OpinionReviewsTelevision & Film

DOCTOR WHO: Exit Miss Oswald

BANNER_WhoKnows2014

Season 9, Episode 10 “Face the Raven”

Clara Oswald faces the Raven, and it’s SPOILERS from here all down, people.

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Clara Oswald is dead.

Not a trick, not a ruse, not a cliffhanger-to-be-reversed-with-the-next-episode.

Clara played the Doctor a little too well, made a decision that was true to her character, and died as a result of that decision. This is both good — in the “if you have to die, die saving someone else” kind of way — and bad — in the “don’t stare at the details too much” kind of way — but on balance… it’s a pretty decent way for the Story of the Impossible Girl to end.

Picture shows: Letitia Wright as Anahson, Joivan Wade as Rigsy and Jenna Coleman as Clara

Let’s look at the Bad first, shall we?

So Clara takes the Chronolock (should have called it the Raven’s Mark… missed opportunity, people!) off of Rigsy, which breaks the contract with the Quantum Shade, and Me and the Doctor ignore the stasis chamber in the room, the teleporter in the room, and just act as if there really is nothing they can do. There may not be, and in the context of the story, that’s what is the case. The problem there is that we don’t have any information leading up to that moment where we know anything about the Chronolock aside from the warning that death cannot be outrun, and without that, the revelation of the still-vague rules of the deal between Me and the Quantum Shade come pretty much out of nowhere.

On the other hand, there isn’t an actual reason for Me to tell Clara those rules, is there? Or for the Doctor — who clearly, based on his reaction knows that those rules are, at least, not out of the ordinary — to tell Clara “Hey, don’t take the Chronolock onto yourself, OK?” What does bother me there is that no one asked the question, “what are the rules here?”, because 30 seconds of exchange between the Doctor and Me about the nature of the deal would have made the decision Clara makes not only compassionate and brave — which it is — but also give the viewers a level of fear for her that we just don’t have.

And that is, oddly enough, because of the Good.

Because Clara makes the decision to save Rigsy that way because she believes the Doctor will find a way to save her, and we do, too. Even knowing that this is Clara’s final episode, even with all the clues the season has given us that Clara was likely to die, the idea that the Doctor would be helpless to save her, that he would have to watch her die… who saw that coming, really?

You can see what they were going for here, with the reveal that Clara made the mistake of not asking “what if?” and the Doctor not thinking that he had to say “what if?”, and if it doesn’t quite leave one satisfied, it’s not because the characters aren’t true to themselves.

Picture shows: Letitia Wright as Anahson and Joivan Wade as Rigsy

Because this is true to Clara as she travels with the 12th Doctor. She’s brave and cocky and sure and convinced of saving the day, because the man she travels beside does that, and the life she has chosen is by his side and he will always win…

Except when he doesn’t.

It’s that last word that she ignores, because she knows that people die on the way to those wins, and she’s even called him out on it, in episodes like “Mummy on the Orient Express”. Sure, she was still coming to terms with the new nature of this Incarnation, but still, she’s aware of the body count that follows the Doctor. She’s had that terrible calculus he makes thrown in her face when she applies it herself to the events of “Before the Flood”. She just can’t see that it would be her, and that is the logical culmination of the increased recklessness and thrill-seeking that we’ve seen grow in her over a season and a half.

And she is compassionate and brave in saving Rigsy, who we see has moved to London and has a life with a wife and child. She makes a calculated risk and it almost works, and she goes to her death standing tall, not running but facing the Raven. It’s a decision that Clara Oswald, in pretty much every stage of her time with the Doctor, would always have made, and that it fails is… well. Sometimes the choices we make, no matter how compassionate, don’t work out like we planned.

Picture shows: Peter Capaldi as the Doctor

And that leads to one of the two best moments in “Face the Raven”, where Clara extracts the promise from the Doctor that he will not become the Warrior again, because she knows him and that’s exactly what he’ll want to do. She accepts what is about to happen to her and accepts that she made the decisions that led her there, and she demands that he does, too, and if she hadn’t… well. This Doctor likely would burn the Trap Street to the ground in revenge, and then hated himself more than he already does for doing it. Because the Doctor does hate himself for all the lives he couldn’t save, for the deaths he is responsible for, for turning his Companions into weapons against Evil… and for being so lonely that he lets someone like Clara become so close to him, so needed by him, that he lets her become too much like him.

For that reason alone — his own self-hatred — Clara saves him, one last time.

Goodbye, Clara Oswald. I’ll miss you.

The second best moment? This one:

Because promise or not, Gallifreyan and Time Lord though he be, the Doctor is only a man, and his anger against all that is wrong is a fire that never burns out. Lady Mayor Me would be consumed in an instant.

And good God. The rage that is behind those words.

As for the rest of the episode, welcome to Sarah Dollard, one of the few women writers for Doctor Who! Not that Moffat hasn’t tried to get more women writers in, by all accounts, but still, this is a tough one for any writer to tackle, and it’s Dollard’s first Who script, so welcome, and I look forward to seeing more from this talented lady.

Also welcome back to both Maisie Williams’ Lady Me and Jovian Wade’s Rigsy. I actually quite liked the fact that in all three encounters the Doctor has had with Ashildr/Me, she has been a different version of the person that he and Clara met all those centuries before. That makes the character unpredictable, and that’s always welcome. That she kept her word and has spent the years “cleaning up” after the Doctor is reminiscent of the Virgin Doctor Who novel Return of the Living Dad without being derivative, and it’s good to see that some thought has gone into the idea of dealing with the refugees of the many invasions of Earth over the run of the show.

Picture shows: Maisie Williams as Ashildr

It’s also worth noting here that without his making an immortal out of Ashildr, the Doctor would not be facing Mayor Me and her terrible decision to betray him for the safety of the Street. The Moffat years have often made it clear that the actions of the Doctor have consequences, but here they are stark (no pun intended). Had he let Ashildr die, she would never have been here and Clara would not have died this way. Of course, that lays all the blame on the Doctor, which is something that many reviewers seem to be doing when they look at this episode. The problem with that is that it removes all agency from Mayor Me, and makes it all about the Doctor’s choices without accepting that Me is a person who can, will, and does make her own decisions. The Doctor didn’t make her set up the Street, or bring the alien refugees together. The Doctor didn’t make her make a deal with the Quantum Shade or with whomever is behind the threat to the Street and its inhabitants that led her to betray the Doctor.

The Doctor didn’t make her not ask the Doctor for help. That’s all on Mayor Me.

Plenty of blame, as it happens, to go around.

Blameless in all of this is Rigsy, and again, welcome back Mr. Wade. Some time has obviously passed for Rigsy and his life is seemingly a good one, and that’s very cool to see. Rigsy acts with honor and compassion himself throughout the story, and that post-credits scene where he has painted the TARDIS with a tribute to Clara is almost heartbreaking. I’ve enjoyed both of Wade’s appearances, and hope he comes back, although I suspect that the Doctor would like to avoid him for a while.

As always, it’s the performances of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman that make these stories work, and as they have so much this season, they both are just wonderful here. Again, the interactions between the two are perfect in the quiet character moments in a way that all the running and saving of the Universe can’t touch. However one may feel about Clara as a Companion, her arc or Jenna herself, the chemistry between the two actors is electric, and it’s made — to this reviewer’s eyes anyway — one of the best Doctor/Companion pairings of the New Series.

Thank you Miss Coleman. It’s been a pleasure. I will honestly miss you.

And next week the Doctor will face the entity(s) behind the threat to the Street, and there his promise to Clara will be bent if not broken. Because not only did they kick off the events that led to Clara making that particular choice, but they wanted the Doctor himself, and his anger and self-hatred and burning desire to fight the evils of the Universe will have a target that he may not be able to resist.

And not becoming the Warrior doesn’t mean the Doctor hasn’t made his anger into a weapon before…

I’ll leave you with this from Peter and Steven. See you next week.

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Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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