Review: ‘Face the Raven’

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Warning: spoilers and general weariness therein. If you enjoyed this episode, I seriously suggest you don’t read any further. I am probably just going to make you cross.

It’s 1997. I’m in a university common room watching Star Trek: Generations. This is a film that’s been hyped up beyond belief, and one which will be notable for its decision to kill Captain Kirk not once, but twice. If you are William Shatner the author, neither occasion counts. As for the rest of us, we will sit and scratch our heads and wonder why on earth this was given such colossal media exposure, given that the end – when it does come – is really not that big a deal. Kirk is murdered by Malcolm McDowell; his final words, to a reflective Jean-Luc Picard, are “Oh my…”

It’s 2013. A pretty girl is strolling through a haunted house in the company of three talented British actors. She is light, sparkly and fun, unconsumed by gravitas, self-importance or nastiness. I like her. This will not last. She will become, as is the destiny for all modern companions, an exercise in sociology, something more than a cipher but less than a person, warping around stories that should, by rights, be warping around her. She will become a plaything of the writers, as all characters ultimately are, and she will suffer for it. But this week, she is allowed to be a companion – someone who follows and just enjoys herself. There will be times in the future that I lament the loss of this side to Clara. These days, when it is there, it has a kind of smugness attached to it.

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It’s 1998. I’m in a darkened cinema. On the screen Leonardo DiCaprio is clinging to a raft. The boat sank half an hour ago but Leo doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to die. There is clearly room for two on the raft, but Kate Winslet isn’t budging. The woman behind me to my left is using up an entire box of Kleenex, James Horner’s mournful score all but drowned out by sobbing and sniffling. Leo shivers and mutters something about going on. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I am thinking to myself, “WILL YOU PLEASE JUST FUCKING DIE?”

It’s 2001. I’m in another cinema watching a bunch of young child actors walk through a visually stunning set. It is an alley in a hidden part of London, cut off from the rest of the world. John Hurt is selling wands. It’s 2015 and I am looking at a different set but the same set. That in itself is not a problem. There are disguised aliens in human form. This is an excuse for another press release, one that says “Cybermen! Judoon! Sontarans! Ood!”, all of whom appear for approximately three seconds each. I am trying to ignore the fact that none of these creatures behaves the way you would expect them to, even in a refugee camp. I am wondering when they are going to do anything except whisper “Murderer”.

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It’s 2014. Steven Moffat is on the phone to Sarah Dollard. He says he would like her to write a crucial episode for series nine in which Clara dies. Sarah says she would love to but that she doesn’t have any ideas for stories. Steven says that’s not a problem: no story is needed, as long as Clara dies.

It’s 2009. A Time Lord has made a semi-noble sacrifice; he’s given up his life for Bernard Cribbins, whining like a puppy in the process. He wanders off to die. It will take fifteen minutes. It’s 2015. An English teacher who has snogged Jane Austen has become reckless. Earlier she was dangling out of the TARDIS. Now she has gambled with her life, and lost. She takes approximately seven minutes to die. I know this because I spend most of it looking at my watch.

It’s 2015. I’m watching Maisie Williams whine about how crap it is to be immortal, trudging through events feeling as if things will go on and on forever. It is something I can relate to. It is slightly later in 2015 and the character has turned up again, and is no more fun than she was last time. She has dark markings on her neck and a sinister connection to a large black raven. It is like watching Brandon Lee. The raven looks a bit fed up. I am wondering if the batteries need changing.

It’s earlier in 2015. I’m reading another press release about how heartbroken I’m going to be when Clara leaves. I cannot ignore these announcements because it is my job to read them. It’s 2015, this evening. Murray Gold is clearly making up for lost time after last week. The strings are like eating five buckets of candy floss in a single sitting and having to vomit into your own mouth. Clara walks into the middle of the street in slow motion. We see the death from about five or six angles. It is a technique often used in the 1970s. It doesn’t work here.


It’s 2036. A fifty-year-old Jenna Coleman is being interviewed in a dark studio for a new DVD. She says she is proud of her final story. She says she hates it. She says she was pleased with the character arc. She says it was more fun just being a companion and that she fought against the changes Steven Moffat imposed. She says she thought Sarah Dollard turned in a terrific script. She says she wanted a stronger narrative. Pick one.

It’s 2015 and I am watching a middle-aged actor and his younger sidekick do their best with tedious dross. I watch Capaldi keep the Doctor’s rage in check. It is good but it is not enough to save the episode. Maisie Williams pouts and looks uncomfortable, as she always has. It’s 2015 and my wife says she fears she may be corrupting my ability to enjoy the programme. I point out that I watched ‘Before the Flood’ while she was in the bath and came away no happier.

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It’s 2015, early Sunday morning, and I watch the last five minutes of ‘Earthshock’. I am struck by how quick it is, even when you know it is coming. It’s 2015, two weeks ago, and I am watching ‘The Zygon Inversion’ and the Doctor has just made another cryptic remark about how sad he was to have thought that Clara was dead. I note how quickly he seemed to recover from Adric’s death. I remember that Adric was a douchebag.

It’s 2015. I am watching Jenna Coleman trying out for that BAFTA. I decide she’s done enough to secure a nomination. It’s 2015 and I am spent and exhausted and I need a new companion in the TARDIS and, if possible, a new chief writer at the helm. More to the point, it is not me who needs this; it is Doctor Who that needs this. It’s 2015 and I am looking out of the window at the tattoo parlour across the road, and wondering if it’s still open.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Review: ‘Face the Raven’

  1. It’s 1992. I am captivated by Robert Lindsay in ‘Cyrano’ at the Theatre Royal.

    It’s 1993. A month later I take Mother to the theatre. Pre-show dinner at TGI Friday was cancelled ‘cos they lost power. Never mind. Robert Lindsay captivated both of us in ‘Cyrano’ at the Theatre Royal.

    It’s 1993. I rent Cyrano de Bergerac on video. It still takes longer for Gerard Droopy Drawers to fucking die already than it took Robert Lindsay’s Cyrano to captivate me twice. And me mum.

    You didn’t shed a tiny tear at all, Rev? Oh well. There’s always Christmas to look forward to. 2015.

    • reverend61

      I really didn’t. It’s partly the fact that they drew it out longer than necessary, but mostly because I’ve spent the last few months being told that Clara’s leaving and that she’ll probably die and that I’m going to be heartbroken. Eventually you get tired of that. I realise that this can’t happen in our current, web-driven mik-the-publicity climate, but think how much better it would have been if it had happened with no forewarning whatsoever. We’d have expected the Doctor to save the day, and then he wouldn’t. _That_ would have been effective. (Except the entire internet would then have been convinced that Moffat had a get-out clause waiting in the wings, so I don’t know what the solution is.)

      Yes, Christmas might be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing how River works with the Twelfth Doctor; it’s no great secret that I never thought she worked well with the Eleventh.

      • Age difference? Apols! Only just found you. I need to read some more of your stuff.

        Tbh, that was the problem with Clara now. She went from girlfriend to cool friend to carefree daughter, desperately trying to fill her father’s footsteps. Look one of the assistants has to die (and stay dead) sometime on screen (since the show came back). Clara’s death did have something Viking about it 😉

        Those poems don’t look short to me 😉

        What they did to Donna was far crueler imho. And Adam, with the forehead? That was a very nasty side of the Doctor shown so early on.

      • reverend61

        Lack of chemistry. The age difference probably didn’t help. I’ve said it before but it felt like watching someone snogging his best mate’s mum. That feels very unfair to Alex, who looks nowhere near her age; it’s a feeling, more than aesthetics. I just never felt they clicked.

        At least Donna wins the lottery and be miserable and unfulfilled in luxury. And yes, the whole Adam storyline was a mistake – the character, the execution and the way it was resolved. I am glad, at least, that Clara died properly and hopefully permanently, even if it was foreshadowed for an entire series.

      • roobeedoo2

        Donna did not win the lottery. How can you say that? She did win the lottery, yes, but the ticket was snatched away. She didn’t even get the honourable death, just left to rot. That’s just cruel. And don’t give me she doesn’t know any better. She knows.

      • reverend61

        Pics or it didn’t happen.

      • roobeedoo2

        Hidden behind images by Clicky, my assistant:

        Knock yourself out whilst my head explodes 😉

      • reverend61

        I’m in pain now.

      • roobeedoo2

        I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you feel better soon.

      • Owen Dunn

        I watched this story yesterday. Because I don’t pay any attention to the publicity and barely any to social media more widely, it was actually a surprise to me that Clara died, but I wasn’t particularly devastated. The niceties of Death Tattoo Contract Law were just too fine a point on which to impale a character, so the death stuck out as Death by Scriptwriter rather than Death by Plot. On the other hand, Coleman died well, and the soundless scream worked for me as a signifier of determined courage. I actually was slightly more emotional two stories later when the button was pressed on the memory wiping widget.

        In general the sense of an ending is what tweaks my heartstrings rather than death itself. Adric’s death was and remains a shock (enhanced by the simple effect of rolling the credits silently) but not a big emotional hit except perhaps of joy if you happen to be a piece of fruit. But Jo Grant staying at the end of the Green Death as the Doctor drives off in Bessie, Susan leaving (OK, being locked out) at the end of the Dalek Invasion of Earth, or McCoy’s voiceover about tea at the end of Survival… these all make me tingle. And that’s in spite of Susan and Jo’s departures being complete nonsenses in the context of their stories.

      • reverend61

        At least Jo’s departure is kind of foreshadowed; she spends the whole of The Green Death cosying up with Clifford one way or another. Leela we get absolutely no warning!

        Death-by-scriptwriter does seem to be a thing with Moffat, doesn’t it? Consistently the stories write the characters, when it should be the other way round. I don’t object to the silent scream, it was just the camera angles. My biggest problem with this episode is still the comparative absence of anything resembling a decent story, which may not be entirely Sarah Dollard’s fault. I don’t know. Either way, someone messed up.

        I love the idea of the anthropomorphic contents of a fruit basket watching the end of Earthshock and cheering. I’m stealing that one.

  2. essjay

    It felt very strange to have just mentioned Neverwhere to you earlier in the day, and then see that street scene which was very much the same.

    That raven was slow af, I was worried he was never going to show up.

    Rubbish. Though Capaldi made me cheer a little with his fury, it wasn’t enough. It hasn’t been enough for a while.

    • reverend61

      I liked the fact that he reigned it in. It would have been so easy to shout. He was marvellous in that last scene with Clara – a very powerful, understated performance that was more impressive, in a way, than the Zygon blustering, vivid as that was. But I was still bored.

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