23 November 2015

Doctor Who S9E10 "Face the Raven" review

"Face the Raven" sees The Doctor and Clara receive a phone call from Rigsy (a character introduced in last seasons "Flatline"), who is concerned that he has no memory of the previous day and has discovered a tattoo of meaningless numbers on the back of his neck. Fairly normal stuff for someone of Rigsy's age  really - until he points out that the numbers on his neck are counting down as time goes on. Intrigued, The Doctor, Clara and Rigsy set about trying to find out who gave Rigsy a countdown, what happens when it has counted down, and why.

As far as the story of the episode goes, that's as much detail as I am giving - it isn't long before we are firmly into the realm of spoiler territory. What I will say though is that "Face the Raven" is, from a story perspective, a pretty good episode of Doctor Who, one that is mostly crafted to allow a particular moment (one that many fans have seen coming for a long time now) to happen while at the same time performing set up for what I assume to be the final episodes of the season - episodes that have a real potential to be genuinely great if they take The Doctor in the direction I really want to see him go.

We've all known for a long time now that Peter Capaldi is great in the role of The Doctor, but he really gets time to shine in "Face the Raven", particularly towards the end of the episode. In just a glance he can make you understand where The Doctor's head is at, and his last words as the episode ends convey everything you need to know about the way he feels, a mix of frustration and sadness and regret and contemplation - but predominantly unbridled rage, the kind that I feel like I've been waiting far too long to see from this version of The Doctor. I'm dying to see this version of The Doctor really lash out, to make good on the threats that he makes in "Face the Raven", and although I can't see the show allowing him to do so, the fact that I fully believe that he would if not for Clara's words of wisdom is in itself proof of great acting from Peter Capaldi.

My normal complaint with an episode like this is that the entire thing is structured to allow for one particular moment, but I've got to say I don't mind it so much here. It's not that it isn't obvious where the episode is going in retrospect, it's that for once the moment feels earned - it makes sense within the context of the show, playing off events in previous episodes and the way certain characters have developed over the course of the season to deliver an event that feels like a natural consequence of that which came before. It's textbook good writing, the kind of thing that really shouldn't feel like the exception to the rule in Doctor Who - but I digress.

"Face the Raven" isn't just a good episode, it's one of the most consistently competent episodes of the season, an episode without any real substantial flaws or even any little things for me to get annoyed by. It does end in something of a cliffhanger, acting as the first part in what I assume to be a three-parter to round of the season with, but I didn't even mind in this instance - like "The Girl Who Died", the episode still manages to tell a completed story with a self-contained narrative, so it can be enjoyed as an episode rather than as part of a larger story. No, it isn't perfect, but it provides an entertaining and imaginative 45 minutes or so of television that advances what I now realise to be the season wide plot, and if the final two episodes of the season can keep up the consistent quality of what we see here, then season nine will end up being the best of Moffat's time on the show.

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