Sunday, November 22, 2015

Contrivances, Countdowns, And Companions "Face The Raven."

The Good: Decent-enough performances
The Bad: Terrible character development, Awful plot
The Basics: One of the worst-conceived traps in Doctor Who is executed to further a production demand in "Face The Raven."

Doctor Who has been having a rough time of it of late. The two-part episode concept for the current season has had remarkably erratic results and after "Sleep No More" (reviewed here!), the show had to do something big to win back the audience it isolated with a pretty lousy concept episode (which defied their two-parter pattern). "Face The Raven" makes the attempt to make Doctor Who great again. The episode makes the attempt by bringing back popular characters from prior episodes and it fails because of its insane number of contrivances.

"Face The Raven" is a trap episode that is built upon the most flimsy of circumstances that on the first viewing, I was absolutely dumbfounded by the needless complexity of the methodology. Doctor Who is a time travel show and whenever there is a ticking clock episode - which "Face The Raven" certainly is - neglecting the time travel element seems particularly . . . stupid (the professional in me wanted to write "questionable," but when you have the means to travel unrestricted through time and space, it is just stupid not to use it). "Face The Raven" has one real purpose and to get to it, the writer, director and executive producer of the episode/series take the most ridiculous direction and never question it, which is painful to watch and hardly redemptive of the show.

The Doctor and Clara rush back into the TARDIS after Clara recklessly endangered herself and The Doctor. Rigsy calls the TARDIS and tells Clara he needs help; he's gotten a tattoo on his neck that is counting down! Rigsy tells Clara and The Doctor that he is missing all memories of the prior day and that he missed work. After determining that Rigsy encountered aliens during his missing day, The Doctor, Clara, and Rigsy begin searching maps for a street that once existed and no longer appears on the maps. Comparing the maps to an overhead view of London, The Doctor narrows down the potential location of the hidden street.

Finding the hidden street, Rigsy, The Doctor and Clara enter an alien sanctuary right in the middle of London. They also encounter Ashildr with fifty minutes left on Rigsy's counter. The counter, they learn, is a death sentence from Ashildr - who is the Mayor of the sanctuary - because the day before Rigsy appeared to kill one of her citizens. Witnessing what happens when the counter goes down to zero, The Doctor and Clara become terrified for what will happen to Rigsy. Clara learns that the countdown can be transferred and because she is under Mayor Me's absolute protection, she takes Rigsy's countdown. But Rigsy is a pawn in a larger trap and transferring the countdown to Clara has unintended and disastrous consequences.

The whole premise of "Face The Raven" is bafflingly stupid. When The Doctor and Clara arrive to find Rigsy and his countdown tattoo and understand that he had a missing day the day before, they run off looking for trap streets and streets missing from the maps. Rigsy tells The Doctor and Clara that he left before dawn and his clock on his neck is at over 500 minutes. Why, then, don't The Doctor and Clara simply go back a day and tail Rigsy after he leaves the house? All they have to do is find the cause of the tattoo and how to get it removed and bring that knowledge with them back to the next day. That would not disrupt Rigsy's timestream in any way and it solves the problem.

So, what follows is a needlessly complicated solution to a ridiculously simple problem. The trap that Ashildr lays is based on a number of ridiculous conceits. It comes down to the idea that a key will be turned and that The Doctor would actually be the one holding the key. It's like the jailbreak scene in Skyfall (reviewed here!), which hinges on so many impossibly timed events as to be ludicrous when one actually looks at it.

The truly disappointing aspect of "Face The Raven" is how it entirely undermines the character of The Doctor. The Doctor is anything but clever in the episode. He does not scan the stasis pod with his sonic sunglasses, despite having several minutes left on the countdown, which would make that a sensible precaution.

The return of Rigsy from last season's "Flatline" (reviewed here!) is an odd choice for Ashildr. Rigsy is like one of any of a hundred people to pop up who survived encounters with The Doctor and The Doctor is not sentimental enough to care about Rigsy more than any other non-Companion he has encountered. Why The Doctor calls Rigsy a friend feels forced . . . especially when it was Clara who gave Rigsy the phone number to the TARDIS.

Ashildr, last seen in "The Woman Who Lived" (reviewed here!), has become truly menacing and further consideration about that makes the character seem somewhat ridiculous. Ashildr wanted to leave Earth and protect the planet from The Doctor. How Ashildr actually encountered so many aliens is entirely questionable - are they seriously supposed to just be leftovers from prior, foiled, invasions?! Jen tells The Doctor that Mayor Me is afraid of something, but the founding of the street seems like a ridiculous contrivance for the character. Long before she would have had to barter for the safety of the street, it seems like Ashildr would have asked any one of the aliens for help getting off Earth, which was her desire when last she was seen.

Jenna Coleman gives a good performance opposite an equally good Peter Capaldi. The last ten minutes of "Face The Raven" might not entirely justify the rest of the episode, but they are easily the high point of the episode. It's almost like writer Sarah Dollard wrote the final scene and then tried to write her way back to how the characters got into the scene and failed utterly.

"Face The Raven" is very much a set-up episode and it is designed to make viewers believe something that makes absolutely no sense. Clara is the Impossible Girl and viewers have seen multiple incarnations of her already. The concept of the Impossible Girl has long plagued the writers trying to reconcile it with the constraints of a show that puts her and The Doctor at risk constantly, but the attempted finality of "Face The Raven" has the feeling that the writers and producers just decided to give up on the idea, as opposed to actually reconcile it.

Regardless of where Doctor Who goes after "Face The Raven," the show's new direction will be built on a deeply flawed premise and that hardly makes for compelling viewing.

For other works with significant Companion moments, please check out my reviews of:
"Last Of The Time Lords"

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Ninth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!


For more Doctor Who reviews, please check out my Doctor Who Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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