So Saturday was the long awaited premier of the new Doctor Who episode, Face the Raven, an episode that reportedly would see the exit of companion Clara Oswald and not in a good way. So what happened? How did it go down? Will you need to put your therapist on overtime?
We'll find out after the spoiler caution.
And we get underway in 5...
We have another episode open with the Doctor and Clara at the tail end of another adventure that sounds like it was ever so much fun. The TARDIS phone rings and it's Rigsy; we met him last year in Flatline. Rigsy has a tattoo on the back of his neck. And its counting down. Rigsy has no idea how it got there but assumes that whatever its counting down towards isn't going to very nice. The Doctor and Clara pick up Rigsy (who since last year has a wife and daughter now) to get to the bottom of this mystery.
The Doctor determines that Rigsy's been near some alien stuff which is likely the source of the memory loss and the tattoo. The Doctor has heard told of a community of aliens in London, hiding in plain sight. Clara's dangling over the edge of the TARDIS doorway and laughing way too much at her dangerous predicament, scanning the city below with the Doctor's sonic sunglasses, looking for things that Clara cannot see. Finding some distortion hot spots from the scan, the TARDIS lands and our crew begins searching for the place you cannot see. With a little luck, the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy find Diagon Alley. OK, it's Doctor Who alien equivalent.
The residents here are all aliens in human disguise and they are not happy to see the return of Rigsy, the murderer.
Wait! The who what now? Thankfully an old...acquaintance pops up to tell everybody what's up, the Mayor. Specifically, Mayor Me.
Yep, Ashildr is back and she maintain peace and order with a dark force known as a Quantum Shade that manifests itself as a raven and brings death to those marked for it by a Chronolock, the tattoo on the back of the neck. We see an example of it in action and it isn't pretty. Rigsy was condemned to die for the murder of an alien on some very flimsy circumstantial evidence. It's clear that Rigsy is a scapegoat, being led to the slaughter to preserve peace.
While the Doctor is gathering information to save Rigsy's life, Clara makes a proposal to Rigsy to have him pass the Chronolock to her. It was established earlier this is a thing that can be done. Rigsy says no but Clara points out that Rigsy has a wife and child and besides, Ashildr had promised the Doctor no harm would come to Clara. It's a win-win situation. Reluctantly Rigsy agrees.
But things are not what they seem. The murdered alien is decidedly not murdered, but held in suspended animation. The Doctor can save her but only by unlocking a certain device, the key for which is his TARDIS key. Yes, it's a trap. As the Doctor frees the alien woman, the device slaps a cuff around the Doctor's arm.
Ashildr enters and explains that powers above her who help keep the community safe and protected have asked for the Doctor in return. The cuff around the Doctor's arm is a teleport. Condemning Rigsy to die was merely the mystery to entice the Doctor into coming to this street. She has no intention of Rigsy dying and, as was revealed earlier, Ashildr can stop the countdown from taking Rigsy's life.
Except Rigsy doesn't have the Chronolock. Clara does.
Ashildr can't help her. When Clara took the mark from Rigsy, she invalidated Ashildr's contract with the Quantum Shade. Ashildr can only stop the clock for the person she has condemned.
Rigsy can't help her. He can't take the mark back.
The Doctor can't help her. He tries by threatening to unleash Time Lord hell on Ashildr and her community.
But Clara will have nothing of that. She made her choice and now there's a consequence the Doctor cannot save her from. She has to accept that. But Clara makes it clear to the Doctor: even when she dies, the Doctor is not to take revenge. He is not to be a warrior. He needs to be a Doctor.
So Clara Oswald walks out into the street to face the raven.
And she dies.
And the Doctor is teleported who knows where.
To be continued.
Even as you know its coming, even as you figure that Steven Moffat has a long range twist to undo all of this, watching Clara die is still one of the hardest things to watch that I've ever seen on Doctor Who.
But we've been coming to this moment for awhile now, haven't we? Clara's increased risk taking and the Doctor's concerns over that have been at the forefront of this season so far. Clara either saves herself or the Doctor figures out how to save her. Time, ingenuity, luck: one or all would run out.
In Face the Raven, Clara faces a fate that cannot be out-run or out-talked. It's a fate that she brings on herself when she takes on Rigsy's death sentence. She sees the maneuver as Doctor Strategy 101: using the enemy's assets against them.
Clara once more is playing the role of the Doctor, invoking his boldness and cleverness. But the Doctor is a 2,000 year old Time Lord and she is not. Clara's role of being like the Doctor even carries to the moment of her death. As the raven strikes her, Clara spreads her arms out as she tilts her head back, her mouth open wide in a scream. We've seen that pose before when the 9th Doctor became the 10th and the 10th changed to the 11th. It is a basic regenerating Time Lord pose. But there is no golden energy cascading out of her. No, only the dark cloud of death escapes her lips, an after effect of the raven's curse. Clara Oswald falls rumpled to the ground.
Jenna Coleman acts the hell out of these scenes, showing just how much she will be missed from this show. And once more Peter Capaldi brings his A-game, especially with his angry threats against Ashildr and his heartbreaking anguish of watching Clara go off to die.
A few more points to cover.
- I think I'm done with Ashildr. Like Clara, she's trying be like the Doctor, playing a long game of strategy to help keep the alien community alive and living in peace. But once more, we see Ahild brought low by forces beyond her comprehension. As she points out again this episode, she has an infinite lifespan but a finite mind. It's an interesting conceit but one that I've gotten a bit tired of. Maisie Williams is an amazing actress but I think Ashildr's story should end when Series 9 reaches its conclusion.
- Talking to Rigsy, Clara reveals that "Jane Austen was a great kisser". Make of that what you will.
- The Confession Dial from episodes 1 and 2 makes an appearance. (Kind of important to whoever Ashildr is working for.)
- Torchwood gets a shout out with reference to the drug RetCon. It was a drug used by Torchwood to preserve the secrecy of their organization.
- After complaints from certain quarters about the lack of female writers on the show, this is season has produced two strong scripts from two women new to Doctor Who. Sarah Dollard provides a very powerful story and hopefully will take another shot at writing for Doctor Who in the future.
Next week will be an interesting experience. The Doctor will be well and truly alone as Peter Capaldi literally flies solo. (I think the voice of another character may be heard but it's just Capaldi on screen.) Given the intensity that Capaldi has brought to the screen this season as the Doctor, particularly in The Zygon Inversion and Face the Raven, Peter is definitely playing the Doctor at an even higher level that last year. If anyone can carry an episode sans any guest star, it would be Peter Capaldi.
But after that? I assume that by Episode 12, the forces that have exiled the Doctor will be revealed and the Doctor will move heaven and Earth to stop them, particularly if...
Clara Oswald isn't really dead!
OK, I don't know nothin' other than my instincts honed from years of following comic books and science fiction. And they tell me this story isn't over for Clara yet. But where will this go from here? I have to admit that Clara's death in Face the Raven feels different, like there was a real sense of finality to it. But consider that Steven Moffat didn't write the episode, Sarah Dollard did. Would Steven forego writing the end of his creation to another writer? Something is at work here.
Maybe the Quantum Shade is not as fatal as we believe.
- Perhaps the victim is only in a death like state.
- Perhaps the victim is swapped out with a lifeless copy of their body.
- Or perhaps the body is dead but the person's consciousness is transported elsewhere.
Maybe the Quantum Shade is as deadly as we think but Clara's unique nature as a time traveller comes into play.
Or one of the echoes of her that were created back in The Name of the Doctor come into play.
On that last point, I will dare say that if nothing else happens, the Doctor will see one of those somewhere in episode 12, just to twist the knife just one more time in his two breaking hearts.
Whatever happens next, we're in uncertain territory and Moffat better have ready one hell of a twist.
Another new blog post coming up tomorrow. Hopefully, the next Doctor Who review/recap of next Saturday's new episode will appear on this blog next Sunday.
Until then, remember to be good to one another.