If, like me, you’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 1963, you will have developed your own ’ret-conn’ mechanisms for either wiping your memory of certain stories, episodes or bits of episodes as you have gone along. It seems essential: in a history spanning more than fifty years and dozens of writers, actors and ‘show-runners’, it would be a miracle if the show maintained high quality and consistency all the time. So serious fans do this themselves in their heads. It’s quite a skill.
It’s a shame that ‘Face the Raven’ has to be one of those stories that have to be ‘edited out’ of the show’s history in this way.
Why? Because it was contrived, ill-paced and had the main characters behaving in out-of-character ways in a stilted setting with little real human drama.
I should say here that I strive to like each and every episode of Doctor Who and rarely complain. It’s my favourite show and more than a television programme to me. I have connections with it that go back a long way and reach deep. That’s why it matters to me when it goes wrong.
Apart from the fact that the episode more or less died in terms of credibility and pace once we entered ‘Diagon Alley’ -sorry, the trap street (resurrected, it seems, from the set of A Muppet Christmas Carol)- there are so many frustratingly ill-judged moments. Ashildr’s re-entrance is as lacking in drama as Davros’s re-appearance was in the Fourth Doctor’s ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ adventure; the mix of alien races is confused and doesn’t work dramatically either (a Cyberman in a relationship with a pensioner?); but I think my biggest beef is the way that the Doctor stands by idly while his best friend is killed feet away from him.
How did that ever get past the BBC’s script editors? Why did Capaldi himself, who is such a fan of the show, not protest (or perhaps he did but was overruled)? How can the Doctor, a Time Lord, be able to do nothing about a ‘chronolock’ when he dealt with something similar in ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’? Did he not have a teleport band on his arm? Does he not have several regenerations he could risk (something he’s done many times before)?
It’s almost like it went like this: Jenna Coleman decides to leave the show. An excellent actress, she’s been somewhat messed about by a poorly-conceived and overly-contrived character but has dealt with each twist and turn in her character reasonably well. I’m sure many fans wish her well and will watch her play Queen Victoria with joy. Working backwards from that, Steven Moffat knows that he will have to wrap Clara up and develops a time-table for that event. But, just as Clara seems like an attempt to create a ‘perfect companion’ (the ‘Impossible Girl’ motif manages to inject her even into the First Doctor’s departure from Gallifrey) and then loses her way as a character, Moffat seems to be unsure how to deal with her ending. It would have been better had she faded away relatively easily in 2014’s Christmas adventure, but she stayed on and so demanded a more dramatic end.
The trouble is, it just doesn’t work. We go from the joy and wonder of the Doctor and Clara ‘just having fun together’ (in Moffat’s words) in the earlier episodes of Series 9, to the suddenness of Clara being reckless and risking death intentionally as some kind of psychotic, in order to try to make sense of her death-wish at the end of ‘Face the Raven’. Clara’s death betrays even the vestige of credibility Coleman had managed to cobble together as an actress.
And that’s a shame. Coleman was good, even great, as an actress. It was the scripts that let her down, or gave her too much to pull together into a consistent interpretation. It’s goodbye to the Implausible Girl. So we ended up with the ultra-divisive and unreal construction of Clara, who didn’t ever know whether she was coming or going.
Let’s hope the next companion has a better and more humanistically real story arc, as, much more than the Tardis, he or she is our window onto the many worlds of Doctor Who.
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