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Monday, 23 November 2015

Doctor Who S35E10: Face The Raven.

Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 10
Face The Raven.

So, here's an episode that had some potential to be a mixed bag: It had Rigsy, from my favourite episode of the last series, and a Gaiman-ish alien rookery; but on the other hand, it also had Maisie Williams, whose performances this series have all been very poor, and the trailer had Clara mumbling cryptic words, which is never a positive sign. So I was perhaps a shade apprehensive and a shade excited for this episode.

The Doctor and Clara are called to modern day London when Rigsy calls them to tell them he has a mysterious tattoo of a number on the back of his neck - and it's counting down. Setting out to find the cause of it, the three end up in a hidden London street that acts as a refugee camp for aliens, led by Ashildr (who I refuse to call Me, that's a silly name). Rigsy has been accused of murdering one of the aliens, and the number on his neck is a death sentence - when it runs down, a quantum shade in the form of a raven will kill him. As the three attempt to prove Rigsy's innocence, they stumble on a much more sinister plan of Ashildr's - and Clara attempts a daring plan to save Rigsy.

Okay, I actually loved this episode. It had some elements I didn't like, such as long and tortured conversations about the nature of the Doctor, but by and large, I think it's not only the best episode of this series, but the best episode since I started doing these reviews.

Even the BBC are still calling her Ashildr.

A large part of that is that it has a genuinely interesting and tension-fraught subject. Until quite near the end, it's left deliberately vague as to whether Rigsy did actually commit the crime he's accused of - he doesn't remember any of it, and he himself raises the possibility that he might have reacted poorly to seeing an out and out alien - but moreover, it plays with ideas of mob justice and community cohesion, that whether Rigsy committed the crime or not was irrelevant, because the people of the street need him to have done so if they want to retain their fragile community and, thus, their sanctuary. It makes for an interesting interplay of ideas, helped along by the fact that the alien street is one of the most genuinely fascinating settings I've seen in recent Doctor Who.

The use of Ashildr as the villain - and she does take a definitely villainous role in this one - is also interesting. In her previous appearances, she's been either an out-and-out good guy or a reluctant antihero who quickly came back to being a good guy, but in this episode, she is most definitely villainous, abusing her power and manipulating the situation as part of a plot to fulfill several deals with dark forces. Maisie Williams also, in a pleasant surprise, absolutely kills it in this episode, managing to find the perfect balance of coolly sinister and calmly reasonable. There are a few slightly off moments as far as her acting goes, but in general, she does a really good job in this episode.

Ashildr and Rigsy, in varying states of alarm.

It was also charmingly free of any kind of social commentary whatsoever. I was a little concerned when they mentioned refugee camps, because frankly that is kind of a hot button issue for whatever reason lately and god knows I don't trust Moffat's writing team to handle it well after the repulsive horror that was the Zygon two-parter, but the episode handily killed any chance of it being social commentary dead about six seconds after that, and I am endlessly appreciative of that. Thank you, Sarah Dollard. Thank you for not trying to push any social commentary. I really mean that.

Of course, the elephant in the room here is that Clara dies at the end of the episode, although in all likelihood not permanently, as part of her daring plan to save Rigsy. It was a very effective death scene actually, for all that it was preceded by some slightly turgid monologues, but I don't believe it'll actually last - and yes, I know Jenna Coleman is leaving the show, but I still don't buy it. Still, they played up the tension and tragedy of it well, and it's definitely one of the better death scenes I've seen recently, so I'm not complaining.

These guys again, who pretty much only show up as extras.

This was a really good episode, and I'm hoping that the show can keep that momentum up into the final two episodes of the series. I'm not necessarily going to bet money on it doing so: Steven Moffat's writing those last two episodes, after all, and he is not a good writer - but I do hope that they'll be good. The first one seems to involve some kind of medieval castle, so that's - a thing. Sorry, what is the overarching plot of this series, I'm still very confused over that?

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