The Doctor and Clara are invited onto the set of the BBC’s latest Saturday night gameshow, Face the Raven. Ten contestants must sit opposite a raven and outstare them. If you win, then you have faced the Raven and you get a book token. If you lose, you have literally lost face because the Raven pecks your face off. This is the BBC’s secret weapon against The X-Factor.
And if you believe that waffle, you’ll believe anything.
No, this is not about a gameshow at all. Need I warn y’all about spoilers? No? Yes? If you haven’t watched this episode yet, then you are going to be spoilered. Leave the room, watch the show and come back again.
Here comes the spoilers….
Face the Raven is Clara’s swansong (ravensong?). And it all starts with a phonecall from an old friend.
Rigsy (Who he? Rigsy appeared in the last series episode Flatline) gives Clara a call asking for help. The Doctor scowls at this. He says, “Jings! Ye givin’ mae nimber tae e’ryone? Did I say ye can do that? Crivens, I dinnae gie ye nimber tae the Daleks, do I?”
Since we first met Rigsy, he has swapped the bright lights of Bristol for London and has even managed to wrangle himself a wife and daughter. Not too bad. His luck has ran out though because he has also wrangled a tattoo on the back of his neck, a tattoo that is counting down the minutes he has to live. Not good. The London Tourist Board never mentions that you might be at risk of alien death sentences.
Rigsy can’t remember the previous day’s events. All he knows is that when the tattoo counts down to zero, something bad will happen. As well as losing his memory, his phone has also been wiped clean (it also sports a crack when he dropped it). And when he woke up, he was tarred and feathered. Just what has happened to Rigsy?
At first the Doctor assumes he has been to a stag night or a gay bar but after giving him a quick scan with the TARDIS, he finds out that Rigsy has had contact with aliens, oh, and that the numbers are the minutes he has left before he kicks the bucket and joins the choir invisible. Still doesn’t rule out the gay bar though.
Unusually, the Doctor does not think he can do much to rectify the death sentence. Any other Doctor and you might expect them to be more pro-active and optimistic but this Doctor, not so much. Clara convinces him though and he vows to do what he can.
Our hero makes two assumptions. The first is that aliens are living in London, this is fine to assume because we know at least that Zygons are living there. His second assumption is not so fine. He assumes that these aliens are living in what Clara calls a trap street.
In case you are not aware, a trap street is a fake street that cartographers include on a map so that they ‘trap’ plagiarists who infringe the copyright of the cartographer who put the original map together. There are one hundred trap streets in London alone, why not have a look for them?
To find this trap street, the Doctor dangles Clara upside down from the TARDIS and gets her to look for any place where her eyes slide over and ignore. The TARDIS is relaying what she sees and analyses it.
Clara almost falls out which alarms the Doctor and Rigsy. But she just laughs it off. It is almost as if she has a death wish. This alarms the Doctor and Rigsy even more.
The Doctor, Clara and Rigsy walk around the most likely site for the trap street that trapped Rigsy. They spin around in circles, they make duck noises and they even draw chalk pictures of their favourite holiday destinations but nada, zitch, nothing. No trap street.
The Doctor sends Clara back to the TARDIS for some of his most annoying things (to help distract them) and as she picks up the Sixth Doctor’s clothes, she notices that the TARDIS, which has been scanning Rigsy’s phone, has returned the missing data back onto the phone. They go through the phone’s memory of the previous day and sift through his internet history of looking at kitten memes, tap-dancing lessons and arachnid dating sites. They look at his caller history but still nothing really useful.
All this memory jogging seems to work though, Rigsy finds the trap street. Hurray!
Now, this trap street looks glorious. We see an alley leading to it, an alley that nobody else can see. At the end of it is a Tudor style street. I cannot stress how much I loved the look of the trap street.
The trap street reminded me of a short story by China Miéville, Reports of Certain Events in London. The story is given via a few documents (much like how Sleep No More was given via video clips). The similarity is vague and is more a symptom of the way my brain makes connections than anything else.
They walk into the trap street only to find themselves surrounded by aliens with flickering human disguises. Which is a misstep for the production team. Yes, the aliens have to be disguised if they leave the street but surely they don’t need to be disguised amongst their fellow alien? This smacks of a budget-saving scheme…
…although saying that, there is a good reason why this is so. The thing that disguises both the street from prying human eyes and the identity of the aliens from each other is a misdirection device. It protects them from the humans and from each other. But why would they need to disguise themselves if the street has a no violence policy (as stated by someone whom I will mention in a moment)?
The aliens refugees (yep, that is what they are but don’t worry, there is no politics going on here) are governed by Me. Not me your humble unreviewer but rather Ashildr the immortal pouty girl. Ashildr has been the mayor of this street since Waterloo, not the battle but the release of the song by Abba in 1974.
Rigsy was given the death tat because he was found over the body of an alien belonging to the Janus, a two-faced race of aliens who never get fleeced on a deal because they can see you coming and going. Oh, and they have eerie psychic powers as well.
Need I waste a few lines mocking the writer of this story for calling an alien species with two faces, Janus? Really?
After being found in the street over the body of the Janus woman (Anah. Her name was Anah). Ashildr had Rigsy doped with the drug Retcon and then gave him a death-inducing tramp stamp. The time he had left was to allow him to say goodbye to his loved ones which would be a nice thing if he could have remembered he had a death sentence. All he knew was that he had numbers counting down on his neck.
Retcon, lest you forget, was a drug first introduced in Torchwood. It was used to take the memories of aliens and Torchwood away from people. Or in the case of one member of Torchwood, to seduce people and make them forget that he has sexed them up.
The tat is a Chronolock. When the number reaches zero, a Quantum Shade (which looks like a normal Raven) chases you and kills you no matter where you may be. This Raven can find you anywhere in time and space…even Milwaukee. There is no escape. Well, I say no escape but if you travelled to E-Space, or a pocket dimension or a parallel universe, you should be safe. Probably.
The Doctor thinks that just because Rigsy was found standing over the body of Anah,that it does not necessarily follow that the killer was Rigsy. If murder investigations assumed that the second person to see the corpse is the killer, the police would have a 100% success rate.
The body of Anah is being kept in some sort of cage with glowing green bars. Is that kryptonite?
Ashildr says that the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy can investigate but that they will have to convince all the inhabitants of trap street. That should be easy. Not. At least the Doctor bargained with Ashildr that Clara would be protected no matter what happens.
Clara, the Doctor and Rigsy start talking to the inhabitants of the trap street but they are not too upfront. Elusive most of them, especially a young boy who is the son of Anah.
One man/alien (who has great bone structure) tells Clara that the Chronolock can be taken off either by Ashildr or by someone who is willing to to accept take the tattoo. Clara, who is still on a death wish, convinces Rigsy to allow her to take the death sentence because Ashildr has said that she won’t be harmed. Logic, Clara has none. Clara is a bit of a twit.
The Doctor has been poking about with Rigsy’s phone during all this pass-the-parceling of the tat. He has found out that Rigsy had called for the Doctor yesterday. This causes his spidey-sense to tingle. Has Ashildr killed someone just to tempt the Doctor to the trap street?
Clara tracks down Anah’s son, Ahahson, who is really a girl…
What? Hold on! Why do the Janus use the English word ‘son’? The TARDIS translator does not translate names, does it? I don’t think so. So why is Anah’s fake son called Anahson? Shouldn’t her real name be Anahdaughter?
…and is hiding her identity because of the psychic powers I mentioned earlier. Female Janus can see the past and the future, and if you twiddle their noses they can also pick up vintage broadcasts of BBC Radio 4.
Why Anahson has to hide her abilities, I don’t know. Also, why is she and her mother the only aliens not to disguise themselves? If Anahson wore a disguise, she wouldn’t have to be careful about revealing her abilities. This is a valid point, isn’t it?
In any case, Anahson reveals Ashildr’s plan about tempting the Doctor to come to the trap street. Guess what? He isn’t pleased.
They return to where Anah’s body is being kept in the kryptonite cage which is in reality a stasis chamber. Anah is not dead. Good news for Anahson.
The stasis cage’s controls have a suspicious keyhole upon it. A keyhole that looks supremely suitable for a certain TARDIS key. “It’s a trap!” says Admiral Ackbar as he passes through the room. So what does the Doctor do? Yup, he ignores the huge neon sign above the controls that says ‘TRAP‘ and puts the TARDIS key in the trap that is in the trap street.
The controls then slap a metal manacle on his arm, Anah is let out of the cage, and Ashildr jumps into the room and shouts, “Surprise! It was a trap!” The Doctor looks sadly at the manacle and says, “Ach noo, why did naebody tell me it was a trap?”
Ashildr tells the Doctor that the manacle is a transportation bracelet. To keep the peace in the trap street it will send the Doctor far far away. Oddly, she asks for the Doctor’s confession dial (the device which Missy had in the opening two-part story of this season, remember?).
Ashildr’s plans go out the window when she and the Doctor discover that Rigsy has passed on the Chronotattoo to Clara. Because Ashildr made the arrangement with the Quantum Shade to the death sentence for Rigsy, the deal between them was between her and the Raven. Clara broke the agreement by taking on the tattoo. Clara cannot be saved, nothing can be done, Clara is a dead woman walking.
“If ye dinnae tak’ the Chronolock off Clara, I will mak’ sure that ye end up in a stone cold grave! In MIlton Keynes!” shouts the Doctor.
Ashildr pulls her little scared girl face that Maisie Williams does so well. She cannot take the death sentence away from Clara, not even with the threat of Milton Keynes hanging over her head.
Clara talks to the Doctor and tries to convince him not to smack Ashildr upside the head. She tells him that he will be alone now, and that he really shouldn’t avenge her. She even makes him promise not to give Ashildr the wrath of god treatment to which he reluctantly agrees. “Don’t be a warrior. Be a Doctor” she says (an echo of the scene in The Day of the Doctor). During this time she speaks to him, he looks at her with an expression which is either tender sadness or a senior moment like he is thinking, “Did I leave the gas on?” or “What did I come upstairs for?”
She says goodbye to the Doctor and goes outside to face the Raven. Alone (although the Doctor does watch from the doorway). The Raven flies into her and that is it, game over. Clara exhales clouds of black smoke and collapses to the floor. Clara is dead. Dead as a dodo. Utterly dead. We will never see her again. Maybe.
Clara’s death is upsetting and some people complained about how devastating it was. To which I imagine Rory Williams saying, “What? I died in every episode I was in and nobody batted an eyelid at my copping it! She gets killed by a smoky bird and everyone weeps into their hats. So not fair!”
Even though Clara is dead, I suspect we will see her again one way or the other. She was, after all, splintered into squillions of alternate selves in The Name of the Doctor.
The Doctor returns to Ashildr and Rigsy and tells the immortal ninny that Clara’s words were not to protect him but to protect her from getting a major Time Lord scolding.
Ashildr continues doing her sad face and sends the Doctor to who knows where. The teleport bracelet falls to the floor.
Is that it? No, not yet. We see a scene where Rigsy is painting the exterior of the TARDIS with flowers. Erm, what? Did Ashildr not Retcon him again? Curious.
So what do I make of the story? Well, Clara’s death was signposted with her death wish foreshadowing throughout the series, so that was not a huge surprise. Although killing off a companion is (as long as they stay dead).
Is Maisie Williams’ performance good in this? Erm, yes but only if you think an ability to pull sad-and-scared little girl faces is worthy of an Oscar. She does not make any acting mistakes but neither does she outshine Capaldi or Coleman or even Wade. I will admit that she is good but that is as far as it goes. She was much better in The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived.
Jovian Wade as Rigsy. Really liked him and his performance. If he isn’t the best candidate for becoming the next companion, I don’t know who is. He has such a real world sensibility with his performance which reminds me of William Russell’s performance of Ian Chesterton way back in the 1960s. He is really that good.
Peter Capaldi. Hmmm yeah. Really liked him in this. He seems to be an actor much in the vein of Tom Baker. You are never sure how he will respond in any given situation. Capaldi is an expert scene-stealer and his scenes are the ones that you look forward to seeing.
Jenna Coleman. Many people have commented that she ain’t no Billie Piper. I liked Piper but I never thought she was all that great. She was good but I preferred companions like Donna or Martha or Fitz. Clara is a good companion too and I think that her exit, while not as emotional as Rose Tyler’s exit, it was still good if not great. Dying is a shocker (even though Rory did it all the time) and it feels like it is not a death that will be reversed. There is a high possibility that Clara might return in some form but this is her death and she almost certainly won’t return from the grave.
Oh, and the scene where she describes Jane Austen as a good kisser? Not sure that totally worked. It seemed as something that was very unlikely for Clara to do or admit to.
This is a good story. It sucks you in and I reckon most people won’t know that Clara will cop it at the end. Not the best story but this is a story which is pretty wonderful.
So what are you waiting for, go and watch this story!