Tuesday, 1 December 2015

"Face the Raven"

More than any story than I can think of, "Face the Raven" could exist as a magical fantasy story with only minimal changes to the script. The notions of what secret worlds may lie unseen in a major city is a background to many a genre story and here, the trap street in London forms an irresistible hook for the plot and the hidden community with its rules form a fascinating addition to the corpus of this type of tale. The search for the Street is a puzzle that our heroes have to solve and the rules for the Street are established early on and the Quantum Shade's role as peacekeeper have a real mythic resonance with its form as the titular raven. The way in which events become a puzzle, become a cause, become a trap for the Doctor are expertly woven by writer Sarah Dollard. The realisation of the street owes more than a little to Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter Films and a very confident production is helmed by Justin Molotnikov who makes the aerial survey of London spectacular and the Street sinister and magical.

Supporting the regulars, we have two returnees.¤ Joivan Wade's again gives us his memorable Rigsy. He has clearly matured from the lovable ragamuffin we were introduced to in "Flatline", with a partner and a child, whom even the Doctor finds irresistible. Also returning is Maisie Williams as Me, Mayor Me of the street. Apart from these, the only supporting character of note is Letitia Wright's Janus. However, this story is very much a character story with one in particular taking centre stage – Clara Oswald. The plot tells of a sentence for Rigsy, which is, in reality a trap for the Doctor. The way in which Clara puts herself in harm's way to save the life of a young father is totally believable, as is the way in which she underestimates the nuances of the rules concerning how the Shade takes its prey. Clara is not reckless in taking on Rigsy's sentence, and her naivety in not realising that she has attempted to trick the Shade is understandable. In constructing the events in this way, Sarah Dollard gives Clara's sacrifice a real sense of beauty and dignity and the way in which Jenna Coleman plays it is utterly heartbreaking. Peter Capaldi's portrayal of the Doctor's despair and fury at the death of his best friend is shocking. We have seen him pretend to beg Davros for Clara's life, knowing that she was safe. Now we see what happens when it is real. Not since the Time Lord Victorious have we seen the Doctor more aware of his power and less concerned about how he uses it. Maisie Williams does good work in showing Me's increasing disquiet at the Doctor's anger, but this is Capaldi's show and the line 'the universe is a very small place when I am angry with you' makes the audience feel genuinely afraid about what the Doctor would do if he were to break the promise of his chosen name.

Beautiful, touching and chilling, this story is first-rate Doctor Who, even without the thrill of anticipation over what is to come...

NEXT: "Heaven Sent"

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