[WARNING: The Following Review Contains SPOILERS!]
The Doctor is not in the habit of giving out his private phone number. So it comes as something of a shock when the phone rings as he and Clara Oswald are freshly returned from their latest adventure. It’s even more of a shock when the call turns out to be from Rigsy – a graffiti artist who helped The Doctor and Clara once upon a time.
Rigsy is terrified because he has no memory of the last day and woke up with a strange tattoo. This news bores The Doctor, who points out that young people waking up with a strange tattoo and not remembering how they got it is rather common. What is uncommon, however, is that Rigsy’s tattoo is changing… counting down to zero. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the countdown reaching zero will be bad for Rigsy.
The search for answers will lead them into a hidden refugee camp for aliens – some of whom are survivors of failed attempts at conquest and enemies of The Doctor! Yet peace of a kind is maintained in this hidden world, thanks to The Quantum Shade – a being that disguises itself as a raven, striking down those The Mayor has determined have broken their laws.
And who is this mayor whose word pacifies even Sontarans and Cybermen? None other than Me – The Girl Who Died and became The Woman Who Lived. And it is by her command that Rigsy shall die for a murder he can’t remember occurring unless The Doctor and Clara are very quick and very clever in finding the real criminal. But even if they succeed, they may yet fail. For nothing can delay or thwart a Quantum Shade once it is locked onto a target…
Personally, this critic is skeptical that we’ve seen the last of Clara Oswald. Oh, I’m certain she’s really most sincerely dead and that Jenna Coleman truly is leaving at the end of this Series as the rumors have said. And yet, this is The Impossible Girl we’re talking about. The odds are good that she’ll show up in some capacity in this Series’ final episode and there’s always a chance of one of her other selves showing up when The Doctor is in need.
That being said, if this truly is Clara’s last journey on the TARDIS, this episode would be a fine send off and easily rank among the greatest companion departure episodes in Doctor Who history. The character has been rather erratic in terms of personality but Jenna Coleman has always soldiered on in trying to play the part she was given and tried to give Clara strength, if not consistency, in every outing. This makes it all the more tragic that in this, Clara’s final moment, Coleman gives her finest performance ever as things come full circle and the woman who splintered her soul across time to ensure The Doctor’s survival (while slowly turning herself into a replacement Doctor) should die making a sacrifice worthy of The Doctor himself.
The rest of the cast performances are equally entertaining. Capaldi has been on fire the entire series and this episode proves no exception. Maisie Williams continues to impress as Me. And Jovian Wade is a welcome presence as Rigsy, despite him not having much to do for over half the episode.
The script by first-time Doctor Who writer Sarah Dollard is a thing of wonder, with a number of great speeches. Of particular note is Clara’s firm request that The Doctor not seek revenge for the circumstances that bring about her death and The Doctor telling Me that he will try to honor Clara’s request but will not guarantee Me’s safety if they meet again because, “it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you.”
The only real weak point in the episode is the direction by Justin Molotnikov. Most of the episode is well shot but Clara’s death scene, shown in slow motion with several repeated shots of Clara opening her mouth to scream shot from different angles, looks incredibly goofy. She doesn’t look so much like she’s suffered a mortal wound so much as she’s about to start singing her big solo number in a West End musical.
Given all of this. it is hard to judge Face The Raven is an independent episode. Like Utopia in Series 3 of Doctor Who, this is an episode that exists primarily to establish a bigger conflict in the episodes to follow while seemingly standing on its own fairly well. Still, as The Doctor himself would say, “Time will tell. It always does.”