Doctor Who: Face the Raven (SPOILERS)

Posted on November 22, 2015



Well! It’s a damn good thing Clara died at the end, right?

But before we explain that totally insensitive, spoileriffic opening, allow us to back track for a moment. We found last week’s eye booger monster episode to be so awful – as in, “possible worst episode ever” awful – that we simply opted not to write a review because it’s no fun reading someone struggling to find new and interesting ways to write “IT SUCKED” over and over again. Yeah, we thought it was that bad.

Also, we decided to hold off on a review of the episode because it ended so abruptly and part of us wondered if it was all setup for a “Part 2” to come down the line. We’re telling you this now because we spent most of this episode groaning; first, at the fact that this was not a followup to last week’s episode (that we had hoped would have helped explain or mitigate how bad that episode was), and also because the first forty-five minutes of this episode were excruciating to us.

Are we just getting too cynical or something? Have we been watching this show too long? We really enjoyed several episodes this season (and in fact, named one of them among the best DW episodes of all time), but we found practically everything about the first 2/3 of this episode to be sheer nonsense. By the end, it was clear to us that the over-complicated setup with all of its bizarre and unexplainable rules (“You can give your death sentence tattoo to me! Because it won’t work because she made a promise to protect me!” “Oh, no! You have taken the death sentence tattoo! Now I can’t save you because you are not the original possessor of the death sentence tattoo!” WHO IS MAKING UP ALL THESE SILLY RULES? IS IT THE SAME PERSON THAT GAVE EYE SNOT SENTIENCE AND ASKED US TO BE SCARED OF IT?) was just a series of MacGuffins to get Clara good and dead.

In other words, except for the last ten minutes, this was a really bad episode of Doctor Who. And the fact that it follows right on the heels of an episode we’d consider to be at least one of the three worst of modern Who might be cause for alarm. In fact, we just took a break after writing the previous sentence just to go through our reviews of all the episodes this season. And while there’s been some really good stuff so far, it’s been a typically uneven season of DW under Steven Moffat. The one thing that stands out over and over again in our reviews this season is the idea that every episode felt unfinished somehow or like setup for something that was going to pay off down the line; not just the first halves of the two-parters – but all of the episodes, from the second halves to the done-in-ones. Season nine of Doctor Who, on a whole, has felt distinctly unresolved or poorly planned, now that we’re heading into the home stretch. There have been some great individual moments, and Capaldi has really come into his own, but so many of the stories this season (Missy, the Zygons, the eye booger monster virus thing, Ashildr) either are clear setups or just feel like they are. In other words, we have no doubt some of these things (Ashildr, most likely; Missy, probably) will resolve or pay off somehow before the end of the season, but we’ve been burned too many times by this show to think they all will be.

This is, we realize, a bit of a hazy and unformed complaint on our parts. But here’s our point: Clara’s death felt completely robbed of its meaning to us, simply because it’s one in an unusually long line of developments or plot points this season that feels deliberately unresolved. We’re fine with ambiguity and tension in serialized storytelling, but there’s so much of it this season – and more importantly, most of it is never mentioned again after the setup – that it makes it hard to determine which parts of this season are part of a longer arc and which parts are just the typical DW sloppy writing that tends to drop major developments left and right, from the Doctor’s daughter to the continued existence of Gallifrey. To put it bluntly, we literally have no idea if we’re supposed to mourn Clara or not. And to us, that’s indicative of a flaw in the writing.

To be fair, those last ten minutes pulled out all the stops to give the ending as much of an emotional punch as possible. And if they’d followed a gripping setup or were placed in a season that didn’t have so many dangling plot threads or poorly executed resolutions, we’d probably have weeped just like we did when Rose or Donna left forever. Certainly, Capaldi and Coleman were doing their best work in saying their goodbyes to each other. And we have to at least give props to the way Clara’s overall arc resolved itself, from the Companion who was afraid all the time to the Companion who became recklessly unafraid, ignored the many warnings from The Doctor and others to be more careful, and died from recklessness, basically. If this truly is her end, then Clara’s death is one of the more tragic in Who history just because it means she died from trying to be like The Doctor, which is something no companion should ever do.

But it doesn’t quite feel like her end, does it? We know Jenna Coleman’s leaving this season and like we said, if this is her death, it’s a thematically sound one for the character, but it just doesn’t feel like we’re done with the character of Clara Oswald just yet. And without trying to sound bloodthirsty or anything, we don’t think we like that much. We’re drowning in ambiguity at the moment and it’s preventing us from having the emotional reactions the story clearly wants us to have.

Did any of that make sense? We’re asking.


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