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Doctor Who – Face the Raven, TV review: Fans left reeling by shock ending to Gothic emotional rollercoaster

In a very interesting season already, Doctor Who just got even more interesting

Jon Cooper
Saturday 21 November 2015 23:00 GMT
Have we witnessed the death of Clara Oswald?
Have we witnessed the death of Clara Oswald? (BBC)

Nobody could accuse Doctor Who of not being brave this year – we’ve had philosophical discussions with Davros, political topicality and a found-footage episode unlike any the show has done. And now we’ve seen something braver still – the apparent death of companion Clara Oswald.

The question is, is it a fake out? Doctor Who under Steven Moffat has (perhaps not unfairly) been accused of killing off characters for dramatic effect only to swiftly resurrect them for when the script demands a fuzzy feeling deep inside. But after Face the Raven, you get the feeling that this isn’t one of those moments. ‘Facing the Raven’ is as blunt a metaphor as a writer can feasibly come up with when tasked with killing off a much-loved companion, and that’s not to say its bluntness diluted any emotional impact. It’s just that we never saw it coming like this, or worse (in the Doctor Who world anyway) we haven’t yet seen its impact on the eponymous Time Lord.

And the impact of Face the Raven isn’t necessarily due to Clara’s death. We’ve had a lot of different styles of stories this, year, and the show has been all the better for it. We’ve delved deep into the relationships the Doctor has with enemies, investigated underwater ghost stories and foiled schemes with immortal highwaymen. Last week Mark Gatiss blended various horror tropes into a clever but not wholly successful episode, and while writer Sarah Dollard’s influences are clearly on show (it’s half JK Rowling and half China Miéville) this feels like an episode of television you could only ever see on Doctor Who. A heady mixture of science fiction, Gothic whodunnit and emotional rollercoaster, it doesn’t just leave you breathless – it leaves you wanting more.

It’s interesting that the episode kicks off with the Doctor and Clara ambling back into the TARDIS having just escaped the (unseen) clutches of some sort of amorous plant that fancied the Doctor for a husband. All’s jolly and we’re off to the next consequence-free adventure, only to be waylaid by a phone call from Rigsy, who appeared in last year’s stunningly good Flatline. He’s woken up with a dodgy tattoo (haven’t we all?) only this one takes him, the Doctor and Clara to the heart of an alien hideaway in the lost alleyways of London – and it’s a trap street in more ways than one.

The minor twist was the reappearance of Maisie Williams as Me, née Ashildr – the girl the Doctor fatefully brought back to life after she’d foiled a fake Odin, only to return the following week after she’d chanced her arm with a fake Thundercat. Now she’s back and in charge of an underground alien refugee camp, only she’s in league with mysterious benefactors who only want the Doctor. In the same way the Zygon two-parter harked back to a potentially loose thread from the Matt Smith era, Face the Raven once again proves that the drama of Doctor Who works better when it’s an ongoing story, as opposed to tying things up neatly after 45 minutes.

Mayor Me’s appearance is a direct consequence of the Doctor’s meddling in the past, and so Clara’s death can logically (though not wholly) be attributed to him. Clara’s increasing recklessness had a big hand in her comeuppance – she dies because she assumes too much, that she knows much more than everyone else and, come what may, the Doctor will always be there to rescue her. Even so, those fans that complain that she’s recently overshadowed the Time Lord as the main character will be vindicated. Clara was too clever too half and she suffered for it, but even the most ardent Clara critic would be pretty stony-hearted to not indulge in a sniffle when she’s finally facing the big, black raven. Sarah Dollard’s grasp of character and tone is pitch-perfect, and I’m sure I won’t be only one hoping to see her again on the writer’s roster for years to come – not to mention missing Jenna Coleman after a nuanced and genuinely heartfelt performance.

We’re left with a beautiful tease for the last two weeks of this year’s Who. Pretty much since the series started in 1963, once a companion leaves it’s pretty much only the next episode before their replacement is introduced, whether that’s Elisabeth Sladen or Kylie Minogue. Next week we get to see the Doctor on his own, and apparently in a very literal sense – the cast list features Peter Capaldi alone. We’ve never seen the true outcome of the Doctor’s feelings when he’s lost a companion because it’s never really dwelled on, but now’s our chance. In a very interesting season already, Doctor Who just got even more interesting.

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