Rigsy, who we previously met in ‘Flatline’, calls Clara. Since we have met him he has a girlfriend, and they have a baby daughter.
He has tattoo on the back of neck, a series of numbers. The tattoo changes, with the numbers counting backwards. Rigsy has no idea how he got it, or indeed any memory of the previous day at all. He just knows he went
missing for a while. His phone memory is wiped too, so he has no way of finding out.
The Doctor using a scanner finds out that Rigsy has been in contact with aliens. But that’s not the worst news. When the number on his neck reaches zero, Rigsy will die. The Doctor and Clara decide to try to solve this to see if they can save Rigsy’s life.
They mention the concept of a “trap street”. It is when map makers put fake streets into a map. It’s a street that doesn’t exist, so that if anyone tries to copy their map without permission and it’s in there they’ll know their work has been copied. But the Doctor says that trap streets are actual streets that have disappeared or are hidden away for some reason.
The three eventually find the trap street, which is where Rigsy was yesterday. The street is full of aliens, and the street creates an optical illusion which makes them all appear human. They also meet Ashildr, now going by the name Mayor Me. She doesn’t remember Clara. (“Infinite lifespan, finite memory. It makes for an awkward social life”), but has read about her through her own journal entries about her.
The street is for alien refugees. There are extremely strict rules for living there, with no violence allowed at all and that nobody will harm anyone. Yesterday, Rigsy wandered into the trap street. He was sentenced to death for killing a Janus, a species with two heads facing in opposite directions like the Roman god of the same name. The punishment for murder, and for many other crimes in this trap street, is death, and is carried out via the tattoo countdown, which is known as a Chronolock. When it reaches zero, death comes in the form of a raven kept in a cage. It will leave its cage and will follow and kill its target wherever they go in space or time.
The Doctor and Clara believe Rigsy must be innocent, and try to investigate. It turns out that the Chronolock can be passed on to another person, as long as that person accepts it willingly. Clara sees a possible loophole they could exploit. Ashildr promised the Doctor that Clara was under her protection as long as she’s in the trap street. Clara thinks that if that’s true, then the Chronlock can’t kill her until she leaves the street, by which point they should have found the real killer. So she asks Rigsy to pass it on to her, which he does.
Meanwhile, the Doctor has become suspicious of Ashildr, thinking she wanted him to come there. They find the daughter of the murdered Janus. The females of that species can see into the past and the future. The Doctor confuses her, as his past and future are mixed. She lets the Doctor know Ashildr did make up a reason to get the Doctor there. They subsequently find out that the murdered Janus woman is in fact still alive, but in a stasis pod. To release her they need to use a keyhole, and the Doctor thinks that the TARDIS key will fit. It does, and the Janus woman is released, but the device that has the keyhole swallows the TARDIS key and places a band on the Doctor.
Ashildr comes in telling the Doctor that he has been fitted with a teleportation device. She confirms she is acting on the orders of others who said she had to do it to ensure peace would be kept on her street, but doesn’t say who they are. She then activates the Doctor’s Confession Dial. She intends to deactivate Rigsy’s Chronolock, but is shocked when Clara tells her it was swapped. Apparently changing it over is considered a break in the initial contract, so if it is swapped over, that means it can’t ever be deactivated. Clara is now destined to die, and there is nothing that can be done to save her.
The Doctor is angry and swears he will avenge Clara and make Ashildr pay. Clara begs him not to take vengeance in her name, as she doesn’t want anyone else to suffer. Far from running away, she intends to face the raven head on. She wants to be brave. The raven flies towards her and becomes a poisonous black smoke. It consumes Clara from the inside, and she falls to the ground dead. The Doctor declares Ashildr as his enemy, and she teleports him to another place.
This episode marks the first time a companion has been killed off in the revived series. Rose claimed she would die at the beginning of ‘Doomsday’ in series 2, but she was only thought to be dead by officials, she in fact ended up in a parallel universe with the rest of her family. Amy and Rory were both sent back in time by a Weeping Angel in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ in series 7, but while they couldn’t see the Doctor again, they lived very long and happy lives from the time they were sent to. What we see here is how Clara’s life ends.
Clara’s death is affecting and one of the darkest moments the series has done, but seems oddly anticlimactic given everything she has been through. But perhaps that’s a point. She died in a needless way because she took a foolish, if selfless, risk. She did it to protect someone else, but hanging around with the Doctor made her ignore her own mortality. I like the way she does not want her death to cause any more suffering and that she decides to face death with dignity and bravery.
But, while I know it’s easy for me to say this given that I’m writing this after the whole of series nine has been broadcast, at the time I knew that this wouldn’t be the last we saw of Clara. It just seemed unlikely that it would be her final appearance on the show altogether.
The use of a raven as a representation of death is a strong gothic image. Ravens have often been used symbolically in a lot of fiction. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is a famous poem where the raven is associated with the protagonist’s grief for a lost loved one. Ravens are also often associated with ghosts, prophecy and fortune. All of those elements fit with this episode, given that it is about death and about things which are destined to happen.
Ashildr’s plan to get the Doctor to come to the trap street does seem overly complex though. I know we’re talking about the Doctor and he is usually a few steps ahead, but it seems a bit of a gamble that everything was going to fall into place. But that’s film and TV villainy for you.
‘Face The Raven’ feels more like a fantasy than a science-fiction story, but it looks great and the metaphor of a raven as a sort of angel of death is used very well.