Discussing Doctor Who: Face the Raven

Face the Raven Doctor Who Clara

After a heart-wrenching episode, it’s time to talk “Face the Raven” with my friend Kevin Harvey, author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture.

Previously, we talked about “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar,” “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood,” “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived,” “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion,” and “Sleep No More.”

Not to be River Song, but … beware of spoilers as we move forward with this pivotal episode.

I have a feeling we are going to disagree on this episode as well. We will get into a lot of the specifics, but what were your overall thoughts about “Face the Raven”? Are you ready for a three-part finale?

Kevin: So now you just come to the party all confrontational? There were no boring Zygons or confusing found-footage films in “Face the Raven.” What are you so confident that we’ll disagree on? I guess we’ll find out soon just how hardened your heart actually is.

For a couple of reasons, “Face the Raven” is a difficult episode to critique all on its own. For starters, as you said, it’s the first part of a three-parter. And secondly, it’s difficult to not simply view it as “the one where Clara dies” and review it on its own merit. Even while watching it a second time, I couldn’t set that knowledge aside and judge well exactly where it stands on the quality-episode spectrum. So I say, why fight it, and let’s just ask if it was a fitting end to Clara.

And I’d say yes and no. Yes, in that everything made sense in the way events unfolded this season, with Clara, “the magician’s apprentice,” becoming more and more the magician herself. Of course she was going to die thinking she was the Doctor and could get away with the same brash, foolish things he does. Of course she was going to die while sacrificing herself for someone else. I’m totally, completely okay with the way Clara died.

But no, it wasn’t a fitting tribute to her end (and this could change depending on her role in the final two episodes, if she has any role at all) in that while all season we were given two weeks to play a single story out and develop characters and storylines, but then last week we were given the horrible “Sleep No More” (which I hate even more now and see it as even more of a time waster) instead of extending the storyline of “Face the Raven” and Clara’s death to two episodes. Why rush this story, when all season we had slow-paced first-parters that led to some classic concluding episodes? I blame whoever’s idea it was to make “Sleep No More.”

Aaron: Yes, this week did make me rethink my initial faint praise of “Sleep No More.” I still don’t think it’s a bad episode, but I do think it was a mistimed one. I would have done better earlier in the season as opposed to what amounts to a throwaway episode right before the finale. But enough about the eye-crust monsters, and on to “Face the Raven.”

The reason why I felt we would disagree is that I was a bit disappointed in this episode. There didn’t seem to be much of a direction to the story except treading water until the point where Clara’s mistake is made final. It seemed to be a case where the sum is not greater than the parts. “Face the Raven” had epic moments, great characters, an interesting concept, but put together it still seemed to be missing something.

How bad is the Doctor regretting saving Ashildr right now?

Aaron: How ironic that the Doctor remembers why he chose his face—because he’s the Doctor and he saves people—and the person he saves is ultimately responsible for the death of his best friend and probably unleashes the not-so Doctor part of his personality. That’s some next-level storytelling there.

Hearing Clara beg him to remain the Doctor was especially poignant after you saw thunderous flashes of the Warrior. He is the constant paradox, a timeless contradiction. An “oncoming storm” that brings healing.

It serves as a reminder for the Doctor that regardless of what he’d like to think, no, he can’t do whatever he’d like. Choices have consequences, even if they seem right and good at the moment. He saved Ashildr the young girl, but he unleashed Me the immortal. 

Kevin: Because of the “face reveal” that we learned of in Ashildr’s first episode, combined with the best ten minutes of Doctor Who ever in “The Zygon Inversion” when the Doctor gives his grand speech about forgiveness, I’m hopeful that this all comes into play in the finale and that the Doctor finds it in his heart to not only forgive Ashildr but also not regret saving her. (That doesn’t mean I have to forgive her, though!)

But the question is an important one to ponder. Will the Doctor regret saving her? Almost certainly he did in that final moment before he was transported away. And now he doesn’t have Clara to speak into his heart and bring him to reason. For this reason I believe we’ll see the Warrior, if only for a short moment. We’ll see a Doctor who doesn’t value every life, as he has done so well in his first 2,000 years. And my guess is he’ll be reunited with Missy next week, which isn’t going to help.

So who will bring him back and remind him who he is? (Maybe Clara? Somehow?) One thing’s for sure—although it would make for some great writing and intriguing storylines, Ashildr won’t be his next companion. He may be able to forgive her, but I can’t imagine him looking into her eyes every day.

I’m not a Harry Potter person (no real reason, just only so much nerdom to go around), but I heard the hidden alien street is similar to something from the Potter world. Did you like the concept on Doctor Who and was it a Hogwarts rip-off?

Kevin: I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t even think of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley until just now. But yeah, I can see how some geeks wouldn’t like the rip-off. Me, I’m of the impression that after thousands of years of storytelling, everything is a rip-off from something written already, so give it a rest. It’s not like Clara and the Doctor stopped for butterbeers and to buy wands from Ollivander’s. (You’re not going to get those references, I suppose.)

Aaron: If you’re talking about Lantern’s Waste or Archenland, I’m with you. Otherwise, I’m as lost as Edmund in a wardrobe.

I enjoyed the concept of having a hidden alien street in London. Fantasy or sci-fi stories work well when you can deliver something that is hidden in plain sight. Even in Doctor Who lore we have the Weeping Angels that provide a creep factor to an everyday sight.

What did you make of Rigsy’s return from “Flatline” in season 8?

Aaron: Let me say, I like Rigsy. He was a good character previously. It was nice to see him move from being a drifting graffiti artist to a gainfully employed, responsible dad. But he felt like an afterthought in this episode.

He was a decent, but not all-together memorable character in his first appearance. Now, he’s thrown in this hugely important episode and his choice leads to the death of a companion. That’s significant emotional weight for a character we’ve only seen a couple of times. We’ve seen Ashildr more and she has been the focus of an episode this season. Most viewers barely remember Rigsy, if at all.

Even in this episode, he was relegated to the background. He operated almost as a plot piece to put Clara in the position to make a choice. I enjoy bringing back previous one-off characters, but if you do it, make them meaningful and significant to the story as an actual person.

Kevin: Ah, but there is meaningful significance to Rigsy’s return, my little muggle. (That’s a Harry Potter reference, by the way.) But I will admit, I would’ve preferred him popping up in at least one earlier episode this season so we would remember him better and care a bit more about Clara’s sacrifice for him. But I suppose that’s why they made him a dad, so that we would be forced to care for his survival, even though we didn’t really know him well.

The significance is, that in “Flatline,” Clara pretended to be the Doctor. Remember, the TARDIS had shrunk to about twelve inches tall and the Doctor couldn’t lead the investigation. Therefore, Clara, perhaps for the first time in her travels with the Doctor, took charge and began making decisions on her own, but in a way that she thought the Doctor would decide. And so of course, all of this season, as we have remarked every single week, she has been slowly becoming more and more like the Doctor, leading to “Face the Raven,” when she died being brash, foolish, and brave like the Doctor.

Or I could be way off and I should apologize to my muggle friend from Tennessee. I’ll just wait and see if Stephen Moffat calls to complain.

We’ve alluded to it and talked around it all season. What did you think about Clara’s death?

Kevin: My teachers always used to say to read the entire assignment all the way through before beginning. Guess I should’ve done that here too, since I kind of answered that already. Sorry.

But I’ll add here that at first I was a bit disappointed that Clara only took the curse upon herself because she was confident that she would be saved. I knew the moment it was explained to her how the quantum shade could be transferred to someone else, that was how she was going to die—willingly taking someone else’s curse upon herself in order to save his life, just as Jesus did on the cross. In fact, I even tweeted that out as soon as we learned that info.

However, we then learned that she felt Ashildr would remove the quantum shade when she learned it was on Clara, so she didn’t really willingly give her life for Rigsy’s. But where I am always looking to find the Christ comparison, Doctor Who was trying to simply give the Doctor comparison with her actions, which they did successfully.

And of course we had her last moments with the Doctor. Heart wrenching, even the second time watching it all. But some great dialogue and wonderfully compassionate looks from Peter Capaldi. I’d love to know what he was thinking of when he was trying to look at Jenna Coleman with his loving eyes, but I’m afraid he might say “chocolate” or “my dog.”

Aaron: Capaldi said he was very emotional over her leaving the show, so he probably had more on his mind that snacks and pets. It was the perfect way for her to die, storywise.

This whole season had been leading up to this moment and in some ways her entire story arc, as she was the impossible girl who scattered herself across the Doctor’s timeline. Her famous lines from those first few episodes work perfectly now, “Run you clever boy and remember.”

The Doctor (and Whovians) will always remember Clara “Oswin” Oswald. I was sad to see her go, but I have to say I’m anxious to see how the Doctor moves on without her and who his next companion might be.

Favorite quotes from this week?

Aaron: Obviously, we could just quote Clara’s entire farewell scene, but I’ll give some specific quotes from the whole episode.

“No matter how bad it is, we cannot take you back down your timeline just to fix a tattoo.” — Clara

“Local knowledge, you’re coming with us and bring the new human. … Actually, don’t bring the new human, I’ll just get distracted.” — Doctor

“Infinite lifespan, finite memory—it makes for an awkward social life.” — Ashildr

“I did this! This is my fault. If Danny Pink can do it, so can I.” — Clara

“Whatever happens next, where she is sending you … don’t be a warrior. Promise me! Be a Doctor.” — Clara

Kevin: Yeah, her farewell scene was nice, so I’ll start with one chunk from it.

“You’re gonna be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re gonna be furious, and you’re gonna be sad. But listen to me. Don’t let this change you.”—Clara

“If you want your extremities to stay attached, stand absolutely still. If not, we can provide a small bag. You can take them home at the end.”—the Doctor

“Let me be brave.”—Clara’s final words

“You’ll find that it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you.”—the Doctor

What spiritual takeaways did you notice from the episode?

Kevin: As I said, Clara’s sacrifice ended up not being the perfect Christ comparison, but the concepts are still there. Clara was told about the transfer of the quantum shade, “You can’t just push it on someone. It’s not that simple. It has to be taken willingly. The death is already locked in. You can pass it on, but you can’t cheat it.” Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages, or payment, for sin is death. Death is the only payment for our sins, and it cannot be cheated.

In Old Testament times, it was the sacrifice of an animal that the high priest presented to God as payment for the sins of his people. Sacrifice would always be required for our sins, and that’s why Jesus intervened and became the final, ultimate sacrifice. Galatians 3:13 says that he became the curse for us. The death or curse could not be cheated. It was “locked in.” It had to be passed on, which Jesus did willingly.

Aaron: For Clara as beloved as she was, I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 16:18 when it became obvious she was going to die. “Pride goes before destruction.” She believed she was invincible and it finally caught up with her.

But in some ways, what we saw in Clara is an outright and complete devotion and trust in the Doctor to make things right. She had a Romans 8:28 faith in him. No matter how bleak the situation, she believed he would always make things right and bring it around for her good. But maybe, this is for her good. Maybe, as she said, this is exactly what she wanted.

Regardless, Clara reminds us that we all face death alone. In that moment, it did not matter that she was friends with the Doctor. She could not “cheat” death. The only way for us to defeat death is to trust in the finished work of One who has already defeated it. In that moment, it will not matter who we are friends with or what family relationships we have.

For more about Kevin, he blogs at BibleInPopCulture.com, where he talks about the intersection of faith and culture, and you can catch him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

Join us again next week when we’ll talk about “Heaven Sent.” Here’s some previews to get you ready.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.