Was that a bad episode? I honestly can’t tell. With Doctor Who nowadays, subtle and clever often gets muddled up with boring and confusing, and vice-versa. “Face the Raven” is strewn with more exposition and back-story dialogue than I’ve seen throughout this entire series, and for that, it fails to entertain. But “Face the Raven” isn’t here to entertain – it’s here to wrench our hearts from our chests and stab them to death. The only way you wouldn’t know this would be if you shied away from Twitter (and to be honest, who actually does?), but “Face the Raven” is Clara’s final adventure in Doctor Who. I hope.
“Face the Raven” revisits Rigsy from last series’ “Flatline”, who contacts Clara and the Doctor on waking up one morning with no memory of the previous day’s events, and brandished with a tattoo on his neck that’s counting down to zero. Embarking on a mission to save Rigsy before the tattoo reaches zero, he, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in a hidden trap street littered with aliens from the Doctor’s travels. Run by the Hybrid Ashildr, aka Me, the Doctor soon discovers that this trap street is aptly named, but not without suffering the biggest heartbreak he’s had to endure for a long time.
There’s a definite sense that the immense lack of action and the smothering level of exposition here is a deliberate attempt on writer Sarah Dollard‘s part to try and keep the episode safe and delicate for the viewer, readying them somewhat for Clara’s death. I’m undecided if it truly works or not, and if that’s true, then on some level I find it just a tad insulting on the part of the viewer that Dollard think we can’t handle an episode that features the death of a long-serving character mixed with plenty of time-busting space-roaring action. Captain Jack Harkness used to do pull off that stuff all the time! Oh wait, he was indestructible wasn’t he?
“Face the Raven” does have some positives though. The set-up of a trap street that’s full of the Doctor’s stranded enemies kept safe by Me is quite fun, and it FINALLY gets back on track to giving this series a bit of a story-arc. We learn that the Doctor’s discovery of Me’s little world is not accidental, and something of an elaborate trap that we’ll discover more of with the series finale. Then again, you can’t really call this a story-arc if all you’re doing is bookending a series with a plot device – i.e. the Doctor’s confession dial.
I can’t help but feel sorry for Peter Capaldi, because through all the ups and downs of the scripts, he is the guy that’s a constant source of joy. And oddly, Jenna Coleman does a lovely job in her final outing on Doctor Who as well. Both turn in deep, emotionally varied performances that reminds us how misused these characters can be at times. Their parting moments were the highlight of “Face the Raven” for me, and I bet for a whole load of other people too. However, “Face the Raven” itself feels like a mismatched bag of ideas that never really quite takes off.
On paper, “Face the Raven” is a quiet, tender end to Clara’s run on Doctor Who. But in its execution, it feels like a bland, wasted opportunity that valiantly tries to be subtle, but ends up more than boring.
Overall grade – D
+ Clara’s gone! (What? You think I’m some kind of heartless Dalek or something?)
+ The Doctor’s warning to Me feels seriously twisted and menacing. I want to see more of that!
+ Come on Fred, you can think of another good thing about this episode! No? Oh, alright then.
– So. Much. Talking.
– We now have definitive and undeniable evidence that Clara is a moron.
– Maisie Williams feels oddly out of place here. She doesn’t have the ruthless charm she had in “The Woman Who Lived”.
“Face the Raven”, along with “Sleep No More”, were heavily marketed as the sole two standalone stories in Series 9, and yet this feels very much like part 1 of the series finale.