Doctor Who: Clara Dies in Face the Raven

A few episodes ago in Doctor Who we had the phrase “truth and consequences” to ponder over. But if “Face the Raven” can be summarized in a few words, it would be “actions and consequences.” The episode begins as most Doctor Who episodes with Clara Oswald do: with an off-screen adventure and praising of each other’s abilities. It’s only when the spray painter Rigsy, from “Flatline” phones the TARDIS directly that things become serious fast.

Facing the Raven Plans

And I do mean fast. Rigsy has a number tattoo that keeps counting down towards … something. This “something,” of course, is Rigsy’s imminent death. This is obviously something that neither The Doctor nor Clara can tolerate as Rigsy has a family and, in particular, a small child. He also doesn’t remember how he even got this strange black tattoo. This leads to some fascinating research and the discovery of a hidden street and neighbourhood on par with Neil Gaiman’s London Underground in Neverwhere.

It turns out there is a hidden refuge for aliens and other beings on Earth. It is has a “misdirection circuit” that protects it from outsiders with any knowledge of its existence. It has existed for about a century and guess who operates as its Mayor?

Lady Me Facing the Raven

That’s right: our old friend Lady Me.

One way she decided to protect the world against The Doctor’s “good intentions” was to create this refuge. And it contains quite a number of beings shrouded in advanced holograms: including and not limited to a Cyberman. But the real mystery begins here. It turns out that Rigsy apparently murdered someone in the refuge, a model citizen, even though he has no memory of this. As such, Lady Me is responsible for the tattoo on his neck that will summon what looks like a raven to enter his body and kill him with excruciating slowness: the price of any crime that would endanger the refuge.

So of course The Doctor and Clara seek to prove that Rigsy, who had no way of even finding this place on his own to begin with, is innocent so that Lady Me will remove his tattoo. The good news is they prove that not do they prove that Rigsy didn’t murder anyone, but that his supposed murder victim is still alive in stasis.

The bad news is that it had all been a trap.

Face the Raven Trap

It turns out that Lady Me, having watched The Doctor’s doings for centuries, found out about Rigsy and lured him to the refuge and faked the entire crime: just to lure The Doctor to her. She then captured him: for a mysterious benefactor who gave her the misdirection circuit and cloaking technology that she uses to protect the refuge. Further, she also takes his Confession Dial away from him: though whether or not it was for her benefactor, or herself remains uncertain.

And then … it gets worse. As if Lady Me not learning from her last negotiation with an alien benefactor weren’t enough, Clara also didn’t learn … until the end.

The symbolism is heavy. After all, it is no coincidence that the alien woman supposedly murdered is a Janus. In addition to having two faces that can see the past and the future, Janus himself — the deity which the species is based from — is a god of beginnings, transitions, and endings. Before they solved the murder that didn’t happen, Clara and Rigsy had figured out that the Raven’s mark could be transferred to a willing host. And so Clara decided that she would take Rigsy’s mark: figuring that The Doctor would succeed and thus save her as he always did.

Except he doesn’t.

As it turns out, Lady Me can’t remove a tattoo from someone who accepts it willingly. There is literally nothing she can do. It is only in those last moments that Clara begins to understand. It is a hard lesson. More often than not, The Doctor has always managed to outsmart both their opponents and threats that come their way. In fact, The Doctor has saved Clara from quite a few moments that should have led to her death and, after a time, she started to take this for granted. It is only at the end, realizing that The Doctor can’t save her that Clara understands that her actions have consequences.

Clara's Last Moments

It is a fairly tragic end to the character for a number of reasons. Even as she processes and accepts her impending doom she still acts as a mirror to The Doctor: stating that she wanted to be like him. She also grimly mentions that perhaps all of her risk-taking was, in reality, leading to this moment: or that maybe she can find meaning in her sacrifice as Danny Pink had done.

To be honest, all of these possible explanations seem pretty tacked on to a character who alternated between self-righteousness, tagging along, becoming a joke in this season, and having one moment of genuine grace in “The Zygon Inversion.” Even so, when she dies she goes out with a certain degree of dignity as the raven kills her very slowly in the refuge.

Clara Dies

Suffice to say, The Doctor is teleported away to meet his new captor but not before it becomes very clear that Lady Me should hope to never, ever, meet him again. The episode ends after a pause where Rigsy leaves the TARDIS with beautiful graffiti commemorating Clara’s sacrifice.

What makes this episode so sad is how cleverly it begins and how it ends much in the way that Clara’s time with The Doctor began: with bravery, impetuousness, and stupidity. Clara didn’t have to die. If she had just waited and continued to do her part to help The Doctor, they could have saved Rigsy and left the refuge intact. If there had been symmetry to her character arc such as it was, she could have died peacefully in old age at a fixed point in time in “Last Christmas.” If Clara’s actions as “The Impossible Girl” had been shown to viewers, rather than told perhaps her death would have more impact than attempting to elicit pathos through three slow frames of motion. Just her final words themselves to The Doctor would have been more than enough.

The real tragedy of Clara Oswald, when it comes down to it, is that she could have been so much more and as abruptly as she came into Doctor Who she was just as arbitrarily removed. Frankly, she deserved better. Despite this, at the very least she faced her death as bravely as any Companion: and her exit from the show leaves an emptiness that we will have to see bridged in some way.

Because one thing is certain. Perhaps Clara was successful in keeping The Doctor from becoming the Warrior again, and convince him to “heal thyself,” but while he may not unleash vengeance he is most certainly going to seek justice next time, on Doctor Who.

Doctor Who and Lady Me

Imagine you are immortal.

It is a common enough theme in fantasy and science fiction: especially when you consider Highlander or most modern vampire stories. You die unexpectedly and then get resurrected. And after a time you realize that you just can’t die. Perhaps you can be killed, but your instinct of self-preservation is still strong enough that you really don’t want to test that theory. Now imagine watching everyone else: everyone living and dying all around you. Then consider that for all you may live forever, you still have a human mind with human memory and feelings. You begin to forget things, either through time or trauma. But then it gets worse. The person that made you thought they were granting you a mercy. You see, they thought that by granting you the ability to make another immortal, like you, you’d have at least the potential to never be lonely.

But it’s too late. You already know what it’s like. You know what it would cost someone. Long ago, in a small Viking village, you told the man that made you that leaving your home would be like death. Well, you haven’t been home now for about eight hundred years. Could you do that to someone else? And worse: he only gave one opportunity to make someone immortal. Out of all the friends, lovers, and spouses you’ve had — the children you made — how can you pick just one?

Doctor Who Lady Me and Books

That had been the conundrum of the woman once known as Ashildr by the time of Doctor Who‘s “The Woman Who Lived.” You have to wonder, when you see the person who now calls herself Lady Me — as she is the only one who generally remembers who she is throughout time — if a longer life is always a better one, and just how many times she’s gotten tired throughout the years and centuries of her existence.

And The Doctor did this to her. In my last recap of “The Girl Who Died,” I was disappointed that Ashildr didn’t turn out to be another Time Lady. But perhaps it’s just as well. Instead the writer Catherine Tregenna did something else entirely with the character that Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson wrote. She took a hapless, but defiant girl from “The Girl Who Died” and made a complex character in “The Woman Who Lived.”

Lady Me, played by Maisie Williams, has reached a point where she realized that making another like herself or suffering from loneliness was no choice at all. So she decided to be alone. She distanced her feelings, wrote out the memories her brain couldn’t contain in a vast library in a mansion she bought with her riches, and tore out the pages of the most painful recollections of all. She robs people purely for the entertainment of it, even as she sometimes helps them.

Doctor Who Knightmare

And she wants out. She wants to get away from a world where she would have to watch her children and lovers die: having reached a point where she no longer wants the former. Everyone just seems like shades to her: mayflies already marked for the grave. She wants to go into space and travel with The Doctor. And the thing is: she would make an excellent Companion. Lady Me is realistic, somewhat jaded, but vastly knowledgeable, intelligent, and she knows how to adapt and survive.

But The Doctor will have none of it. And this is where Catherine Tregenna takes The Doctor. She shows us a man who cannot exist with others like himself, long-lived beings, for extended periods of time. He just doesn’t get that sense of … what, youth or vitality that he would from a shorter-lived Companion. His logic is that those with shorter lives value life more. And it’s a damning realization of the character. It shows us that his original aversion to Jack Harkness wasn’t just the strange way he felt in space and time. It illustrates why he left Gallifrey and how he generally avoided spending a lot of time with others of his own kind.

And then you consider the following. It would have been child’s play for The Doctor to get medical healing devices from beings like the Mira. The horrible fact of the matter is: The Doctor could have made any of his Companions immortal. He could have even made Rose Tyler an immortal and made the age-differences between them irrelevant. But he never did. You could argue that he didn’t do this because mortality was what made his Companions so plucky, so … human. Yet Tregenna seems to hint on the fact, at least through Lady Me, that there is a very selfish element underneath even the best of The Doctor’s intentions: something not unlike the stereotype of an older person dating only younger individuals to feel young again themselves. In The Doctor’s case, it has some very masculine connotations: even if he is not sexually attracted to his generally female Companions, or to Lady Me when she’s flirting with him, there is just this moment of realization — from Lady Me’s perspective and the audience’s — where you just know that she’s just not “his type.”

When you consider that The Doctor made Lady Me and that he is essentially rejecting her for being “too old for him,” and that you find out he had actually been watching her for a very long time without so much as helping her or offering to take her on the TARDIS, it comes across as a rather gross character flaw and connotation. Even Lady Me’s darkest actions and thoughts make a lot more sense in this vein: her impetus of loss and desperation giving you this strong inclination to sympathize a lot more with her than The Doctor.

Doctor Who Angry Lady Me

However, it is only when Lady Me almost repeats what was done to her village on another settlement in her desperate attempt to escape the Earth that she remembers the defiant courage of her ancient youth. And after that, he reconciles herself to The Doctor. There is even a hint of a possibility that she might meet Captain Jack one day. But even as The Doctor tells her to keep an eye out for another possible immortal, Lady Me makes her own intentions clear. She will watch the other immortal, but she will also observe The Doctor as well: and protect others from his “good intentions.”

I have to say that this was an excellent episode because it was less about The Doctor and more about Lady Me. The fact that Clara was hardly in it was only a bonus. Indeed, there was one point where — when Lady Me confronted The Doctor about just how many Claras he had lost — I was just waiting for him to state something along the lines of “Three or four, that I know of.”

And what is also excellent is that Lady Me is going to come back at some point. I think that a spin-off with Captain Jack, River Song, and a whole lot of “loose-end characters” like The Doctor’s Daughter Jenny and Susan would be an awesome idea. This episode of Doctor Who was a good one: a worthy follow-up to the story that came before it. Also, the word “Hybrid” came up again during this arc. Missy and Davros had been rather fixated on that word in “The Witch’s Familiar.” You have to wonder just how this might come into play in future episodes of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who: A Promise and a Longer Life

I’m not sure I’m only one who feels this way, but Doctor Who‘s “The Girl Who Died” seemed kind of … underwhelming. Or so it seemed on the surface anyway.

Don’t misunderstand. Vikings are cool: certainly cooler than fezzes. And definitely cooler than sonic sunglasses that lasted about as long as the fezzes did. And certainly Maisie Williams, as the actress that plays Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, brought a lot of resolve, fierceness, and presence to this episode in her own right. However, in the trailer for this season that Moffat flashed in front of our eyes, there were things hinted on that just … didn’t pan out the way they might have done.

The episode starts off at the end of a missing scene with aliens and epic space resolutions that we don’t see only for The Doctor and Clara to end up in early medieval times on Earth: near a Viking settlement. Then, after The Doctor’s sunglasses get destroyed by a simple Viking sword, they are taken to the settlement as prisoners: only for an alien posing as Thor to send rust-bucket soldiers with guns to abduct the strongest warriors.

Because, after all, it’s totally not the first time an alien race as impersonated human gods: especially not Norse deities.

Stargate SG1 Asgard

The obligatory StarGate SG-1 reference aside, we find out these giant rust-buckets and the Odin-impersonator are called the Mira: yet another warlike race that wants to do some conquering and drink heavily distilled … testosterone? And even though Clara, yet again, can’t listen to The Doctor’s orders and gets herself and Ashildr, Maisie Williams’ Viking girl character, abducted along with the other soldiers it seems to be Ashildr herself that sabotages Clara’s attempts to talk the Mira down from dealing with the Earth: or at least her village. I guess Clara now knows what it feels like, but it’s doubtful these life lessons will sink in any time soon. And even then there is something inspiring about the defiance in Ashildr’s face and tone when she challenges the Mira.

Clara and Ashildr Doctor Who

I mean: it wasn’t as though the Mira were going to be intimidated by words anyway.

In the end, the way they actually deal with the Mira is brilliant and cruel in its own way. What is the worst way you can punish a renowned warrior race? It’s simple: you humiliate the crap out of them through trickery and blackmailing them with evidence of their dishonour.

There are two elements of note, however, in “The Girl Who Died.” The first is that we discover just why The Doctor chose the face of Lobus Caecilius: the Roman whose family he saved from Pompeii in his tenth incarnation. It does take a while for the realization to set in, but then you begin to remember something. Do you recall when The Doctor told Clara in “The Name of The Doctor” that the name he chose was a promise he made? Well, as it turns out The Doctor also considers regenerated faces promises. And it was his promise, then, in Pompeii to save what lives he can: no matter how terrible the odds truly were.

But then we have the other element. So Ashildr dies due to her role in The Doctor’s plan to defeat the Mira. We already had evidence that there was something strange about her. It’s true that we were also introduced to the fact that The Doctor’s idea of deja vu often occurs in reverse: that he has the feeling of having met someone before he actually does. So there was some evidence of what was about to happen.

You see, the thing about advanced warrior races is that they often have excellent medical technology. You know: the kind that existed in “The Empty Child?” Well, as it turns out, the Mira left some of that behind and … It’s funny really. I was personally annoyed with the fact that Moffat seemed to make such a big deal about this character in this Season’s trailer: as being somehow central to much of what was going to happen. Certainly, it would have been nice of Ashildr had been another Time Lady: perhaps someone The Doctor knew. It’s that kind of teasing of his that has gotten old pretty fast, which says a lot when you apply it to a show about time travel.

And yet … in a way this episode is kind of an intersection in The Doctor’s life. It’s not just about the flashbacks to his time as Doctor Ten, though they definitely play a part in that. The Doctor stated, in “The Lazarus Project” that “a longer life isn’t always a better one. In the end you just get tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of losing everyone that
matters to you. Tired of watching everything turn to dust.” Then there is also his own encounters with  and his responsibility for Jack Harkness and knowing what the price of immortality ultimately is.

Ashildr Resurrected

Perhaps it’s different now that The Doctor knows there are other Time Lords left. Even so, in a poignant scene with Ashildr, she tells him that leaving her village — where they accept her as being strange — would be like death. So what will that mean for Ashildr now when she herself may well be immortal? Still, there might be some recompense in this. The Doctor did leave her with another Mira medical device, for someone else: in case she ever gets lonely and can’t bear to lose that one other person.

So there is that. And again, we are introduced to another familiar word from “The Witch’s Familiar”: hybrid. What does that mean and how will this all play out in Doctor Who‘s “The Woman Who Lived” … and beyond?