TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S9, E10: Face the Raven

It’s that time of year again that has a bitter-sweet tang. The main Doctor Who series is approaching its end and heading to its finale. Before the final two episodes, it is necessary to Face the Raven in a script by Sarah Dollard (Being Human; The Game; You, Me and the Apocalypse). Check out my thoughts after the synopsis.

 

The Doctor and Clara, with their old friend Rigsy, find themselves in a magical alien world, hidden on street in the heart of London. Sheltered within are some of the most fearsome creatures of the universe… and Ashildr (Maisie Williams)! With a death sentence hanging over their heads, not all of the intruders will get out alive.

First off, I have to applaud Sarah Dollard’s script. There’s a great pace to proceedings that never feels rushed or padded. The hook this week is a weirdly counting down tattoo which has appeared on the neck of Flatline’s Riggsy. I really liked the concepts introduced: the tattoo itself and its meaning. The notion of hidden streets and the contents of the street being searched for in the story.

The tattoo lends an urgency to the clock and I think it’s far more effective than the “Start the clock!” and visual queue from last year’s Mummy on the Orient Express. The tattoo is focussed on just enough to keep the tension without over-egging the matter. There can often be a sense of “time-stretch” with stories that take place or have “ticking-clock” elements. For example, bombs take more than the specified time to count-down in films and so on. This didn’t seem to be overly a problem here – though perhaps that was due to the longer duration between “ticks” of the tattoo.

Visual design – sets, costume physical and video effects all come together nicely once again this week. The street in which the bulk of the story takes place is suitably Victorian. I found that this leant a somewhat grittier air to the episode than perhaps would otherwise be the case. I admit that I was somewhat thrown by the seeming disparity of lighting between the daytime London and dark street. Though this could be the result of the technology that hides the locale from the natives. On another note, I would have quite liked the episode to be based in Bristol just to get out of London again!

The street has a great mix of inhabitants present, including the Doctor’s newest recurring acquaintance, Ashildr. I was both delighted and annoyed to see the Viking girl back so soon, but actually, this time around I rather enjoyed the presentation of Maisie Williams’ character and the actress’ performance which seemed much more mature than in her previous two appearances. I think that this is partly because of the character’s role within the story but it also felt to me like the actress had settled in a bit more by this story.

Peter Capaldi really shone through this episode for me. From moments where his Doctor showed an element of tenderness and compassion – particularly towards a small human, right through to the barely supressed rage evident by the end of the episode. Dollard’s writing made it clear that Clara has been having a positive effect on this gruff incarnation and a softening has clearly begun. Whether it will continue after this story’s events remains to be seen.

The story’s climactic moment and the scene leading up to it was a triumph of writing, direction and performance as far as I am concerned. The right balance of heroism, acceptance, fatalism and bravery shone through. The eponymous Raven has been a constant background element throughout the episode and this is brought to a natural conclusion. Perhaps the scene was a smidgen drawn out but I believe this was a deliberate act to allow the facts to sink into the audience’s minds.

Even the Doctor can’t win every adventure.

Overall, this was a superb story. As a standalone episode it perhaps suffers somewhat due to the characters included and the events that transpire. Perhaps some impact would be lost. For this reviewer though, the story is one of the stand-outs of the 2015 series. More like this please.

Rating: 4.5 /5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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