TV Bye then Clara. Killing off the companions in Doctor Who is a relatively rare occurrence. The classic series brought an end to Katarina, Sara Kingdom and Adric and some people are less than convinced that the former two even really are companions anyway. Technically none of the TARDIS team members have actually died in the revival, since Amy and Rory were really only zapped back in time by a weeping angel, trapped perhaps but still breathing. Donna’s knocking around, albeit having had her memories of her time with the Doctor erased. The spin-offs have been a fair old massacre but even then plenty of the Time Lord’s friends were resurrected by the climax of the Eighth Doctor novels even if he couldn't remember who half of them were.
So when it was hinted this would be Clara’s fate, I didn’t really expect it to be true and mores to the point still don’t. With two episodes left of the season and so many unanswered questions, even with her broken body on the cobbles of Doctor Who’s version of Diagon Alley, even with Murray Gold’s utterly superb score with its many callback to the Clara’s theme, the teary performance by Jenna Fucking Coleman, even with Sarah Dollard’s debut script absolutely capturing her relationship with the Doctor and understanding his potential reaction to her passing, I don’t think she’s gone. As Dubya said, “There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.” Which was true of the dvd release of The Underwater Menace and feels true again. Not Clara, not now.
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t cry. Social media’s awash with anguish and yet, although the corners of my mouth were certainly pointing downwards and I found myself utterly thrilled with Capaldi performance notably the moment when presented a grief I don’t think we’ve seen from him before, these eyes, these eyes which sobbed at the sight of Leo falling off a raft in Titanic and Kirk’s “Oh my…” in Star Trek: Generations and can’t even get to the end of Who's own Journey’s End (Sarah Jane and the leeveeerrrr....) without stinging towards blindness remained resolutely dry. Perhaps after having been unable to cope with real world events lately, my brain can’t process the poignancy of a fictional event and when I watch it again in a different light, if we have confirmation of her temporarilty, I’ll be able to process these moments differently.
Part of my lack of ability to acknowledge that any of this is true is because it doesn’t fit. Given Clara’s origins, the fractured pieces of her across time, this impossible girl saving the Doctor here, there and everywhere still (as confirmed by Jac Rayner’s superb DWM comic Blood and Ice in with Clara meets one of these facets and has to deal with the consequences of her existence), to have her die in a situation which has no thematic connection to any of it doesn’t fit. It’s also strange that none of this was even acknowledged, no mention from the Doctor about her being “the impossible girl”. For her to be snuffed out by these previously unmentioned death method with a complicated set of rules lacks dramatic unity. Chekhov’s rifle has not gone off. It remains hanging on the wall.
Yet, professional publications are treating this as her egress so perhaps I’m just in denial. It is true that companion exits, like regenerations, do tend to be more like narrative happenstance than anything planned ahead. Adric could just as easy as fallen off the roof of Cranleigh Hall as brought about an extinction event. But in the revival there’s more often than not a question answered. When Rose is trapped in the alt.universe, it’s the culmination of a collective story arc which included the introduction of that universe earlier in second series, watching the death of her real Dad in Father’s Day. Martha Jones left acknowledging she didn’t need the Doctor any more. The horror of Donna’s loss was that she was effectively being rebooted back to becoming the monster from The Runaway Bride.
Plus and it’s let’s not pass on before acknowledging this, the cover of this month’s committee invective and pages twenty-six and twenty-seven which could just as well be opposite shots in a particular scene. Now, it’s true that I haven’t read any of the actual text yet, spoilerphobe that I am now, the BBC’s press office not really helping in this situation, but I find it deeply unlikely that those photos would simply exist for the purposes of a photo shoot, a way of underscoring an undoubtedly clever strap line on the cover. Unless the text does say this and I now look like a fool and not for the first time. Unless she’s one of the aforementioned facets and the bookend to the story of Clara Oswald is for Jenna Coleman to be playing a different version of her, just as she did at the beginning in Asylum of the Daleks and we’ll have joy of hearing her American accent.
Having burned through six paragraphs explaining why I don’t think Clara Oswald is really dead (and would Moffat really let someone else write her out?), what about the rest of Face The Raven? Well … yeah. I like it. Did I think it was dramatically strong enough to be Clara's final episode if indeed it really is? No. The notion of a safe haven for aliens hidden in the middle of London is so good it’s surprising one of the spin-off series hasn’t already thought of it and hopefully it’ll be returned to either there or in the television version. The process of finding it was also fun, reminding me of a good episode of Elementary (which I’m currently bingeing), the idea of trap streets being just the sort of thing Joan might remind Sherlock of (or at least which he’d pretend he didn’t know about so that she can feel like she’s making a contribution) (and I’m not at all convinced this isn’t what happened here) (the Doctor can be strangely ignorant at times).
For all her part in Clara’s downfall, Ashildr or Me still feels like a narrative anomaly, a character waiting to actualise. Bolting on these extra powers, the result of a different pact devalues the already tenuous final moments of The Woman Who Lived. There’s a general sense of wanting to simply furnish this character things to do having given Maisie Williams a comic-con pleasing place in the series, rather than a well planned out character arc. Rather like Danny Pink last year, it’s the show making a misstep in assuming the audience finds a character more interesting than we do, like trying to manufacture a River Song or Strax, incidental figures who we demanded to return even though that was never planned. Williams seems more assured in her performance on this occasion but I’m still not convinced. Where’s Rufus Hound?
To an extent this whole construct is filling a gap left by Torchwood, and has even absorbed some its methods, the intrusion of retcon into the main series something of a surprise and it’s pleasing that their properties are entirely consistent with how they’re used in that series. Is this another facet of this series theme of not being about the tenth anniversary even though that’s exactly what it is? The structure of the episode almost mimics the shift between showrunner eras, or at least the public and critical perception of the them, opening in the very urban landscape of the RTD era with its high rise estates and in the tattoo counting down contemporary visual, giving way, as the characters step through the “portal” to the mythological references and imagery of the Moffat era (even if both eras have contained elements of both).
Rigby’s generally being set up as a potential new companion here and I’d welcome it, a refreshing change to have a young chap in the TARDIS although it’s unlikely he’d leave his new family. The brief moments the Fourth Doctor and Adric spent together, the magician and his apprentice, are an under-appreciated seam in the mythology and you could absolutely imagine a similar dynamic with the Capaldi version as he is now, generally kinder, more resonantly caring about human life but retaining this eccentricity. Perhaps there’s a untold version in which the Doctor actually takes the whole family around the universe. It’s interesting, although more like a budgetary issue, that we weren’t properly introduced to his wife. In other series there’d be a particular casting reason for that …
For all my scepticism of the outcome, there's no denying the dramatic power of the final scenes especially the Doctor's wrath in the face of this creation of his which has gone oh so bad. A return to the dangerous figure of the previous series perhaps, one who uses the Daleks as a threat but whereas in season eight you might imagine him actually going through with it, that man has (thankfully) gone. As Clara says, it would end as soon as he saw the pain of a child. If nothing else, and the elegance of the writing and understanding of the characters really shines here, it's Clara seeing him again, the man who stood on Christmas for a thousand years, defending the generations in a village looking out from underneath those eye brows. Not that I'm not unconvinced we'll have some major coup in the final two episodes and David, Matt or even Paul aren't going to return for the final big push.
All of which said, we are at the start of the three episode finale arc, the U in SOD U LOTT if you will, so actually how well this works won’t really be revealed until the beginning of December. The manic ratings desperation of the BBC PR synopses pretty much says what Doctor’s journey will from now onwards and who’s apparently been in touch with Me, or Mayor Me and asked for her aid in capturing the Doctor, all of which makes sense dramatically and Chekhov would be pleased with. If Face The Raven underscores anything so far, it’s how strong this series has been and how even if it’s not always been brilliant, it’s ideas never entirely in focus, it’s not been anything less than entertaining and something to look forward too. Which is pretty much what it should be. Really.