Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.10: Face The Raven

This is from Clara's last scene. Remember when we used to
have to refer to all the different Claras? Thank god that's over.
This episode had the hallmarks of everything important. Two important recurring guest stars, the last single-parter of the season, and the promise/leak from Capaldi himself that this would be Clara's final episode. Clara, if it had escaped your notice (it had certainly escaped mine), is currently NuWho's longest-running main companion, having been in the hotseat since Christmas 2012 in one form or another. This episode, then, required a little bit of gravitas, and who better to deliver that than new writer for the series, Sarah Dollard writer of Being Human's penultimate episode. Despite that, though, a combination of okayish writing and having seen this moment too many times before meant that this episode felt a little single-minded. Spoilers follow.
     Rigsy, The Doctor and Clara's friend from Flatline, gives the TARDIS a call because of a day's memory loss and a mysterious tattoo which seems to be counting down to some unknown event. Following what he does remember, the trio trace back to a mysterious hidden street in London in which aliens live en masse, free from harm. The street is led by Mayor Me, otherwise known as Ashildr from a few weeks ago, who reveals that she gave Rigsy the tattoo after he was found over the body of a dead woman on said street, and that once it runs to zero he will die. His alleged victim is a Janus, a member of a race of two-faced psychics who had escaped from persecution and slavery from her daughter. Another convicted member of the street dies, but not before revealing that the "chronolock" tattoo can be transferred. The tattoo kills through the use of a Quantum Shade, which follows its victims through time and space. Clara ends up offering to take the tattoo from Rigsy to save his life, but doesn't know that once it's been transfered, it can't be removed. The whole mystery turns out to be a ploy by Me to send The Doctor off to some unknown location. Clara goes to face the shade and dies.
     Companion exits rely on a number of well-tuned things to make them work. They should feel satisfying, or if not satisfying utterly heartbreaking. This is kinda neither; Clara gets to go out on a sacrifice, one she made not just as a genuinely brave attempt at saving someone else, but in a clever "ploy" to cheat Death itself. It did ring back into last season's examination of Clara attempting to copy a lot of the Doctor's techniques, and it felt nice to see that come back and kick her in the arse at the end. At the same time, the fact it was the unintended consequence of some random, poorly explained scheme on the part of Me made it feel a little pointless. I was glad that the episode didn't take the ridiculously grandiose route taken by The Angels Take Manhattan, and it was a nice refutation of Series 7's "Clara is the most important everything lol" approach to the character for her to leave in such a random way, but it could have done with some tweaking. I was getting worked up at Clara's teary steps out into the street to face her death, but then started giggling at her silent, action-replayed screams and the following dodgy CGI burp.
Maisie Williams' Me is only really here as a plot device.
      The inclusion of both Rigsy and Me is underwhelming - I understand why they're both here, but they're not used particularly well. Rigsy is obviously here because with Danny gone, we had to find someone Clara was willing to sacrifice herself for that wasn't The Doctor himself, and despite not knowing him that much it was nice to see his character developed a little from vagrant criminal. Maisie Williams was distinctly unimpressive in this particular appearance, often appearing to be reading her lines with very little feeling or sincerity, and given the decent stuff she worked with in The Woman Who Lived that came as something of a surprise. Unlike Utopia's similar rush-to-finale ending, having Clara leave here, itself robbed of tension by the three or four times she "left" last season, kind of made you forget about the fact that she had double-crossed him and sent him to environs unknown.
      It's hard to judge this episode without remembering last season and how Clara's exit from the show has been dragged out far longer than it really should have been. Clara's death in Last Christmas was actually amazingly poignant, and had that not had a "oh it's okay she's fine" tacked onto the end of it, it would have served as a beautiful and appropriate sendoff for the character. This episode is by no means bad, but the final result it not something which moves you or makes you question anything (besides a few seconds here or there of light commentary on refugees), but which unfortunately feels a little like a story utility. Get the right people into the right place at the right time, and make sure that The Doctor is pissed off for the finale. And despite what I've said about Clara many times here on this blog, I love Jenna Coleman to bits, and I had hoped that she would have received a better farewell.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The Doctor is stuck somewhere weird and wonderful in Heaven Sent.

P.S: I hadn't realised quite how much I'm going to miss having Jenna Coleman on the show. And how much I'm dreading having to see River Song at Christmas.

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