After many two-parters and one stand alone, we have our first of a three-parter for the season. ‘Face the Raven’ will take us all the way to the finale.
We start off with the Doctor and Clara returning from a classic off-screen adventure, where Clara has apparently saved him from having to marry a sentient…plant thing. The two are getting on rather well and everything’s a little too happy, which can only mean things are probably going to be terrible by the episode’s end.
And right on queue, the TARDIS’ phone rings and the two freeze. It’s Rigsy, the graffiti artist from ‘Flatline’, whose apparently kept in contact with Clara and was given the phone number, which the Doctor isn’t too impressed by. He’s got an urgent problem that involves a ticking down tattoo and a complete wipe of his memory from the day before.
At Rigsy’s house, they investigate further, after doting on his new baby of course, and the Doctor is perplexed by this moving tattoo. He wastes no time getting the three in the TARDIS, without the baby, as it’ll only distract him, and does some quick scans of Rigsy and his recently smashed phone.
The results show that Rigsy was doped with an amnesia drug that has wiped his memory from the previous day, and it seems pretty harmless until the Doctor notices something weird. Clara wants him to just spit it out, seeing that the Doctor is obviously stalling to be nice, but it’s because there isn’t a nice way to say someone is dying. Or at least, that they will be dead when that tattoo timer reaches zero.
The Doctor theorizes that Rigsy might have stumbled into an alien pocket around London, which Clara dubs “trap streets,” that are basically alleys and streets hidden from humans for alien use. They start by looking at maps, but to really get a good look, the Doctor flies the TARDIS over the city, while Clara hangs out the door wearing the sonic sunglasses to scan. Even as the TARDIS jumps about and she’s jerked around hundreds of feet in the air, she’s laughing more than anything, and it’s clear that we’ve reached peak thrill-seeking Clara.
They locate a couple of possible different areas, and take to the streets to do some first hand investigation. It’s not long before they’ve narrowed it down, but when Clara returns to the TARDIS to get some of the Doctor’s most annoying stuff to distract their other senses, she finds that it has been able to recover some data from Rigsy’s phone.
When she hands it back to his, he has an immediate flashback to two aliens standing over a dead body, and now remembers which alley he was in. Conveniently, it’s only a few steps away and, after focusing their minds, Clara and the Doctor are able to see it too.
Inside what can only be called the equivalent of an alien Diagon Alley, it’s only a matter of time before they run into the two aliens from his memory, but are immediately stuck to the street by some kind of electronic cobble stone technology. For a moment, it looks like the aliens are going to rough them up, but as it turns out, the alley is actually a refugee camp for aliens, which the Doctor knew all along, right?
And who should walk out from the shadows but Ashildr. You see, she’s mayor of this little sanctuary now, and she was the one who gave Rigsy his death sentence. She suggests moving their conversation indoors when people starting hissing murderer at Rigsy, and as they continue on, the normal-looking humans flicker into their true alien forms, cloaked by some telepathic worms.
Once inside, Ashildr brings them to the body of the murdered woman from his flashback, Ana, being held in a stasis cage. She’s a two-faced alien, with a back head that can see into someone’s past. Only the females of this race seem to have this gift and unluckily for them, her only child was a male.
Out on the street, we get an example of what happens when the tattoo clock runs out of time, when an old man pleads to Ashildr for mercy. He stole something for his wife, but rules are rules and she won’t change her mind. With that, a raven that was caged nearby turns into a cloud of smoke and chases the man through the alleyways, before finally flying into him, and spurting out his mouth. He falls dead. This is what it means to face the raven.
Ashildr makes a point that it’s not her that needs to be convinced on Rigsy, but the aliens of Diagon Alley. Clara gets caught on something the old woman said before her husband died though, something about passing the countdown on to her, and after some inquiry she finds out that the tattoo countdown can be transferred to another if both parties are willing. And Clara is definitely willing, seeing as she thinks that this will buy them time once Ashildr finds out and had sworn to protect Clara while in the sanctuary.
Meanwhile, the Doctor finds out that Rigsy asked the townsfolk to call for him after the death of Ana, which seems to contradict Ashildr’s previous comments that suggested she thought there was no connection between him and the murder. Ashildr’s hiding something, which, if anything, has been pretty standard for her all season.
But a quick stop to the son of Ana uncovers that she’s actually a daughter, hidden away so that she wouldn’t be taken advantage of her power. She’s able to see that Rigsy is innocent, but using this as proof means to unveil her secret, which is a no-go. She’s also able to see bits and pieces of Ashildr’s plan, but it becomes blurry when the Doctor’s involved. What she can gather though, is that Ashildr has set this all up as a mystery; it’s the one thing the Doctor can’t resist.
They return to Ana’s body and the Doctor finds that she may not be as dead as everyone assumes. She’s been kept in stasis, presumably for the benefit of Ashildr, and the team is quick to try and get her out. Luckily, there’s a TARDIS key sized-lock on the side, and even though it must be an obvious trap, the Doctor can’t help but do the right thing.
As he puts in the key and releases Ana, a bracelet gets locked around his arm, and Ashildr enters to inform him that he’ll be teleported. She’s made a deal with ‘them’, and in exchange for the Doctor the sanctuary will be safe. And one last thing: Ashildr wants the confession dial, the Doctor’s last will and testament. He begrudgingly hands it over, but she’s not actually sure what it is.
She’s more than happy now to remove Rigsy’s tattoo countdown, except of course Clara has it, and she’s quick to use it as a bargaining chip to detach the bracelet. But Ashildr can’t. The deal allowed her to remove it from Rigsy, and by Clara taking it, she’s changed the terms and conditions, which effectively cuts Ashildr out.
It’s hopeless, but the Doctor won’t accept it. He threatens Ashildr with destruction if she doesn’t save Clara, but she can’t. There’s nothing she can do.
Clara pieces things together in her mind; maybe this is why she was so reckless, seeking situations that would have her face death. She now has her wish. But she has parting words for the Doctor, knowing he doesn’t handle being alone well and that he would want nothing more than vengeance.
They say a tearful goodbye, and now she just wants to be brave. Clara calmly walks into the street, accepting her fate as the raven approaches and then flies into her. She stands for a moment, before letting out one last breath and falling to the street, dead.
And with that, the Doctor is transported away.
A post-credits scene shows the TARDIS sitting where it was left in the street. On the side is a painting by Rigsy: a floral mural dedicate to Clara.
- The Doctor seems to be wearing his more traditional outfit from last season, notably lacking his hoodie. At first I thought they were going to pull a fast one and have some timey-wimey stuff occur that would have had this Doctor actually be from earlier in Clara’s timeline – before she died, which would have then led to the Doctor of this first episode having already known Clara was dead. It’s been a running trend this season, having the Doctor suspicious about any mention of death and Clara together, so it would have made total sense. The only thing that stops this theory are the sonic sunglasses that appeared later, although it might still be possible that it was simply after this episode.
- Clara was like the Doctor in no other way a companion has been. Others have been versions of Time Lords, some wanted to save people, and the rest just wanted adventure. But Clara was a reflection of his recklessness. That ‘act first, think later’ attitude. The seeking danger for the sake of it. She represented one of his best and worst traits, but there’s reason that only the Doctor is like that, and it led to her ultimate fate.
- I wish they had shown this together with the next episode. It just seemed a little short, which might be because I wanted more after Clara’s death or that not much of substance happened in reflection.
- I can’t help but feel that this won’t be the end of Clara and we’ll see her at least once in the following episodes. Or at least I hope so!