother’s murder. In fact, her mother isn’t dead at all. She’s merely been placed inside a cryo-sleep chamber which the Doctor can unlock with his TARDIS key. That’s how the Doctor is. He wins. He’s lucky. He can ostensibly bring a mother back from the dead with the turn of a key!

But there’s a catch. When he uses his TARDIS key, the machine steals it and a band is placed on the Doctor’s arm. Ashildr reveals that the band is a teleporter that will send the Doctor away to keep him from intervening in the street’s affairs. She created a scenario featuring the two things the Doctor can’t resist: a mystery and saving people. The Doctor saved the Janus mother, but he’ll be transported away and separated from his TARDIS for his troubles. When she goes to remove the chronolock from Rigsy, she’s stunned to see that it’s no longer there. She had made a deal with the Shade for a one-time-only chronolock that could be applied and removed from Rigsy in order to fulfil her plan, but that plan doesn’t apply to Clara. She’s horrified to learn that Clara now has the chronolock. “No one was supposed to get hurt!” she cries.

Face the Raven Graphic 6

It slowly dawns on Clara, The Doctor, and Rigsy that there’s nothing to be done. Infuriated, the Doctor begins to scream and threaten Ashlidr, but Clara pulls him away urging him to not let this angry, vicious man be who she spends her last moments with. There are tears in her eyes as she walks into the street to face the raven, and she assures herself that if Danny Pink could die bravely, then so can she. And then the raven swoops in from above and crashes into her with a squawk, and Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl, collapses to the ground dead.

The Doctor is beside himself with grief as he is transported away by Ashildr’s metal teleport band, trying to hold on to Clara’s last words to him: “Don’t be a warrior. Be the Doctor,” urging him to heal the world, not destroy it in his grief. The screen fades to black, and those three famous words fill the screen: TO BE CONTINUED.

Face the Raven Graphic 5

We all knew that Jenna Coleman was actually planning to leave Doctor Who last year, but Peter Capaldi talked her into staying on for one final run together. Thus, Clara’s departure had been assumed for some time, but this seems especially harsh. Clara’s mistake is that she flew too close to the sun. She got so comfortable with the Doctor that she started acting like him and taking unnecessary risks. Would he have done the same thing for Rigsy? Maybe, but he’s the Doctor. Harsh as it sounds, there’s only one Doctor, and Clara Oswald just never possessed the same magic. That doesn’t mean Clara’s loss is easy to swallow, though. She was the last link to the Matt Smith era, and I always thought she was a lot of fun. She was the steady keel that allowed the audience to find its footing with the Twelfth Doctor, and she was more likely to be in on the action than a damsel in distress. Rest in peace, Clara, and here’s to good things going forward for Jenna Coleman. A final denouement showing Rigsy painting the TARDIS with flowers and pictures of Clara seems just right.

Wibbly-Wobbly Stuff:

-People will claim that Clara is the first companion to die since the 1980s, and while that may be factually accurate it’s not as though the other companions had happy sendoffs. Rose was trapped in an alternate universe away from the man she loved. Donna had her memory erased and has no memory of her time with the Doctor. Amy and Rory were sent into the past by a Weeping Angel. Only Martha really walked away from the TARDIS with her life intact, and she had to marry Mickey Smith, the greatest tragedy of them all!

-Does everyone know that Jenna Coleman’s long-term boyfriend is Richard “Robb Stark” Madden? Their child would be the heir to two great franchises.

-I think we can all safely assume that the Orson Pink timeline is not happening now.

-Surely Missy is involved in this three episode finale arc somehow, right?

-Faye Marsay for companion! She know how to keep Maisie Williams in check.

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