Face the Raven: Nevermore

I don’t know how I feel about this one. There is something wrong about it. Something hollow. Something artificial.

Actually, I feel watching this like the Doctor feels at the end of “Sleep No More”. I feel like I’ve been set up. I do not feel like I have been experiencing a story. Rather, I feel like I have been listening to a con-man wind me up so that he can steal my wallet.

I have felt like that a lot the past few seasons.

Other thoughts:

  • In its way, this episode parallels “The Caves of Androzani”. In that story, the Doctor very early on stumbles into a pit and contracts a fatal disease. And really, from that point on, the Doctor has very little influence on the large motions of the story and mostly is just invested in staying alive until the end, when he dies. Similarly, Clara’s doomed from the midpoint of the episode and nothing else that happens in the story actually matters. Because this is not “the adventure which ends with Clara’s death”: it is “the story about Clara dying.” The point of this story is to kill Clara. Everything else is just window-dressing.
  • There’s something a bit Friedberg and Seltzer about this story. Their shitty parody movies work by simply inserting allusions to things in a context that indicates they are ridiculous. But there’s no actual comedy. They don’t do anything with it. It’s just “Paris Hilton is a person you may have heard of. Laugh now!” Similarly, none of the elements of this story seem to amount to much. “There’s trap streets that you’re kept from perceiving unless you sort of happen onto one by accident while you’re not looking,” but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, it’s just there because it’s a neat piece of window-dressing for the Clara-killin’ we’ll get to in a bit. The alien refugee camp where Cybermen and Sontarans and a guy who kinda looks like Wolverine all live peacefully, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, it’s just there to be set-dressing as Clara snuffs it. The Doctor talks about a plan to get the refugees on his side, but it goes nowhere. The whole story of the Doctor trying to save and/or exonerate Rigsy is just a framing device for the real story, Clara dying.
  • In its way, it also parallels “Day of the Doctor”. In that story, we are told that the War Doctor is the one who broke the vow, who became a warrior and thus was unworthy of the name “Doctor”. But not a single thing we are shown actually supports this and we are just to accept it on faith. Similarly, here, when the Doctor learns that Clara’s taken the black spot tattoo everyone instantly gives up, and never even considers trying to find a loophole or escape clause or defense. We’re just meant to take it on faith that there is absolutely nothing they could possibly do to save her and don’t even try, even though there is absolutely nothing we are shown that actually supports that this is a less-escapable “absolutely certain unavoidable death” than the absolutely certain unavoidable deaths the characters have faced approximately one hundred times thus far.
    • That, for example, no one even mentions “What if we stick her in the convenient stasis box that is right here.” Not, per se, that it should have worked, but why didn’t anyone even ask about it? Because this episode is not an adventure where Clara sacrifices her life. It is a story about Clara dying
    • I don’t know if this extends to the Doctor never even asking about taking the mark himself to save her. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the Doctor knows Clara well enough that he knows not to beg her to let him take it.
    • But it would be an interesting conundrum for Mayor Me if the Doctor outwits her trap by getting himself killed. Also, wouldn’t it have been a neat cliffhanger to have the Doctor take the mark, only to reveal that, right after we set up that no way no how you can’t possibly escape the Raven, whoever it is who she’s sold the Doctor to is powerful enough to just zap the Quantum Shade out of existence.
  • That aspect also parallels the end of “Time of the Angels”, wherein we are simply told that there’s absolutely no way out for the Doctor to go rescue Rory and Amy because New York in the ’30s is absolutely verboten to the TARDIS, without showing us any indication in any way shape or form to justify why this problem can’t be solved by the Williamses taking the ferry to Hoboken.
  • Of course, it also parallels “The Magician’s Apprentice” in that the Doctor hands over his confession disc to an old, old friend, gets teleported away to mysterious doom, and Clara gets absolutely for reals no backsies killed off.
  • The alien refugee camp in Diagon Alley is an absolutely brilliant concept. Shame that the story wasn’t about it or really even had that much to do with it.
  • Banksy Rigsy’s mystery is an interesting concept. Shame the story wasn’t about it
  • They have really been laying it on thick this season that Clara is trying too hard to be like the Doctor and that she’s got an uppance-coming for her hubris. While it’s reminiscent of series 2, it’s very different: in that season, it was heavily telegraphed (most especially in “Tooth and Claw”,) that the Doctor and Rose were getting carried away with their own hubris and had their own comeuppance on the way. But there, the sin is laid equally on the Doctor and Rose, while here, there is an uncomfortable and hopefully unintentional sense of “Uppity b—- shouldn’t be trying to be like the Doctor! The name of the show is Doctor Who, not Clara Who! She needs to get ganked, put her in her place.”
    • Which, interestingly is exactly how a whole bunch of oldschool neckbeard fanboys felt about Rose. I will be in a very forgiving mood if the twist at the end is a saving throw that says, “No, actually Clara was totally right to be like the Doctor,” aside from the fact that everything else in the season was clearly set up to make us feel otherwise.
  • Clara dies, however, not because she has acted like the Doctor. Even as she recites rules for being the Doctor, she’s clearly forgotten what she knew back in “The Magician’s Apprentice”. She takes the mark from Rigsy on the assumption that she can use the misdirect to play for time and manipulate Me into removing it. The Doctor would have taken the mark with absolutely no plan to weasel out of it, even if he knew the arbitrary rules change that was coming, and just assume everything would work out for the best. That is why Clara dies, and again, it’s because of her hubris in thinking she can be sneaky and plan and outmaneuver the situation rather than just running into it headlong and hoping for the best.
    • I mean, unless the whole season’s timey-wimey and this episode takes place before “The Magician’s Apprentice”, but that would just be stupid.


4 thoughts on “Face the Raven: Nevermore

  1. Nate

    “Clara Who” actually sounds like a show I would definitely certainly watch! Clara as the main character? As Mrs Who even? I think that would work!

    … Maybe that’s The Clara Problem? She’s written as a main character for her own solo show – snarky, sassy, taking shit from no-one, smarter than everyone else, Impossibly Special, needing no-one – but she’s a sidekick. Even the Doctor is written (has been retconned) to *need* sidekicks to stay sane. The Doctor can’t stay alone forever, but Clara has always acted like she’s the star of a one-woman show and the Doctor is her sidekick. She treats everyone she ever meets with contempt, basically. Nobody is good enough for her and she knows it.

    And sadly, the audience knows it too and repays the favour.

    I can see how this happened! The writers went ‘well, we definitely don’t want to be sexist, we need a Strong Female Character ™ who can match the Doctor in her own right! Equal in every way!’

    ‘Like River Song? Who is literally married to the Doctor? I mean other than The TARDIS who is The Doctor’s Wife, but we’ll pretend that episode never happened even though it was written by Neil Gaiman’

    ‘Oh yes, exactly like River Song! But, you know, not her. And completely different.’

    ‘So, like Rose?’

    ‘No, not at all like Rose! But yes, Rose. But not Rose. Smarter. Also, sassier. And snarky. And with the mobile phones and the apps and the pop culture references and whatever else the kids are into these days.’

    ‘And she should be a complete match for the Doctor? So, Ramana?’

    ‘Oh heck no, not a Time Lady. We don’t want to open up that Gallifrey box. Even though we will in the 50th special. Also, River Song. But no. Wouldn’t do for the Doctor’s Wife to be an actual *companion*, would it? So make her human. But, you know, Impossibly Special. Something timey-wimey. And make sure she shows no empathy of any sort. Nothing weak, you know, girly. She’s a Strong Female Character ™. ‘

    ‘Are you sure about this? Like, we normally have this Holmes-Watson thing going on, with the Doctor being a smartass jerk and the companion being the humane one, explaining the emotional stakes to the audience…’

    ‘No no, it’ll work fine! Make them *both* jerks! In fact don’t bother explaining *anything* to the audience. Trust me, they love to be confused. Just smash cut a bunch of random story ideas together and assume both the Doctor and Clara understand everything perfectly. Here, I’ll show you my secret patented Story Engine…’

    ‘… that’s a bunch of D20s and a cardboard Madlibs template.’

    ‘Yep! Just Roll on the Random Scene Table 10 times and patch the results into the sentence: ‘While %1, the Doctor and Clara %2 a %3! But %4 the %5 so they must %6 the %7. Meanwhile %8 the %9. Finally, %10.”’

    ‘That seems… inadequate. Are we sure this’ll work?’

    ‘S’ got us through eight seasons hasn’t it?’

  2. Nate

    I even think that Clara/Danny would have worked well, if the writers had allowed Danny to have Full Companion Status instead of inexplicably having him get in an argument with the Doctor and sulk off.

    Danny’s Afghanistan PTSD and suspicion of authority would have made a good foil for the Doctor’s Gallifrey guilt, and a counterbalance to Clara’s manic can-do optimism. They wouldn’t have been a rerun of Amy/Rory; they’d have had a nice light-darkness dynamic together.

    So many ways these last two-and-a-half seasons could have turned out so much better than the script allowed them to be.

  3. Ross Post author

    I feel that Danny’s character arc feels a lot like there’s a great idea there, but the show is more interested in just being able to treat the character as backstory. It’s a problem that’s been endemic to Doctor Who for me since at least the second half of season 7: rather than actually doing the interesting things, they just sketch them out enough to give you the sense of those wonderful things being there, then proceed as if there’s a fully-fleshed out subplot or character arc in the liminal spaces. A big part of my increasing frustration with the show these past few years is the increasing sense that all the most wonderful parts – Danny Pink’s arc, the alien refugee camp, Me’s thousand years of adventures, the War Doctor, are all things which don’t actually exist at all, but are just imaginary things hinted to exist with nothing underlying them.

    Says the guy who invented a whole huge alternate Doctor Who that exists only in liminal spaces with nothing underlying it.

  4. Pingback: Deconstruction Roundup for November 27th, 2015 | The Slacktiverse

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