‘Doctor Who’ Review: Jenna Coleman Says Goodbye In Emotional ‘Face the Raven’
Recap and review of Doctor Who – Season 9 Episode 10 – Face the Raven:
We all knew it was coming. But Jenna Coleman’s departure from Doctor Who became a stark reality when, earlier this week, Peter Capaldi confirmed that “Face the Raven”, and not the Season 9 finale or the Christmas special, would be her final episode. And, in many ways, this was a fitting episode to end Coleman’s tenure on Doctor Who. Her run has been characterized by bold actions with extreme consequences. And few actions were bolder than Clara’s here, and few consequences have been as severe.
Part of what made this episode so unexpectedly emotional was its routine framework. It felt like business as usual for The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman), so it was a bit of a surprise when it becomes evident that the show is actually going to kill off Clara. Honestly, I didn’t imagine showrunner Steven Moffat would do it, considering we’re only a year removed from Danny Pink’s sudden and inexplicable death. But death is often sudden and, even in a sci-fi show like this, irrevocable. So the emotional impact of Clara’s death was immediately and potently felt — again, due in large part to its pedestrian trappings. The story centers on Rigsy (Joivan Wade), the young graffiti artist from Season 8’s “Flatline”, who wakes up with a strange, numerical tattoo and an entire day of lost time. The Doctor and Clara offer to help solve the mystery, and the clues inevitably lead to a Diagon Alley-type hidden street known as Trap Street, whose mayor is a familiar, ageless face: Ashildr/Me (Maisie Williams). Trap Street is her ragtag community of various Doctor Who creatures who’ve got nowhere else to go. Rigsy stands accused of killing one of the citizens of Trap Street, hence the animated tattoo, which is actively counting down to the point of Rigsy’s death. Once the timer hits zero, a raven will come and take his life. Of course, Rigsy doesn’t recall killing anyone, and it strains credulity to think that a relatively benign guy like Rigsy would be a murderer. Yet the tattoo is still counting down regardless, which means The Doctor needs to work fast.
Over the years, The Doctor has made a habit of telling his companions to stay put. This is usually for their own safety since, after all, they’re not The Doctor. Sure, they might be capable in their own right, but they aren’t a Time Lord with centuries of accumulated experience and knowledge. Yet Clara has been one of the bolder companions, considering how often she’s taken it upon herself to try and help The Doctor and take charge, as if she were a female embodiment of his methods. But even the most capable companion can’t be as resourceful as The Doctor all the time. So when Clara offers to accept Rigsy’s timer, assuming the burden onto herself and thereby releasing Rigsy from the death clock, it became clear that Clara was out of her depth. However, Clara has put herself at death’s doorstep plenty of times, and The Doctor got her out of it. The expectation is that The Doctor will be able to do it again. Hell, the only reason Rigsy even goes along with giving Clara the timer is because he assumes she has a way out of it. And yet, that isn’t the case at all. In fact, one of the bigger reasons Clara’s eventual death is such a tragedy is that her willingness to do the right thing proves to be her undoing: as it turns out, Rigsy was never in trouble. Had Clara done nothing at all, she’d still be alive.
Long story short, Ashildr branded Rigsy with the countdown tattoo and wiped his memory, knowing he’d call The Doctor for help. It was all a ploy to lure The Doctor to Trap Street and…well, trap him. All so she could steal the key to the TARDIS and finally travel all of time and space, an experience The Doctor had previously denied her. It’s a plan that succeeds, too, as The Doctor winds up with a teleportation bracelet slapped onto his wrist, programmed to teleport him to an unknown location. Clara wasn’t even supposed to get involved. The plan was to release Rigsy from the countdown clock once she had The Doctor trapped. But Clara allowed Rigsy to transfer the clock tattoo to her, which prevented Ashildr from being able to cancel the countdown. In essence, Clara overplays her hand, and in trying to be The Doctor, ensures her own death. And so it is that the raven comes for Clara. The Doctor rages against her demise, telling Ashildr that he’ll raze Trap Street to the ground if she refuses to free Clara immediately. But it’s all over. We know it’s over. Ashildr knows it’s over. The only one who doesn’t know it’s over is The Doctor. Even Clara has accepted that this is the end.
“I did this! This is my fault,” she says. “Maybe this is what I wanted. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is why I kept running. Maybe this is why I kept taking all those stupid risks, kept pushing it.”
Clara demands that The Doctor not disrespect her memory by seeking vengeance on her behalf. And she makes him promise not to become a warrior, to remain The Doctor. It’s Jenna Coleman’s finest hour on the show, right up there with the (imagined) destruction of the TARDIS keys last season following Danny’s death. In Coleman’s eyes, we see Clara’s acceptance and determination, but also her fear and sadness that it has finally come to this. Similarly, Capaldi is right there with her, showing The Doctor’s suffering at having to lose another companion. We can already see him starting to go through yet another change at the inevitability of this loss, at his powerlessness to stop it. The raven comes for Clara, shooting through her like a bullet. And that’s it for Clara Oswald. The Doctor watches her die, and although Clara goes to her death in total acceptance, bravery, and something akin to peace, he isn’t about to let this go. Ashildr can finally say she is, unequivocally, an enemy of The Doctor, as the Time Lord warns that the only reason she’s still breathing is because of the promise he made to Clara. “She was saving you,” The Doctor says. “I’ll do my best, but I strongly advise you to keep out of my way. You’ll find that it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you.” And with that, The Doctor is teleported away to parts unknown, with only the memory of Clara to keep his sanity intact. Although, given that this is The Doctor, it’s just as likely her memory will only serve to torture him further. Either way, Coleman and Capaldi offered a pair of commanding performances, enough to make me wish we could have had another season with these two. It took a while for the Capaldi/Coleman pairing to hit its stride, but once it did, it really felt natural in ways the Matt Smith/Coleman pairing never did. I really liked Capaldi and Coleman together, and I’m going to miss their adventurous, easygoing chemistry, all the more for moments like these, as both actors showed a tremendous capacity for drama.
“Face the Raven” is riveting, and represents Doctor Who at the height of its dramatic, emotional powers. The performances alone are worth making this episode a priority. While it might be hard to watch The Doctor lose Clara, and even harder to see Clara face her own death — particularly since it was her own fatal mistake in judgment that caused it — this was outstanding television, and an episode that is likely to be among the defining moments in the era of the Twelfth Doctor.
What did you think of Doctor Who – Season 9 Episode 10, “Face the Raven”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Doctor Who, read our review and analysis of last week’s terrific “Sleep No More”!