Sunday, 22 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who - Face The Raven

The Doctor. Clara. Rigsy. Ashildr. Someone has to 'Face The Raven' in this week's finale come early...

'Let me be brave... Let me be brave...'

We knew this was coming. As I (non)exclusively revealed the other month, this would be Jenna Coleman's third and final series as Clara. In that time, she has acquired an unusually high number of leaving scenes so it was uncertain whether when the time came proper we would have any tears left to shed. Despite some stiff competition (I had really liked the 'old Clara' scene from 'Last Christmas' previously), 'Face The Raven' provides as emotionally affecting an exit as the character deserves.

But before we say goodbye to Jenna, let's welcome newcomer Sarah Dollard to the show, a writer who - based on the evidence of this episode - completely gets Doctor Who. The amazing ideas never let up in a fantastic opening fifteen minutes. Hidden, magical streets. Tattoos that count down to your death. Survivors of the Doctor's battles taking refuge on Earth - allowing fan-baiting glimpses of our favourite monsters. The central conceit feels fresh for Who though there are (quantum) shades of Harry Potter and Neverwhere - or should that be 'Nevermore'? The raven should have been an anaemic villain but actually made for a evocative, intangible threat.
In fact, alongside the writing, everyone's performance was top notch here too. Joivan Wade's Rigsy was a refreshing new presence in the Doctor and Clara's mad world while Maisie Williams continues to nail a character who might be hundreds of years old but is still as petulant as a teenager. And Capaldi and Coleman... Well, when it reached that fateful climax the pair completely own your attention and the end of such a long-lasting friendship (for us and the Doctor - who has known Clara for about 1000 years of his life) really hits you. Is this Clara's final end? There's two episodes left, but it certainly feels like it.

Like the best Doctor deaths (think Ten dying to save Wilf or Five sacrificing himself for Peri), the small scale of Clara's demise makes it all the more tragic as does the fact that it was so needless - just a silly act of hubris. I also love how it will be a topic of discussion for fans over whose fault it is. Is it Clara's for being too reckless? Is it the Doctor's for making Clara believe he will always save the day? Or Ashildr's for trapping the Doctor in this situation in the first place? Or, if you're feeling particularly harsh, Rigsy's for giving in to Clara's risky plan?

With the initial premise, the reunion with Ashildr and Clara's farewell, 'Face the Raven' feels like three episodes blended into one - but, crucially, all three parts are imaginative, engaging and moving. Making it a sneaky first installment in a three-part finale is a great move in a series where we've become blase about two-parters. Some of the ongoing plot strands were addressed here - Ashildr's mission against the Doctor, Clara's recklessness - now there's just the small matter of what's on the Doctor's confession dial and, oh yes, that pesky fabled hybrid. All I know is, I'm the most excited for a Doctor Who finale I have been in years.

'The Doctor is no longer here...' Our hero is broken by the events of 'Face The Raven'

Oh, and just before we go. Rigsy painting Clara's portrait surrounded by flowers on the side of the TARDIS was very touching, and struck me as her equivalent of Adric's smashed-up badge being the background for the credits of 'Earthshock.' 

Next week: No TARDIS, no Clara, no hope. The Doctor is all alone as he faces the greatest challenge of his many lives. 'Heaven Sent'. 8.05PM. BBC One. Next Saturday.

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