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Face The Raven

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

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Face The Raven sees the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) reunited with their old friend Rigsy (Jovian Wade), and he desperately needs their help after being sentenced to death for a murder he has no memory of committing. Together they must find a secret street in London, where alien refugees have been living unnoticed in plain sight – and here they meet the immortal Ashildr (Maisie Williams) once again! A sinister countdown has begun; its time to discover what it means to face the raven, but not everyone is going to survive…

This darkly mesmerising adventure, written by Doctor Who newcomer Sarah Dollard, and directed by Justin Molotnikov (Da Vincis Demons / Atlantis / Merlin), heralds a major turning point for the Doctor and Clara in series nine!

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When the Doctor and Clara respond to Rigsy’s telephone phone call to the TARDIS, they learn their friend has no memory of the previous day, his mobile phone has been damaged and wiped, and a bizarre tattoo has appeared on his neck. Determined to save him, their quest brings them to a hidden “trap street” in the city of London concealed by a misdirection circuit where alien refugees have taken sanctuary, there are many answers that must be found in this mysterious place, and what exactly is the chronolock? The Doctor and Clara must solve the bizarre murder mystery that Rigsy has inadvertently become embroiled in, which has left him sentenced to death for the murder of a Janus female (a dual faced alien species) that he cannot recall having any part of. The immortal Ashildr is also here in this secret street, she is now the self proclaimed Mayor “Me” of this alien refuge camp, and her motives are not quite what they first seem. As the tattoo formed of numbers begins counting down on the back of Rigsy’s neck, it’s almost time to face the raven!

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This incredible episode marks the return of the popular character Rigsy, the character played by Jovian Wade, who helped the Doctor and Clara defeat the Bonless in the brilliant series eight story Flatline (2014). We get a chance to catch up what’s been happening with Rigsy in this episode, he’s getting his life back on track, he also has a baby daughter, Lucy, now as well, which makes the plight he now faces especially moving, and its great to see the character reunited with the Doctor and Clara for an adventure were they all work together. Maisie Williams also returns as Ashildr / Me (The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived). This time Ashildr has a decidedly sinister agenda of her own, Maisie Williams is excellent in this episode as the troubled immortal Ashildr / Mayor Me of the hidden trap street for alien refugees, the quantum shade which she uses to enforce the law manifests itself as a spooky Raven that is in turn drawn to the chronolock tattoo on a condemned persons neck – and it’s a terrifying fate from which there is absolutely no escape…

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When Clara tries to help Rigsy, volunteering to accept the chronolock as Clara thinks she is safe because she is under Ashildr’s personal protection, the tattoo moves to her neck, but Clara has no idea of the terrible consequences this selfless act will ultimately mean for her. After they visit Anahson (Letitia Wright), the daughter of the murdered alien Anah, they learn Anahson has been dressing as a male to protect herself and hide her ability to see into the past and the future. The Doctor, Clara, and Rigsy return to where the murdered Janus woman’s body is being held, whereby the full extent of Ashildr’s plan to lure the Doctor to the street is finally revealed. Ashildr might have trapped the Doctor, but she is devastated to learn what Clara has done, she never expected something like this to happen, and nothing can save Clara from facing the Raven.

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This is a terrific episode; Sarah Dollard has woven an intriguing mystery together with some particularly challenging issues, to make this one of the most emotionally charged and game-changing episodes of series nine. Director Justin Molotnikov really excels here, the secret trap street is populated by a wealth of disguised aliens, including the Judoon, Sontarans, Cybermen, Ood, and Silurians and the set design is fittingly dark and atmospheric to match the tone of the episode. The Doctor’s prompt cards from Under The Lake are used again, and his confession dial from The Magician’s and The Witch’s Familiar also returns.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman give, quite possibly, their best performances ever in Face The Raven. What starts out as something as a quirky adventure soon becomes much bolder, darker, and unsettling, and the heartbreaking consequences of Clara facing the raven is sure to reverberate across all of time and space! The Raven is often associated as a portent of doom and death, the symbolism of how the raven is uses her is especially powerful. This story is also the first to feature the Doctor wearing his red jacket, a color that also symbolises this episodes themes of rage and death, another portent of things to come perhaps?

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Clara’s sad farewell to the Doctor is undoubtedly one of this series’ finest moments. It manages to be powerful, moving, and heartbreaking all at the same time. As the time draws near, those final moments between Capaldi’s Time Lord and the Colemna’s Impossible Girl are brilliantly acted, and what we perceived as Cara’s recklessness throughout this season couldn’t have been further from the truth… I know that Clara has sometimes been a character that has often divided opinion, personally I liked the character, and I also thought Jenna Coleman was really good in role, and found Clara’s death in this episode especially moving – particularly when we glimpse the beautiful memorial Rigsy has painted on the TARDIS at the end…

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Face The Raven would effectively appear to be the first episode of three part season finale that will eventually culminate with Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. With Ashildr now in possession of the Doctor’s confession dial, the Doctor alone, and trapped in a strange land, series nine looks all set for a thrilling conclusion!

And here’s a clip where Jenna Coleman reflects on her time working on Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi.