Sunday, 22 November 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E10 - 'Face the Raven'

I still have absolutely no idea what to make of the end of the previous episode of Doctor Who. I'm, also, still very confused by the way in which that strange, and very bleak, ending was simply left hanging as we were moved directly into an entirely new story. I'm still convinced that it is a plot-line we are going to be returning to, sometime - though, for now, I suppose we just have to put the previous episode aside and accept whatever this new episode has in sore for us.

Returning from another of their, seemingly regular, off-camera adventures, the Doctor and Clara are caught by surprise when the phone on the TARDIS suddenly starts ringing - something that usually only signals bad news, since so few people have the number and they only tend to call when they need help. This time, it turns out that the call is from Rigsy (Joivan Wade), a returning character from one of the more interesting episodes from last season (the one with the two-dimensional aliens). The Doctor is a little bothered that Clara would hand out the TARDIS's phone number - but, it turns out that Rigsy does have a genuine problem. He has a number tattooed on his neck that seems to be counting down on its own, and no memory of how he got it - or, even, of anything that had happened to him the day before. It's hardly the most imaginative set-up for a new story you could think of - but, it is still well don, here. And, also, the sight of that tattoo slowly counting down, with the numbers shifting and changing, makes for a great image.

Clearly working within a very strict time-frame, the Doctor and Clara try to help Rigsy uncover the truth of what had happened to him the day before - eventually finding their way to an alien enclave hidden in the heart of London - a refugee camp that welcomes anyone that is willing to accept the rules. Rigsy, it turns out, had found his way to this enclave the day before - and, in an unexplained sequence of events, someone had died. So, now, Rigsy is being held responsible for murder - and, the number on his neck is actually a death sentence, counting down to the moment of execution.

Or, at least, that's how things seem on the surface. It turns out that the Mayor of this little community is actually Ashildr (Maisie Williams) - who is still entirely committed to the vow she made, in her last appearance, to protect Earth from the Doctor's recklessness. Ashildr's presence seems to indicate that the situation is more complicated than it appears - and, it soon becomes apparent that Rigsy may just be a pawn in a larger game.

There is quite a bit to like about this whole set-up. For one thing, it is definitely great to see Ashildr return so soon - this time in another distinctly different phase of her very long life, as the uncompromising peace-keeper who keeps the people under her protection (who happen to include some of the Doctor's own well-known enemies) in line. Once again, Ashildr feels like a very different person - but, Maisie Williams's performance remains consistently impressive. The entire idea of a secret alien community is fascinating, too - not original, sure (since it does contain elements of Diagon Alley, from the Harry Potter series, among other examples), but it is still interesting to see what form a Doctor Who version of this type of hidden community could take.

There was a very pronounced lack of explanation to much of what happened in this episode, though. The ravens, themselves (those strange creatures who act as the executioners of anyone who breaks the rules of Ashildr's hidden alien refuge), are an entirely unknown quantity. How did she meet them? And, why are they so willing to kill for her? None of that is truly explored in any great details. And, what about these mysterious figures that Ashildr mentions? The ones who demanded that she set all of this up as an elaborate trap for the Doctor? Clearly this, at least, is something that is likely to be explored in more detail in the next episode.

Now, though, I am going to be delving in to the most surprising element of this episode of Doctor Who - so, if you haven't actually seen this episode, yet, you might want to stop reading, here.

The most dramatic moments of this episode clearly belonged to Clara. Anyone who had been paying attention would already know that this was going to be Jenna Coleman's last season on Doctor Who - so, we knew that Clara would be leaving, we just didn't know how it would happen. But, having her end come in such a tragic way, here, is not quite what I was expecting. The circumstances of Clara's death bordered on convoluted - but, the circumstances, themselves, lead to some great moments between Clara and the Doctor. And, unlike so many others, Clara did have the opportunity to face her death on her own terms. It was a surprisingly dark note to end an episode on, though - especially for a family-friendly show like Doctor Who. But, of course, I do believe that Jenna Coleman is still set to play some part in this season's final episode, before she leaves the show for good - so, there might still be some surprises in store.

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