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Doctor Who (Spoilers!) Review: "Face the Raven"

                Well THAT happened!
                In some ways “Face the Raven” is incredibly bold. In other ways it’s pretty formulaic. But in other ways it’s creative. At the same time it meanders. But… Overall it’s good. Not a great episode but enough good stuff in there to make it work. It’s going to be a memorable episode for sure. But before going into spoilers…
                The Doctor and Clara answer a call from Rigsy (the kid who’s the only thing I remember about “Flatline”). A tattoo has appeared on the back of his neck that’s counting down with no idea where it came from. The Doctor after examining it, realizes it’s a life clock counting down to his death. Eventually they are able to pinpoint the location he got it: a hidden alleyway in London leading to a fairly well preserved Victorian community where alien refugees disguised as humans live (coincidental timing or is Doctor Who trying to say something?). They are under the protection of their Mayor who happens to be Ashildr keeping them safe from the Doctor. It turns out Rigsy supposedly murdered one of the inhabitants and the trio work against the clock to prove his innocence or convince the township otherwise before time runs out and the quantum shade (great name by the way!) in the form of a raven kills him.
                I have to say I admire their tenacity for basing their episode’s plot round a character who’s only appeared once. But Rigsy’s likable and reliable and I think he holds his own well. Joivan Wade did a pretty good job, his chemistry with Capaldi working enough that I’d like to have seen him become a companion (though to be honest we’ll never get a sudden new companion again thanks to press releases and the internet). Fellow guest star Simon Paisley Day as Rump was also very good. And of course Maisie Williams is still terrific even though she has less to do than in her previous two appearances. Peter Capaldi is stellar and Jenna Coleman surprisingly gets some moments to shine. But there are some issues with the story and pacing. It takes a little long to actually arrive at our location of the week. As thrilling as seeing Clara dangling out the TARDIS high above the Thames is, we could have gotten there faster. And the mystery aspect isn’t all that interesting. We’ve seen the Doctor race against the clock before and the fact he’s only trying to convince people that Rigsy is innocent rather than prove it, doesn’t give their plight much weight. The woman he supposedly killed, has a face on the back of her head and can see into the past and future which is kind of a cheesy idea. It’s when she shows up that the gears start rolling on the plot with the possibility that Rigsy was framed and whether it was all a ruse to get the Doctor there. But by the final act and the big ending, the mystery is tossed aside and rendered insignificant. Which makes sense, but more of a resolution may have been needed. The writing and choices weren’t great either but that also is most evident in the finale. On the positive note though, the episode is very creative. I like the community Ashildr has created and though she has an absolutist view of justice, you can see her point of view even if the episode places her in the villain role again. Her arc is much too similar to “The Woman Who Lived” as well. I loved the design and names of the Quantum Shades who have an almost Dementor quality when they aren’t disguised as crows. And yeah the performances are solid as is the general idea around the episode. It just could have been configured better.
                But yeah, let’s talk about that ending because there is a lot to talk about there! The whole thing turns out to have been a ruse. Ashildr is working with a higher power who want the Doctor and she’s agreed to deliver him for the protection of her citizens. She plans on taking the tattoo off Rigsy (as she is the only one with power to do so) but earlier in the episode as part of a well-intentioned but not well thought out plan, Clara convinced Rigsy to pass it on to her. If the retriever is willing, the mark is transferable. Unfortunately it’s only transferable once and because having the mark on Clara negates Ashildr’s contract with the Quantum Shades for Rigsy, she no longer has the power to remove it. The Doctor, Clara, Rigsy, and Ashildr all try to find a way to remove it but with her time coming to a fast conclusion, Clara resigns herself to her fate, has a long-winded goodbye to the Doctor and is killed by the shade her arms divinely outstretched. Ashildr apologizes but the Doctor stony as ever, reminds her how dangerous he is. Upon finding out Clara was going to die, the Doctor went to the extent of threatening Ashildr’s life unless she did something, but Clara stopped him. Now the Doctor reminds Ashildr Clara stopped him for her protection not his and now he has a deep grudge against her. Warning her to keep away from him in the future, he is transported up to her allies.
                The departure of Clara we all expected to be in the finale, so to kill her off at this point was a definite surprise and I applaud the writers for that. It often seems like they’re stuck in a formula where all arcs and major character introductions and conclusions have to take place in either the first or last episode of a series. This creates more a sense of fullness but does box them in creatively. So this was a welcome surprise. As to Clara’s death I thought it was carried out fine. It was nice to actually have it happen, after all the times it’s been teased in the past. It may have been a little too heroic being a sacrifice for an innocent she only kind of knew, but it had a degree of believability to it. My main problem surprisingly is her death over all. I’m certainly no Clara fan but I would have preferred she went out a different way. Hell that tease at the end of “Last Christmas” would have been better. The classic series in its entire run had a total of three companion deaths (four if you count Romana who simply regenerated). Out of thirty-two. Since Moffat’s took the reins he’s equalled that and I don’t think it’s necessary. The reasons he feels he has to kill off companions is connected to his problems writing and characterizing them, but I won’t get into those issues now. Suffice it to say Clara didn’t have higher aims apart from travelling with the Doctor or even much of a life without him so she had to die, and I’m not comfortable with that. They also dwelt on it too long which I kind of get, but it took up a good chunk of that final act and it started to feel repetitive. At least it gave the situation a legitimate sense of finality. But even with all the finality around it, I get the unfortunate feeling she’s going to resurface by series’ end. Moffat’s not one of those showrunners comfortable with ending a thread before a big finale. And if the reappearance of River this Christmas (which I’m trying not to think about) is any indication, he could still back-peddle on us. The most surprising thing he could do would be to leave Clara right here and move on, a decent ending to an almost half-decent character, but I have my doubts he will.
                Regarding the rest of the spoilers, they leave on a cliff-hanger of the Doctor being taken to these mysterious alien captors which is interesting. We also get the return of the confession dial and I wonder what part that’s going to play, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t connect back to the premiere. Capaldi’s performance outshines Coleman’s in her character’s demise (though admittedly she’s fairly good during it as well), but I particularly liked his exchange with Ashildr afterwards. His threat was full of great passion and while I object to him getting this worked up over Clara (he didn’t react this way to Adric? Then again, who would…?) it was once again showing his dark side. There’s a powerful rage inside the Doctor that we’ve glimpsed before through the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth incarnations, but this was a completely new kind. You believed he wanted to act on his threats and that’s a frightening fact. And you feel the impact of his parting words to Ashildr once again realizing what he’s capable of. This Doctor is very detached very alien, but very fascinating. I’d have reservations travelling with him (I’d probably still do it), but I yearn to know where he’s going.

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