Doctor Who: Face the Raven ~ The Consequences of Being Breakable
Sometimes what I write could be considered sort of a hybrid of review and recap, but more often it's like impassioned reactions to the best, most traumatizing moments. So, what you will see here today are a lot of words about basically one scene.
Spoilers from here on!
I knew "Face the Raven" was going to be a sad one; Peter Capaldi confirmed it, and I do assume that most episodes will have some emotionally piercing moment. But I thought Clara would face her end in the finale, which is usually when a series would decide to off a main character or leave on a cliffhanger for the next season. I was quite sure I would need a few tissues. I was certain beyond all doubt that this departure would stick with me. If my experience with Doctor Who has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to expect change and brilliant heartache and to accept and embrace them.
It's inevitable that every companion and every Doctor leaves, so you might think it would get easier. But the writers and actors are relentless when it comes to wringing every last drop of emotion from a moment. You think you can prepare, and then they do something like this, something that was somehow even more poignant than expected, because they did the unimaginable: neutralized the Doctor and gave Clara no way out.
Clara, there's nothing special about me. I am nothing, but I'm less breakable than you! I should have taken better care of you.
"Face the Raven" was amazing. Haunting and beautiful and devastating. Ashildr - now going by Mayor Me - set a trap for the Doctor, a trap that works all too well. She knows he cares so much for others that he will always put himself in harm's way for them. Ashildr counted on the Doctor's selflessness, to do what he always does, to save people even when he knows something is up. She needed to exchange the Doctor for protection for her people. So, she tricked Rigsy, last seen in "Flatline," into thinking he killed a woman, which is a crime punishable by death by Quantum Shade, which takes on the form of a raven and destroys from the inside. Of course Rigsy didn't hurt anyone, so his memory had to be altered. A countdown tattoo was placed on his neck to draw the Doctor into the mystery and eventually to get the Doctor to use a TARDIS key to free the supposedly dead woman, trapping himself with a teleport bracelet in the process.
Though Ashildr's plan was elaborate, the outcome should have been simple: the Doctor would sacrifice himself, and Rigsy's countdown would be stopped. But Clara did something Ashildr never imagined and she was genuinely shocked by. Clara thought she had it all worked out, that the raven wouldn't come for her because she was under the protection of Ashildr, who had given the Doctor her promise that Clara would be safe. But taking Rigsy's fate upon herself broke the contract, and the raven could not be stopped by Ashildr or the Doctor, leading to another scene that will always be remembered as one of Doctor Who's most poignant.
You don't be a warrior. Promise me. Be a doctor.
What's the point of being a doctor if I can't cure you?
Heal yourself. You have to. You can't let this turn you into a monster.
It was the saddest goodbye ever, because they actually got to stand there and say goodbye. The dawning realization on his face that he really was losing her, saying that this wasn't happening, was unbearable. Then Clara ordered the Doctor to not seek revenge, lovingly touched his face, and he gently kissed her hand for the last time. And the raven cried out. If your eyes were dry throughout this, or if you felt nothing else, then you might be dead inside.
This is another episode that will stick with me forever. No matter how it happened, it would have been sad, even had Clara just left, which would be wildly out of character, or been lost to time and space. I had hoped for an ending where she could live on. Instead it was the most devastating it could get, especially considering her life has ended before...in other times, before we and the Doctor knew her. I dreaded that happening again, but it seems inevitable it had to happen this way. It was just such an awful moment knowing Clara was about to do something that would lead to her death. An even more awful moment when the Doctor understood that this time he could do nothing. After all he's done, nothing could be done. With all his knowledge and brilliance and luck, he was powerless to save his best friend, his Impossible Girl.
You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die and no one else here or anywhere will suffer.
What about me?
If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we're both just gonna have to be brave.
Oh my God, Capaldi's eyes and face in this scene, especially the sadness in his voice when he says, "What about me?" Ouch. His entire body language is spot on. He's slightly trembling with a grief that's about to overwhelm him, not able to do anything else but accept the inevitable, hardly able to look at Clara, trying not to break down. Could Capaldi be any more unerringly brilliant?
I love this scene for being exactly what I had hoped it would be, that Clara would make the Doctor promise that, through his pain, he would change not for the worse but for the better, that he wouldn't be out for blood. A scary, emotionally raw Doctor is an amazing one, but so is a forgiving and kind one. Either way, his hearts will still be broken, but he can choose whether that will make him less willing or more willing to let people in.
I loved this scene for being the the one where the Doctor needed a hug the most and, as at the end of The Zygon Inversion, didn't shy away from it. I loved this scene for being equal to his war speech in terms of the beauty and truth of the emotion, but surpassing it because the crisis could not be averted, only faced with bravery. I loved this scene for Clara's farewell to the clever boy who will want to run from his emotions but will forever remember her. It was terrible and beautiful and delicately handled.
And this is all okay. Everybody knows that everybody dies. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those days in a million where everybody lived. Clara will be missed deeply. Her character grew and grew until she was indispensible. She saved the Doctor on numerous occasions throughout his existence as a time meddler. She was fun and funny. Coleman played her so well and was eminently likable. I can't say they should have given her a nicer end. Acting and thinking like the Doctor was always going to get her into trouble she couldn't get out of. Clara was so important to the Doctor that he would have found a way to keep her by his side if it were possible, so a death impossible to run from was the only way that was genuine for her to go, and it gave us one of the greatest gut-wrenching moments ever in the series.
This is as brave as I know how to be. I know it's gonna hurt you, but, please, be a little proud of me... Goodbye, Doctor.
If you're distraught (or even a little miffed) and don't understand how they could possibly do something like this to you, Doctor Who is a story about change and loss as much as it is about imagination and adventure. Without the pain, or the threat of it, how could you appreciate the good? Clara was always going to leave and she wouldn't have done so willingly. I'll let Capaldi and Moffat explain why Clara faced the raven.
That sorrowful music was just perfect. Did you hear the emotion in Capaldi's voice? He didn't expect her to die. Aww.
It is in keeping with the character that Clara would only stop running with the Doctor if she could no longer physically do so. The series wouldn't compromise its integrity by taking the easy way out and have Clara suddenly be who she isn't just for a happier ending. This will resonante with the Doctor for a long time to come, and I hope he heeds her words! If not immediately, because of his pain, then eventually, honoring her memory by being better. One thing's for sure, this will be one of the most memorable, remarkably acted and emotional moments ever in the entire series. And I can't say I would ever want to change it if I could to make the fans not feel these emotions. It's better with them than without.
The final two episodes, "Heaven Sent" and "Hell Bent," will let us delve even deeper into the hearts of The Doctor as he deals with yet another loss, and one so very personal. He could do nothing but impotently threaten Ashilr as Clara told him to stop. He could only stand there once he realized there was no going back, no way around it, no controlling what was coming, no negotiation, no talking his way out. He could only stand there with tears in his red eyes as Clara hugged him in the most beautiful embrace they've ever had, as she told him to not seek revenge, to not become a monster and taint her memory. And now the Doctor faces his emotions alone.
It was all quite intense and I wouldn't want it any other way. If a drama doesn't make me cry and feel for the characters then it's completely wasted my time. Doctor Who has never wasted my time.
To cheer you up after that depressing episode, just watch this blooper.
I would love to see Peter and Jenna working together again.
Just the sweetest words.
Listen to the Nerdist podcast if you need support. Someone tweeted that it was cathartic, like an episode of The Talking Dead. I haven't had the chance yet because of work this week and distractions and Thanksgiving and trying to finish this post before the new episode. Speaking of new episode...
Where to Watch
"Heaven Sent" will be on BBC America this Saturday night at 9 PM Eastern. "Face the Raven" and previous episodes are available on Amazon and various other places, like iTunes, or streaming on AMC.com and BBC America's OnDemand cable and satellite channel. For more options, please see BBCAmerica.com.
Images and video belong to the BBC. Check out more images from "Face the Raven" at BBC America.