Let Me Be Brave
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“You, you listen to me. 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. No, listen. Whatever happens next, wherever she is sending you, I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Promise me. Be a Doctor.”
Clara Oswin Oswald, the Impossible Girl, is dead. That news isn’t a shock to those who were privy to the Internet, but that foreknowledge in no way lessened the emotional impact of that critical moment. Various iterations of Clara have died on screen before, but none of those moments hit as hard as her death did here. The closest emotional construct the show had devised so beautifully was the previous Christmas special, when Jenna Coleman was indeed set to leave the show. That ending was heartbreaking in its simplicity, buoyed in its emotional impact by the death of Danny Pink and even more so in how the Doctor and his companion couldn’t bear to look into each other’s eyes and eschew the truth. But Clara facing the Raven works on far more many levels, in large part due to how phenomenally constructive the writing has been for her relationship with Capaldi’s Doctor. In many ways, this season has benefited tremendously from the audience already knowing the familiarity of the beats between the two. Each beat, each movement, each snippet of verbiage seems to have meanings untold and far more deep than what they seem at the surface and none of it really requires an in-depth explanation; the audience simply understands. Armed with that narrative upper hand, the writers this season allowed themselves to focus more constructively on the emotional connection that exists between a Doctor and his companion. It is fitting, then, that the most emotionally naked moment arrives as the Doctor and Clara come to grips with the inevitability of her death.
Face the Raven begins with a triumphant return from a perilous journey, Clara reportedly having just saved the Doctor’s life. They have barely a moment to breathe, however, before they get a phone call from none other than Flatline’s Rigsy. His sudden appearance signals the true beginning for an episode constructed around Clara’s fatal mistake by calling back to an episode where she had become, for all intents, the Doctor herself. He has a tattoo on the back of his neck that is counting down like some sort of clock. That clockwork tattoo was the device of Ashildr, now Mayor Me of Trap Street, a Diagon Alley-esque avenue where all of the characters left by the Doctor may find refuge (among them, an Ood and a Cyberman for old times’s sake). She has kept her promise of taking care of whom the Doctor leaves behind, but the slightest bits of exhaustion in her visage betray an existence that is far more taxing than one would imagine on the surface. Ashildr and eyewitnesses hold Rigsy responsible for the murder of a woman of the street, a murder he could easily have committed since memory wipes ensue as an individual departs the street. Clara, however, doesn’t buy that for a single second, her urgency at saving Rigsy from imminent capital punishment growing exponentially when she realizes that he is now a father and what it truly meant to face the raven. The Shade was a creature that dispensed true justice on the street in the form of a raven and there was simply no escaping it. A man who had stolen supplies for his sick wife tried to run away from the raven, but he fell to its beak, all alone in the darkness of the alleyway. But it’s all a trap and Rigsy was just the bait. The alleyway of refugees was a reality, but at some point someone or some group had contacted Ashildr in laying a trap for the Doctor so they could garner his confession dial. Ashildr’s reasoning to acquiesce was quite simply and not founded in a selfish manner. She simply wanted to keep the Street safe and so she made the bargain with the Devil, whose identity is, as of yet, unknown.
The Doctor is not a man who is calm about death or really anything at all. No matter his incarnation, there is a burning fury at his very core that threatens to devour everything around him. Each Doctor has that moment, that critical juxtaposition of circumstance where that rage becomes all-encompassing. David Tennant’s Doctor in the sublime The Waters of Mars is the key example, where his rage and fury coalesce together into the most terrifying of creatures, a towering figure of tremendous power and no limits in sight. Capaldi’s Doctor has arguably espoused the greatest amount of pure fury within him, even if his gruff and sardonic manner more often than not are on full display. During this season alone, at every juncture where Clara specifically is under threat, the Doctor embraces that fury like no other and those who stood in his way felt the ground beneath them tremble as if heaven and hell were both working in unison to break them into pieces. The death of his companion, a companion whose lack of presence in danger makes him feel as if the longest month of his life had been crushing down upon him, gives a slight peek behind that curtain of fury and it is truly terrifying to behold. When he warns Ashildr (or Mayor Me in this case) that unless she saved Clara, he would rain down all hell upon her for the rest of time, there was not a single decibel of sound within his voice that could give birth to doubt. Yet he remains, above everything else, a Doctor, not a Warrior, not a Master or Missy. She knows the fury he is capable of, but she also knows that upon hearing the first cry of a child, that fury will break and he will rush to save that child, no matter what obstacles that stood in his way. That is the very core of him that Clara reaches and in doing so saves the lightness the Doctor is convinced no longer is there. It’s the most fitting final act for a companion, to save the soul of the Doctor at a juncture where he could have lost it forevermore.
Clara’s greatest weakness was ironically her strength as a Doctor, how much of an equal she truly was to him in so many aspects. She was clever, she was strong, she had her own demons and darkness but she never let them overpower her at the moments when she needed to look beyond and out into the larger picture. She even has become truly the Doctor at moments when she had to place the lives of others in harm’s way to save the day, arguably the toughest and most gut-wrenching position the Doctor has to take. Clara has always been running in some fashion or another, perhaps inadvertently fulfilling one of Doctor Who’s greatest motifs as she did so. But after the death of Danny Pink, there was far less for her left in the real world and she ran from the memories that existed there, the pain left behind by losing someone so integral. As she traveled further and further with the Doctor, the more human her reaction became, arguably more human than any other companion’s. She became reckless, her running away pushing her into a direction where she believed that the Doctor could rescue them from any circumstance. Her belief was not unfounded, however. The Doctor and Clara had tackled themselves out of situations far more dire, but this was one step too far. Clara herself was a companion upon whom the Doctor relied more upon as an equal than a sidekick, someone who was able to shoulder her part of the burden and on more than one occasion, part of his as well. Her transferring the clock onto her own body from Rigsy’s was a Doctor-ish thing to do, but the simple tragedy of it was that she was just more breakable than the Doctor and untempered by his experience, just a bit more rash and that sealed her fate. To Clara’s credit, her final act of saving the Doctor was not without a core component of strength for herself. She knew death was coming for her, but she did not break, she did not collapse and tremble at the thought of truly dying. She instead did something whose braveness few could ever hope to match. She saved the soul of the Doctor in a way only she could have done while mustering the strength to do what no one else had managed to on the Street. The Impossible Girl walked out into the lonely light, faced the raven, and left tears on our visages whose vestiges can never truly go away. Goodbye, Clara.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Oh, that’s not boring. That’s very not boring.”
+Clara explaining the notecards: “He’s making an effort to be nice.”
+Clara leaning out of the window
+“She enjoyed that way too much.”
+“Infinite lifespan, finite memory, it makes for an awkward social life.”
+“Still serving the world, then?”
“It’s still here, isn’t it?”
+“I guarantee the safety of Clara Oswald.”
+“We’re perfectly safe.”
“A phrase I find followed by screaming and running and bleeding.”
+“Take that how you like.” Where was this episode, Moffat?
+“I’m safe as a boy.”
+“We always fix it.”
+“You will save Clara and you will do it now or I will rain hell on you for the rest of time!”
+“Liar, you always care.”
+“If this is the last I ever see you, please, not like this.”
+“If Danny Pink can do it, so can I.”
+“You shouldn’t have to ask.”
+“Clara.” The way Peter Capaldi said this broke my heart.
+“Everything you’re about to say, I already know.”
+“Be a little proud of me. Goodbye, Doctor.”
+“I was lost a long time ago. She was saving you.”
+“Let me be brave.”
+“You’ll find it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you.” The Doctor’s revival of Ashildr in The Girl Who Died comes back in a full circle of tragedy.
Episode Title: Face the Raven
Written by: Sarah Dollard
Directed by: Justin Molotnikov
Image Courtesy: Forbes