Doctor Who Review: Face The Raven

doctor who face the raven review sarah dollard steven moffat justin molotnikov jenna coleman clara oswald maisie williams me trap street

I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave.

I’ve been looking forward to this episode for a while now actually – I mean, obviously, I’m always looking forward to new Doctor Who, but particularly since I saw the fifth episode of You, Me and the Apocalypse, which shared a writer with Face The Raven. Sarah Dollard did a rather fantastic job on that show, so I was definitely looking forward to seeing her work on Doctor Who.

And it was great!

The trap streets are, first and foremost, a rather wonderful concept, well realised and fantastically presented. It’s the sort of idea you would have expected Doctor Who to have used in the past, and the fact that it now actually has is brilliant, because now things are a lot more complete, in a way. Face The Raven does a great job of showing it off in a uniquely Doctor Who way, too – Capaldi’s narration over clips of the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy walking through London, searching for trap streets does a wonderful job of grounding the idea, while invoking the classic Doctor Who juxtaposition between the mundane and the alien. I can almost guarantee that kids up and down the country were counting their steps on the way to school on Monday morning, and ending up highly suspicious when they inevitably lost count.

On top of that, though, the alien refugee camp aspect was a genuine stroke of genius, taking an already fantastic concept on to the next level entirely. Dollard did a great job of fleshing out that community, in a fairly limited space of time; one line that stood out to me, actually, was when one of the aliens said something along the lines of “Humans can survive losing whole limbs”. Little more than a throwaway line, I know, but I liked the implications of it; it counters the usual idea of aliens being more resilient and stronger than humans, and carries connotations of a sort of alien culture we’re not necessarily as familiar with in comparison to others.

It was also really nice to see the various different alien species we’ve grown to know over the years; I know they were just cameos, but it’s always exciting to see Ood and Judoon and the like. I really hope that at some stage in the next few years we return to these Trap Streets; there’s a lot of mileage there, and you could definitely get a few more episodes out of it. We’ve only really scratched the surface of the idea, and there’s definitely more to see.

doctor who face the raven review trap street alien refugees maisie williams peter capaldi joivan wade justin molotnikov sarah dollar

Of course, the Ood and the Judoon weren’t the only returning characters; we also had Rigsy and Ashildr, both in prominent roles. Admittedly, I was skeptical when I heard Rigsy was returning – I wasn’t entirely sure whether there was anything new to explore with the character, primarily – but watching the episode, it actually makes a lot of sense. I’m not really sure if Clara’s death would have had as much thematic weight had it not been a character that the audience, and both Clara and the Doctor, weren’t already familiar with. Rigsy makes a lot of sense, then; the only other character I can think of who might have fit the same requirements is actually Courtney Woods, but I’m not sure if that would actually have been better or not. Regardless, though, Joivan Wade did an excellent job playing Rigsy here, who is a really great character. (Did anyone know Joivan Wade is part of that Mandem on the Wall YouTube channel? I found that out recently, thought it was quite interesting.)

Maisie Williams gave another great performance in this episode with Ashildr’s third appearance this series – now, of course, she’s going by Mayor Me, and she’s leading the alien refugee camp of the trap streets. It was wonderful to see the character back again, further extending her progression across the series; Face the Raven does a really good job of building on Ashildr’s previous appearances, particularly that of The Woman Who Lived, by positioning the character in a slightly more villainous, antagonistic role. I actually really liked the way in which it was initially made to appear that she was working alone – for example, the involvement of the TARDIS key harkens back to Ashildr’s previous desire to leave the planet – which makes the eventual reveal that a higher power is involved all the more interesting a reveal. (Any guesses on who they are, out of interest? I’m thinking Time Lords.)

Honestly, the only slight issue I had was the fact that we actually knew Maisie Williams was returning. It would have been truly amazing if that had been kept a secret – honestly, a truly massive surprise. Nevermind, though. It’ll be surprising enough when she’s revealed to be the next companion! (Please?)

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Of course, though, the most important part of this episode was Clara. Because this was her departure, in the end. (Probably.)

Now, Clara’s already had two very good departures – once at the end of Death in Heaven, and then once again at the end of Last Christmas – so I was a little anxious to see how this departure for Clara actually went, and whether or not it would be a case of diminishing returns, or third time lucky. Thankfully, though, this was a wonderful exit for Clara, which was ultimately really fitting in terms of her character arc and progression.

In the end, Clara was undone by her flaws, and her attempts to become more like the Doctor. She had to be brave, and face the raven.

Thematically, there was a lot of resonance throughout this scene and all of Clara’s previous episodes, because it formed the culmination of a journey that we’d seen and taken part in alongside her. As a concept, I thought it was probably the best death that Clara could have been given; even though it was a result of her attempt to be more like the Doctor, in the end, she had total control over her death. The circumstances were inevitable, yes, but in the end, Clara was brave. Like she always has been.

It was a very intense set of scenes, and it’s times like this when Doctor Who fans should be thankful for writers like Sarah Dollard, and for actors like Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, because this was a truly wonderful sequence. It’s worth singling out Jenna Coleman though, particularly, given that this may well be one of the last times we ever see her as Clara.

Her performance was fantastic; genuinely compelling, and it gave life to some absolutely fantastic scenes. Which is what we’ve become accustomed to from Jenna Coleman, really; I am pretty firm in my belief that she is the best companion we’ve had over the past ten years.

So, then, Face the Raven. Honestly, it was truly excellent – I loved it. 10/10.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Hell Bent is literally starting right now. I have cut it pretty fine with the review this week!

Related:

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

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TV Review: Supergirl – Fight or Flight (1×03)

supergirl cbs logo review season 1 retrospective analysis melissa benoist greg berlanti ali adler andrew kreisberg superman kara danvers

How am I supposed to really become a hero if Superman has to keep saving me?

This was a really important episode, because it was clearly directly positioned as a response to all the inevitable doubts and complaints about the premise – doubts that I myself was guilty of, admittedly, but happily have been proved wrong about.

In this episode, Reactron, an obscure yet dangerous Superman villain, shows up in National City. He’s trying to pursue a vendetta against Superman, and as such, targets Supergirl. At first, she seems outmatched, and Jimmy Olsen (who is terrified of Reactron, given past experiences in Metropolis) calls over Superman, who saves Supergirl. When Reactron attacks again, however, Jimmy doesn’t call Superman, and Kara is able to defeat him on her own.

Now, that’s the basic plot (uh, spoilers). Whilst it sounds a little simplistic in many ways, I’d actually argue that this episode was essential to the continued development of Supergirl, as a program – but also, I think, to Supergirl as a character.

If you’ll forgive me for branching out into another company, I’d like to talk about the Avengers, for a moment. I quite like the Marvel movies, but a fairly common series of complaints directed at them is the question of where the other superheroes are all the time. You know, like, why doesn’t Captain America call up Tony Stark to help him with Hydra that one time, or why won’t Thor bring Bruce Banner with him to London, and so on and so forth. Whilst they’re not necessarily the most sensible questions to ask (there’s an obvious real world, after all, and it’s that RDJ is expensive) they do end up being noticeable little niggles in the narrative.

It’s a bigger problem for Supergirl, I would argue, given that her character appears very much defined by her relationship with Superman; it seems like, I suppose, the equivalent of a Nightwing show before a Batman one (or, for a CW comparison, a Roy Harper show before Arrow).

supergirl cbs fight or flight season 1 reactron ben kroll melissa benoist superman tyler hoechlin

But with Fight or FlightSupergirl has managed to put forward a simple – yet effective – reason to keep Superman out of the narrative. Kara simply doesn’t want his help; her journey as a hero requires her to be independent.

I really think that’s great, honestly I do. On one level, this is a rejection of ever doubt and complaint ever lobbied at the concept – Supergirl does not need Superman to be an interesting, compelling programme, because Kara Danvers is every bit the hero as Clark Kent. And, for the same reason, Kara Danvers doesn’t need Clark Kent. Yes, she’s still learning, and yes, she looks to her cousin as an inspiration – but that doesn’t mean she isn’t every bit his equal.

Having an episode centred around this was, I think, really important – and really effective, too. Supergirl is making a case for why it should be allowed to stand on its own – and that’s something it’s earned, definitely.

Melissa Benoist gave another great performance in this episode, doing a brilliant job of conveying Kara’s frustration at Jimmy, and her need for independence. I’m really liking Kara as a character, and Melissa Benoist does a fantastic job at playing her.

Again, fond of the other characters too. Cat Grant continues to be a great foil for Kara; the interview and subsequent articles about Supergirl formed the basis of a great subplot to this episode, with some great interactions between Kara and Cat. Jimmy and Winn were also entertaining; I really like Winn, actually, and he’s proving to be a lot of fun. True, he’s not quite Cisco or Felicity, but he’s getting there – his reaction to finding out about Clark Kent was pretty funny. ‘Twas also interesting to be introduced to Maxwell Lord, who I’m thinking will be our Lex Luthor substitute for the duration of this series.

supergirl fight or flight superman season 1 melissa benoist tyler hoechlin red blue blur cw cbs ali adler greg berlnati

Reactron himself felt a little perfunctory, I admit; the villain in pursuit of vengeance is not the most interesting or original concept, and there was no new development of the concept on display here. But, to be fair, I don’t think it mattered – he was simply a function of the plot, there to escalate tension and provide a sense of threat, which was something that worked well enough.

What I did like, though, in relation to Reactron, was Kara’s initial decision to simply go and talk to him. I can’t find the exact quote at the minute, so I’m paraphrasing, but she essentially says that no one ever knew who he was before now – no one knew about his trauma and suffering – but now that she did, she’d try and talk to him and understand him.

That was a nice touch, I felt; ultimately, for Kara, the choice to become a superhero was one of compassion, based around helping others. The fact that’s she not discriminating, and she’s just as committed to helping the bad guys as she is the innocent victims, is a really great little character detail that was nice to see on display here.

So, Fight or Flight. This was a really strong episode; possibly the best of the three we’ve seen so far. Very impressed by the whole thing, in fact.

9/10

Related:

Supergirl reviews

The Flash reviews

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