Doctor Who: Face the Raven
Warning, the following contains extreme spoilers. It also is a very raw unedited piece of writing that probably could be better organized. But ah well.
So….let’s talk about that last episode of Doctor Who.
I have been sort of blessed this season of Doctor Who. In the past I have often been spoiled about what happens in episodes. I don’t really mind being spoiled. I like to watch the episode and attempt to piece together or anticipate what’s about to happen.
In this internet age, watching an episode without knowing anything that’s about to happen is almost unheard of. Yet this entire season of Doctor Who has been a new experience for me. I don’t watch the previews. I don’t look at what Facebook has to say about it nor do I look at the blog reviews on the episodes. It’s been very refreshing to have no idea how the Doctor’s adventures will play out.
I say this because it’s important to keep in mind when I say that Clara’s departure was both an unexpected and an expected turn.
I knew Clara would be leaving this season. It was announced by Steven Moffat and Jenna Coleman herself gave an interview about her imminent departure. What was unknown was the when and how. The season has been foreshadowing her death almost every episode, always quick to point out Clara’s addiction to the thrill of the mystery and her gradual transformation into what can only be described as a pseudo-Doctor.
When I sat down with Errol and his daughters to start the episode, I had no clue that it would be one of the last times we see Clara (who knows, she might turn up as a spirit or some such thing later). The Doctor and Clara burst into the Tardis in the opening scene and it was business as usual. A previous guest star returned with need of their help. Arya Stark/Ashildur showed up again.
Then Clara offered to take on Rigby’s countdown and I knew that her fate was sealed. It was the sort of move that would normally not be revealed until the end. Instead Clara’s plan was just a little too confident, a little too carefully laid out. We were all waiting for the other shoe to drop and it did in the most tragic manner possible.
I don’t write often about Doctor Who. But the death of Clara, even though expected, was still a shock to see nonetheless. Here was someone who had been faced with death many times before. There had been countless last minute reversals in which her life was saved by some ex machina. Then the raven came and with it the final literal countdown for Clara.
What’s effective about this episode is not how they handled the death of a long time character. It’s how they handled the death of a problematic longtime character.
My brother had been visiting and had never seen Doctor Who. We explained it to him, watched the Eleventh Hour to give him a taste of how the show worked. Then we explained that Clara was a different companion than Amy had been. He asked if people liked her. It was…difficult to answer that question.
Most fans, myself included, are not the biggest Clara fans. She was a classic Steven Moffat female character: perfect, perky, feisty, and rarely fazed by any of the strange situations she found herself in. She was there merely to be a reflection of the Doctor and whatever lesson he was learning that week. Oh yes, and she was oh so extra special.
In the beginning she was much less a character and more of a plot device. It was aggravating and the only consolation was that Jenna Coleman was more than adequate portraying her. She was never as interesting. She was always just a little too quick with a one-liner. While Matt Smith was the Doctor her only characterization seemed to be “needlessly in love with the Doctor”.
When Capaldi came along all thoughts of being in love were erradicated. In Capaldi’s first episode he directly addresses the issue. “I’m not your boyfriend” was a line directed at the audience as much as it was to Clara and we got the message loud and clear. Things were going to be different from now on.
Clara still proved to be problematic unfortunately. She went from being the super special butterfly to being one of the most inconsistent characters on the show. One week she would be afraid and terrified, the next she would be taking charge and teaching the Doctor a lesson only to revert back the week after that.
That’s not to say that she did not have her moments though. Again, Jenna Coleman is a fine actor. She does so much with the little given to her and for that reason she endeared herself to me. Her moments of kindness were some of the best I’ve seen the show display especially when it’s with children and she gets to use her school teacher training to help them.
Her performance in Deep Breath is probably the best aspect of that episode. It’s one of the first times I’ve seen a companion truly afraid and I wish I’d seen a little more of that from her character throughout the series. Watching a character battle through that fear to save her friend’s life is so much more satisfying than watching her smugly tell an enemy off.
However you felt about Clara though, it’s hard to deny that this episode treated her departure with the utmost respect. Much like Donna, Clara was in this for the long haul. She was not someone who would ever leave the Doctor’s side. It would only take death to separate her from her friend entirely.
The series has done well to prepare us for this moment but it still made me suddenly tear up. Clara was never my favourite companion. But she is perhaps one of the longest running companions and meant a lot to the Doctor.
The episode is not perfect. But the emotional gauntlet at the end is superbly written. The four of us watching the episode were completely silent for those terrible five minutes. The girls were waiting and hoping for a last minute resolution to present itself. It did not.
It was also good to see Ashildur not be completely disconnected from the consequences of her actions. She has lived beyond caring for humanity, certainly, but she is not above caring when good people die.
Then there is the Doctor himself. The goodbye between he and Clara is some of the best written Who I have seen in a while. Clara knows the Doctor. She knows what he is capable of and what he will do when a loved one is killed. In her last moments she is desperately afraid but moreso for her best friend than for herself.
Does she walk into death’s arms just a little too willingly? Perhaps. It’s effective though and far more of a goodbye than Amy Pond ever got. Watching Peter Capaldi’s expressions is heartbreaking. Listening to his last words to Ashildur are his most chilling yet. As the episode ended we all sat in silence for a moment, unsure of what to say. The fact that it was for a character we weren’t crazy about speaks volumes.
Goodbye Clara Oswald. You were messy and you weren’t perfect, but you had a good run and the void will be felt.