“Face the Raven” leaves us mourning the loss of another Doctor Who companion with the death of Clara Oswald. Though it had been announced that Jenna Coleman would be leaving Doctor Who in Season 9, closing out Clara Osgood’s chapter through death makes her departure stand out. “Face the Raven” is a strong episode not only because of the loss of companion Clara, but also because it’s grounded with the return of Rigsy and heightened with the appearance of Ashildr. It’s also fantastic because the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) changes into a maroon velvet jacket after the youth apparel he’s been wearing lately is destroyed during an adventure with Clara.
Rigsy (Joivan Wade) calls Clara and the Doctor for help in “Face the Raven.” We last saw Rigsy in the Season 8 episode “Flatline” when the Doctor and Clara battled the two-dimensional Boneless. It was fun to watch Rigsy play the role of companion to Clara in his first Doctor Who appearance, in which the Doctor gave him the nickname “Local Knowledge.” We’d always thought Rigsy would make for a good regular Doctor Who companion, but now that he has a “brilliant” new human to take care of, such a scenario seems less likely. Nonetheless, Rigsy is quietly brave and determined throughout “Face the Raven.”
Ashildr (Masie Williams) makes her third appearance in the series, as the Doctor continues to face the consequences of his decision to give her immortality. The Doctor gave Ashildr immortality, and then he left her to fend for herself for centuries as she learned to bear his gift. The relationship between Ashildr and the Doctor is complex, since he is ultimately responsible for creating her. They aren’t enemies, but they aren’t exactly friends either. Perhaps Ashildr is rebelling against her father figure in an attempt to get his attention. Despite the failings of memory, she certainly remembers the Doctor.
When we saw Ashildr last, in “The Woman Who Lived,” she had ominously told the Doctor she would become the patron saint of those he leaves behind, warning him, “While you’re busy protecting this world, I’ll get busy protecting it from you.” Her version of Diagon Alley takes in intergalactic asylum seekers including Cyberman, Ood, Judoon, Sontaran, Silurian, and Ice Warrior refugees. Are these creatures in exile because of events related to the Doctor, or have they found their way to Earth because it’s protected? Has Ashildr been making other connections with those who the Doctor has impacted? Io alter the memories of Rigsy, Ashildr uses Retcon, a substance frequently used by Captain Jack Harkness on Torchwood to keep the institute a secret. Since the Doctor did mention Captain Jack when he last saw Ashildr it seems likely.
Though companions have departed in a variety of ways, none have died while they traveled with the Doctor since Adric. Throughout Season 9 we’ve seen Clara becoming increasingly reckless. Her sense of being indestructible is evident as she enjoys the thrill of hanging half out of the TARDIS as they fly above London. In “Under the Lake” the Doctor had already warned her that the TARDIS only has room for one Doctor, but Clara starts to believe she can act in his role and ends up in an untenable situation. Even the Doctor cannot save her. Yet, The Impossible Girl is entangled in the Doctor’s timestream, so we can’t help but wonder if she will show up once more.
The director for “Face the Raven” was Justin Molotnikov, who also directed last week’s episode, “Sleep No More.” “Face the Raven” writer Sarah Dollard is only the third woman to write a Doctor Who television episode since the new series started in 2005.
The Final Countdown
Rigsy calls the TARDIS phone, asking for help. He calls because a mysterious tattoo has appeared on the back of his neck and it’s counting down to zero. Though initially annoyed that Clara gave Rigsy the TARDIS number, the Doctor is charmed when Rigsy introduces his infant daughter. As Clara points out later, the Doctor can’t resist a child.
The Doctor runs tests in the TARDIS. Rigsy can’t remember what happened to him the day before because he’s been drugged with the amnesia drug Retcon. After doing some other diagnostics, the Doctor becomes serious. He consults the index cards that Clara made for him to improve his social skills. He can’t find one that communicates “You’re about to die” in a nice way. The Doctor begins,“Rigsy …” but Rigsy tells the Doctor not to start using his name now, but instead to save him, because that’s what he does. The heroic music amps up, so we know the Doctor has decided to help.
The Doctor doesn’t know who did this to Rigsy, but he knows how to find them. They fly over London in the TARDIS, looking for a street that’s been hidden by a misdirection circuit. When Clara likens it to a “trap street” the Doctor responds, “My God. A whole London street just up and disappeared and you lot assume it’s a copyright infringement.” Clara hangs out of the TARDIS doors, looking at London. Clara gets thrown around, but doesn’t seem worried about falling out.
Rigsy: “She enjoyed that way to much.”
The Doctor: “Tell me about it. It’s an ongoing problem.”
The TARDIS identifies the areas that were hard to focus on and they begin a search. The Doctor tells them to count to find the places where reality has a glitch in it in order to find the hidden street. They identify the area where they believe the street is by finding the counting. When they lose count, there’s likely to be a trap street nearby. It’s all very Harry Potter.
The Doctor sends Clara back to the TARDIS to pick up his most annoying stuff so they can distract their senses, but instead she returns with Rigsy’s phone bearing a recovered message. She hands him the phone and he recalls something from the day before. He can suddenly see the street because being upset distracted his other senses for a moment, and the misdirection circuit lost its power over him.
Place of Refuge
The enter the alley and the cobblestone flashes, then two men come out of hiding. They look like men, but Rigsy is able to see that one is a fish-like alien, and the other alien has a wolfish look. The fishy alien, Kabel, asks, “Name, species, and case for asylum. Quick as you like.” When the Doctor seems confused, the wolfish alien, Rump, asks, “You do know this is a refugee camp?” The Doctor didn’t, but he’s always ready to fake it. Ashildr appears, accompanied by two policemen (spoiler alert: they’re not really policemen) and calls him on his bluff.
When Clara calls out to her, Ashildr acts unfamiliar with her original name. She explains, “an infinite lifespan with a finite memory makes for an awkward social life.” We are reminded that Ashildr may be long-lived, but she still must deal with the limitations of her humanity. When she meets Clara, Ashildr clarifies that the companion is someone she has read about in her diaries, not someone she can actually remember meeting in the past. Clara tells Ashildr that the Doctor had lost track of her in the 1800s, explaining, “He’s got a whole secret room in the TARDIS where he collects mentions of you.” Awkward.
When Rigsy removes his hoodie, Ashildr asks the Doctor how he knows Rigsy, telling the Doctor that Rigsy has been sentenced to death for murder. She invites them in to the sanctuary to explain. The Doctor insists that since she’s already endangered one of his friends that Ashildr must guarantee no harm will come to Clara. Either due to familiarity or pity, Rigsy seems to have moved up in the Doctor’s estimation because he describes him as a friend. Ashildr responds, “I guarantee the safety of Clara Oswald. She will be under my personal protection. That is absolute.” This promise seemed like a good idea at the time, but little did the Doctor know it would only exacerbate Clara’s recklessness.
Once they enter the lane, it appears they’re in an alien version of Diagon Alley. But we love Diagon Alley, so we’re not complaining. Ashildr tells the Doctor, “Tread carefully while you’re here. Some of your greatest enemies are within a few feet of you. As far as you’re concerned, this is the most dangerous street in London.” Everyone seems to be calling Rigsy a murderer. We can’t help but wonder if it’s really the Doctor they’re referring to. Perhaps these refugees are fleeing because of events caused by the Doctor.
It turns out that the alley and all the people in it are disguised by lurkworms, not a misdirection circuit. The light is a telepathic field and takes everything you see and places it within your own experience. When the disguises of the residents disappear for a moment the Doctor can see a Ood helping a Cyberman. As they walk through the alley, we see glimpses of many different aliens who have sought refuge. Ashildr assures the Doctor that they are perfectly safe. There are strict rules against violence. She tells the Doctor, “We haven’t had an act of violence on this street for 100 years, until yesterday, when your friend here attacked one of our most vulnerable residents.” Clara points out how hard it would’ve been for Rigsy to even get in. Ashildr explains Rigsy was found standing over the body. She had to act to assuage the residents’ anger and fear.
A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma
She shows the body of the victim who is in stasis until she can be taken home for burial. Her name was Anah and she was a Janus, a creature with two faces. The Doctor is disappointed to learn that Anah’s child is a boy, because a girl might be able to tell them what happened because female Janus are psychic. The Doctor explains, “One face sees the future, the other looks behind her, into the past.” Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. This is the third reference to ancient gods over the last five episodes—Odin, Morpheus, and now Janus. Rigsy starts to wonder if he was responsible for Anah’s death, but the Doctor reminds him that he was called to the alley by a 6am phone call.
They all get a chance to see what’s in store for Rigsy if he’s not proven innocent when a man with a similar chronolock calls Ashildr out to the courtyard. He begs to be exiled instead of sentenced to death, explaining he only stole medical rations to help his wife. Ashildr refuses, saying that rules keep them safe. His wife begs to take the chronolock in his stead, but he refuses. The Doctor explains to Rigsy, “It’s called a Quantum Shade. It’s kind of a spirit. Once it’s bound to a victim, you could flee across all of time and all of the universe, it would still find you.” The raven comes for the man, and he runs away. When it catches him he screams and a black smoke leaves his mouth as he dies. It looks a lot like a demon leaving a possessed body on Supernatural, but more expensive. The shade turns back into a raven and flies into its cage. Ashildr tells the Doctor he can investigate what happened, but that he will need to prove Rigsy’s innocence to the people living in the sanctuary.
Clara asks Rump what the man’s wife meant. Rump tells her the only way to survive a Quantum Shade is if the Shade’s master removes it or someone else willingly takes it. Clara develops a plan she thinks is quite clever—she tells Rigsy to give her the Chronolock. Clara believes that since she is under Ashildr’s personal protection and Ashildr controls the shade, that Clara won’t have to face the raven. Rigsy is reluctant but she tells him that buying more time is Doctor 101. When he protests that the Doctor won’t allow it, she tells him that Doctor 102 is never tell anyone your actual plan. When she brings up his wife and child Rigsy reluctantly agrees to her plan. Rigsy asks Clara, “So is this is your life? Bouncing around time, saving people?” She tells Rigsy: “No, not every day. Sometimes Jane Austen and I prank each other. She is the worst. I love her. Take that how you like.” This isn’t the first time Clara has talked about the novelist. In “The Magician’s Apprentice” she told her class that Austen was a “phenomenal kisser.”
The Doctor questions Rump and Kabel. Rump tells the Doctor that he’s fine with letting Rigsy take the blame, because otherwise it will mean that someone on the street killed Anah, which will cause chaos and war. Kabel mentions that Rigsy called for a doctor—specifically, he called for the Doctor. The Doctor realizes that Ashildr knew Rigsy was a friend of his and that she’s lying about something.
Clara has her own realization, that the only one who doesn’t look at them strangely is Anah’s son. They knock on the door of the Janus, and Clara confronts her about being a disguised girl. The Doctor questions her about what Ashildr is planning. Her forward face tells the Doctor that he doesn’t know what Ashildr is up to, but that Ashildr is scared and believes what she’s doing is right. The Doctor responds, “They usually do.” The other face of the Janus opens her eyes and tells the Doctor, “She couldn’t just ask you here. She needed a mystery. You can never resist a mystery. She’s afraid.”
Facing the Raven
The Doctor suddenly remembers that Ashildr had said that Anah was going to be buried, but he notes that the Janus actually burn their dead. They all go to Anah, realizing that she isn’t dead, but held alive in stasis. She can only be released with a key, forcing the Doctor to use his TARDIS key to open it. When he does a bracelet locks onto his wrist.
Ashildr arrives, telling the Doctor she doesn’t want the TARDIS. She made a deal to protect the street in exchange for teleporting the Doctor to those threatening her. She asks for his confession dial as well, saying, “Please, no resistance. You’ve already lost.”
When she goes to remove the chronolock from Rigsy, Clara reveals that she has it and begins making demands. But both Ashildr and the Doctor are shocked at this turn of events, and not in a good way. Ashildr tells the Doctor she never meant for anyone to get hurt. Though the chronolock can be passed on, you can’t cheat it altogether. Ashildr tells Clara:
“I made a contract with the Shade when I put the chronolock on Rigsy. I promised it a soul and only I can break that contract. When you took it from him, you changed the terms. You cut me out of the deal.”
The Doctor can’t save Clara. Despite her insistence she’s unable to help Clara either, the Doctor threatens to expose the street, bringing UNIT, the Zygons, maybe even the Daleks and Cybermen, if Ashildr doesn’t save Clara. But Clara interrupts his threats, reminding him that this was her own fault. Clara tells him she’s going to face the raven.
Clara: “You. Now, you listen to me. You’re going to be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re going to be furious and you’re going to be sad, but listen to me. Don’t let this change you. No, listen. Whatever happens next … wherever she is sending you, I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Promise me. Be a Doctor.”
The Doctor: “What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you?”
Clara: “Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So … I’m not asking you for a promise. I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer.”
The Doctor: “What about me?”
Clara: “If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave.”
She hugs the Doctor and tells him, “This is as brave … as I know how to be. I know it’s going to hurt you, but … please … be a little proud of me. Goodbye, Doctor.” She walks outside and faces the raven. We see her scream as the raven takes her life.
When the Doctor comes back inside Ashildr tells him that she is truly sorry. The Doctor tells Ashildr he’ll do his best to keep his promise to Clara— “But I suggest you stay out of my way. You’ll find it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you.” The Doctor teleports, and the bracelet falls to the floor.
The episode ends with graffiti artist Rigsy memorializing Clara by painting the outside of the TARDIS with flowers and her image.
Though Clara’s death was certainly dramatic—perhaps a bit too much so—placing it in a cliffhanger episode seems strange. We’re not sure if we should let the emotional reaction to her death sink in or wonder if the Doctor can yet save her. Certainly the overwrought musical score by composer Murray Gold tells us to we supposed feel sad, not hopeful (Hey Murray – Less is more). Regardless, we will miss having Jenna Coleman as the Doctor’s companion because she’s really grown on us. We particularly liked Clara as companion to the Twelfth Doctor, as Coleman and Capaldi have excellent chemistry. “Face the Raven” leaves us wondering how the Doctor will keep his promise to Clara. We’d hate to be the foe on the other side of that teleporter.