Face the Raven, a fond farewell for Clara, a return for Maisie Williams and Joivan Wade, and a whole street filled with aliens. This antepenultimate episode promised an awful lot and was built on some interesting premises, but did it follow through on them?
I want to approach this from two angles – firstly as an episode on its own, and secondly as part of the larger story arcs.
As an episode, it largely succeeded in being intriguing, entertaining, and a bit creepy all at once. I was delighted to see Joivan Wade’s character Rigsy being given a little more depth and would like to have seen more of his real life. We see him established as a father, as an artist, and as a very practical person. He knows that when trouble hits, the first thing he has to do is contact the Doctor, but he remains committed to protecting his daughter.
The mysterious counting-down tattoo and the strange memory loss were enough to entice the Doctor and Clara into investigating further. But when the Doctor discovers that Rigsy is about to die, he seems disheartened. It is then that Rigsy gives an impassioned plea that gets through to him and pushes him to help, reminding the Doctor that it’s what he does.
“You’re a Doctor, it’s what you do!”
The Trap Street (also the original name for this episode) was also a nice idea and I wish we had gone into it a little more. Memory and perception have been recurring themes throughout Moffat’s tenure, so perhaps hammering on it too much would have felt a bit like repetition of things already addressed. That being said, I felt intrigued enough that I wouldn’t object to seeing more Trap Streets in the future. It seems like an idea ripe for further adventures – what on earth is down the other Trap Streets, if there are others?
The search for the Trap Streets was a lot of fun, too, especially the Doctor’s best line of the episode;
“Clara, go back to the TARDIS and pick up all of my most annoying stuff.”
Although there is a question of why the Doctor automatically assumed they were looking for a Trap Street to begin with. It seemed quite a leap of logic and I wonder if there was a bit of exposition that went missing during editing. The street itself had something of a Knockturn Alley (from Harry Potter) look and feel; the slightly sinister inhabitants reminded me of some of the Death Eaters and the gas lamps certainly added to that aesthetic. It was wonderfully designed and felt quite real; you could really get the sense that it had existed for quite some time, which could be explained by the fact that Ashildr/Mayor Me was the one who founded it many years ago when she went missing from the Doctor’s sight.
I continue to be intrigued by Ashildr. Having an infinite lifespan but a finite memory can and has caused her severe shifts in personality. I remember wondering if the same was true of Captain Jack Harkness and whether this would explain why he is so different when he became the Face of Boe. Maisie Williams delivers another solid performance, but I kept feeling like her character wasn’t really being allowed to fully shine. She has had two previous episodes in which to fully establish herself, so this isn’t too much of an issue, but I do feel like there’s a lot to be done with her character and she was left to the sidelines more than I would have liked. Perhaps if this had also been a two-part episode we would have been able to delve into how she has changed a bit more. As it stands, it’s fine.
The whole plot shifts and turns on the problem of the tattoo. It is revealed that the tattoo is a chronolock that leads a quantum shade that manifests as a raven; it then tracks them through all of space and time and kills them. Rigsy is accused of murdering a Janus woman (no more Janus thorns, Lela!) and in order to keep the tenuous peace on the street, Mayor Me says she is forced to see the execution through.
When Clara takes the chronolock from Rigsy in what at first appears to be a clever ruse to trap him, turns slowly into her own demise. (Though I did find myself saying ‘put her in the stasis pod thing!’ repeatedly at the screen).
And this is where I started to have a lot of mixed feelings about the ending of this episode. On the one hand, there has been plenty of build up to this kind of downfall for Clara – that she has become more reckless, more of a risk-taker than she had been when we first met her. The Clara the Eleventh Doctor met in The Bells of St John was one who played it safe, one who gave up on her plans to travel the world instead being a nanny to Angie and Artie Maitland. Over the course of her adventures she has tried to emulate the Doctor, especially the Twelfth Doctor as he was in his first series.
However, at the same time, the Doctor has been changing thanks to his interactions with Clara. He has become less reckless, more thoughtful, more caring and emotional. He has taken up his mantle as someone who helps people and does the right thing because it is right. It has felt for most of this series as if the Doctor and Clara were moving past each other, heading to opposite extremes.
I had been expecting something much more from Clara’s demise. I had been expecting a confrontation between her and the Doctor, and the more worried the Doctor had seemed about her this year, the more this seemed like the most interesting outcome. I would have loved to have seen their argument from the end of Kill the Moon reversed, with Clara having committed some gross act of negligence for ‘the greater good’, while the Doctor was to act as the one who cares about the ethical consequences.
Another point I’d like to make again is that Clara has been noticeably absent this year. There’s even an episode where she literally had to remind the audience that she was still there. This has had the effect of making her demise somewhat underwhelming.
Look at someone like Donna, who was only with us for one season, but the writers made her likable, made her relatable, and Catherine Tate made her a joy to watch. Poor Jenna Coleman had very little to work with, I fear.
The ending as presented here is a little more sudden, perhaps more intimate than a dramatic showdown would have been, and perhaps it is better that the two part ways as friends rather than as enemies or feeling disappointed in one another. It felt rather sudden and pointless, which may well add to the tragedy of the scenario. She didn’t need to take the chronolock from Rigsy, she didn’t need to put herself in danger, but she did so anyway just on the off chance it would give them an advantage. This is very much what had been built up, but I can’t help feeling as if it fell a little flat.
I’ve praised Peter Capaldi’s performances this year, and he gave some very good reads this week. But in his farewells to Clara he seemed a little too stoic. He was on the edge of tears, his voice shook, and he moved stiffly. He gave a very subtle performance that, when you watch it closely, is very powerful. I worry, however, that the casual viewer can easily miss it. We’ve not seen this Doctor have a proper emotional breakdown (except his small outburst in Death in Heaven at not finding Gallifrey), and it feels like this would have been the perfect time to show some of that vulnerability.
I’m ready to believe that we are not quite at the end. We still have two episodes to go and I am very much intrigued as to where they may be going. There was a musical queue that gave a very big hint when Ashildr spoke of the people who had asked her to capture the Doctor. Familiar music for those of us who have been watching since 2005. Murray Gold is very good at subtle hints through music.
Next week, the Doctor is “Heaven Sent”!