Chris Jordan reviews the new Doctor Who episode Face The Raven, as the end of series nine draws near.
|"Do you get the feeling that Moffat's going to try|
and out-brutal last year's finale, Clara?"
Doctor Who's ninth series approaches its close in Face The Raven, an excellent supernatural-tinged tale which brings to the forefront the abstract thematic arc introduced across most of the previous nine episodes. This series has asked us to consider what ramifications and harmful side-effects The Doctor's actions in time might have, and it appears that the show is preparing to ask The Doctor to face this question as well. This episode functions on two levels: to tie these thematic threads together in preparation for the ominously-titled two-part finale Heaven Sent/Hell Bent, and to simultaneously be an excellent story in its own right, with some welcome homage to at least a couple of modern fantasy's most beloved literary works. On both levels, Face The Raven is a resounding success: it does a lot in just 45 minutes, and it does it all near perfectly. It fits in its running time perfectly well, but is good enough that it leaves me wishing it had been a two-parter, if only so we could have had more time to enjoy its world.
The episode is based around a fascinating premise: the idea that there is a surreal and anachronistic fantasy-esque other world hidden right inside modern day London, invisible to normal people. A mix of 17th-century architecture, modern touches, and strange things that don't belong in either, this hidden London is more than a bit reminiscent of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series; and indeed, there likely was some Potter-esque influence at work. But the major homage here comes from another highly-influential and greatly-loved – if not quite as ubiquitously-read – modern fantasy novel: it is a Doctor Who-style twist on Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. This is an episode in which The Doctor and Clara essentially find themselves in London Below, Gaiman's world of the dispossessed and disillusioned who have slipped through the cracks of society into the space just outside perception. It's a fantastic homage; a wonderful literary mash-up for anyone who wondered what it would be like for The Doctor to visit Gaiman's unique universe. Yes, Neil Gaiman has written scripts for Doctor Who, but those were him coming to the show's universe; this episode (by another writer) brings the show to his. It does a really good job of it, too – again, the only regret is that we only get to spend one episode in Doctor Who's London Below rather than two (presumably, anyway – we'll see what next week holds).
|"Excuse me - I'm looking for the Marquis De|
Carabas, have you seen him?"
As satisfying as this all is as an individual episode, Face The Raven also has a lot going on in terms of series nine's overarching story. This series is a bit unique in that it doesn't have an ongoing plot in the literal sense. Instead it is driven by a set of questions concerning the actions and ethics of The Doctor's use of time-travel, and by a character arc showing Clara's personal growth into a Doctor-ish hero in her own right. It has been obvious since at least The Girl Who Died that the former will likely be the focus of the series' finale, with the latter forming a major factor, but how these themes will coalesce into a concrete climax has been less clear. While it is only one part of a puzzle that will unfold over the next two weekends, Face The Raven has begun this process of theme becoming story, and it is handled excellently. The mistakes of The Zygon Invasion are not repeated; there is no crashingly obvious dialogue shouting “hey, get it? This is what this season has been about,” just very well-written conversations and plot-points that drive the questions home while creating a new narrative trajectory. It is an extremely well-handled start to series nine's third act.
The stage is set for what I can only hope will be a finale as excellent as this episode deserves. In the mean time, Face The Raven has given us a classic in its own right, with a Gaiman-esque attitude and style that is quite unique to Doctor Who. It's a shame that its memorable world wasn't allowed to develop over an extra episode, but it used its time very well. There's always a possibility that this is a world we will see again, of course – hopefully even in the next two weeks.
- Christopher S. Jordan
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