Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dead Friend: An Overanalysis of "Face the Raven"

Companions rarely die.  The Doctor talks about them like they do all the time, but they rarely ever do.  They wind up in parallel dimensions or get their memories of him erased (this has actually happened more than once) or they end up stuck in a specific time period that the Doctor can't get to. These things are like death to the Doctor because he can never get back to them again, but they aren't really deaths.  The companions go on to continue their lives without him.  More often than not in the classic series, they just went home, or met someone and fell in love (never, before the Moffat era, was a companion allowed to stay on the TARDIS after falling in love).  Only one other full time companion has ever died while traveling with the Doctor on the TV series without bring brought back from the dead later.  One off companions have died many times, and expanded universe sources have given us a few more companion deaths, but still not that many.  Really, Adric remains as the only regular companion to have really formed a connection with the Doctor before being tragically killed at a young age without being brought back later.  That is until "Face the Raven."

"I saw a whole planet rushing towards me.  I tried to surrender to it, but it did me no good.  That usually works!"

Much like Adric's death, Clara's isn't heroic, but more of a failed attempt at a heroic act.  Adric died trying to stop a Cybership from crashing into Earth, failing to understand that the ship he was on wasn't going to destroy humanity, but was rather the "asteroid" that crashed into Earth killing the dinosaurs, thus allowing humanity to spread and thrive.  Clara's death was something this whole season has been building up to, as we've seen the Doctor grow more and more concerned about her recklessness and thrill-seeking behavior.  In the end, it wasn't a heroic act that killed her, as Rigsy would have survived if Clara had never come up with her brilliant idea.  It was solely her recklessness that killed her.  In a weird way, it's a very disgraceful death, which is probably going to make the Doctor even angrier about it.

A few people have brought up the possibility that Clara's death isn't going to stick, and it wouldn't be unprecedented for Doctor Who to bring back a character we assumed was dead.  Moffat has insisted that Clara would not return once she left the show, but we all remember Rule 1.  One of the main reasons people are suspicious is the fact that Steven Moffat did not write the episode.  It is shockingly out of character for Moffat, who has yet to let another writer write even one word of dialogue for River Song (Big Finish's recent announcement not withstanding), to allow another writer to kill off a companion that he created.  If he were to hand that task over to another writer, you would think he'd give it to one of his close friends like his Sherlock co-writers Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson, not a first time Doctor Who writer like Sarah Dollard, an Australian writer whose writing credits are actually relatively sparse.  She has a lot of credits as a script editor for major BBC shows like Merlin and Primevil, but the number of episodes she's written by herself for TV shows is significantly smaller than what you'd find on most Doctor Who writers' resumes.  However, one of her writing credits is a 2013 episode she wrote of Being Human, a show that was created and run by Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse, so perhaps Moffat had a good recommendation for her.  Also, the show has been notably lacking in female writers since the revival, and perhaps Moffat felt it would be appropriate for a female writer to kill off Clara.

Another reason that the fandom has been a little skeptical about the permanence of Clara's death is that it came at a very odd point in the season.  We've never gone into a season finale without the companion before.  In fact, only once before in the entire series, modern or classic, has there been an episode with no companion, not even a one-off companion to fill in for the episode.  That was the 4th Doctor serial with the title that is now quite appropriately mocked for its redundancy, "The Deadly Assassin," and supposedly the reason for that was that Tom Baker was trying to convince the production staff that he could carry the show on his own without a co-star.  He failed in that, and a new companion was brought in for the very next serial.

"My oversized teeth can be my companion!"
I would like to take a moment, while discussing this episode, to talk about Clara's brief reference to her "love" of Jane Austen, which she followed up with "Take that how you like."  This was a pretty obvious callback to a line from "The Magician's Apprentice" where Clara commented on Jane Austen being an excellent kisser.  When asked about this at a recent con and if this meant that Clara is bisexual, Jenna Coleman responded by simply saying that Clara's sexuality is open to interpretation.  I think it's beyond interpretation at this point.  Doctor Who is a proudly LGBTQ friendly television show, and I think this is just the latest iteration of that.  Kudos as always to the writers of Doctor Who for always insisting that LGBTQ content is appropriate in a children's television show.

I still kept holding out a thought in the back of my mind that Danny was going to come back, that "Listen" was really going to turn out to be prophetic, and that somehow Clara and Danny would live happily ever after.  Moffat went on record as saying that there were plenty of other possible explanations for how everything went down in "Listen," and that Orson Pink could be a descendent of Danny's brother, who always heard the family story of the great Danny Pink and Clara Oswald and what they went through to save the world.  Still, I assumed that was just Moffat being Moffat and bullshitting us as usual.  I guess that, unless he intends to undo two deaths very abruptly (which probably wouldn't go over well with the fandom) this is how the Clara and Danny story ends.  If there is an afterlife, that's the only happy ending they get together.

I keep thinking of all the times that the Doctor saved Clara.  This is not to claim that she's been a damsel in distress, as she has saved the Doctor herself many times.  But I think of the Doctor's promise not to let her die again after letting two other Clara's die in other time periods.  I think of the Doctor jumping into his own timestream to rescue Clara after she saved him from the Great Intelligence.  I think of all those moments, and how futile they seem now that she died anyway.  It's a dark direction for the show to go, and I'm frankly surprised that they went there.  A shadow has now been cast over so much of Clara's era, and I can't watch any of her old episodes the same way again, knowing that all of this was just leading to her tragic death.

The Doctor's fury at Ashildr was certainly founded at this moment, but Clara's insistence that he promise not to take revenge was a very important moment.  Remember Donna's warning that the Doctor needs someone to stop him sometimes.  Clara knows this better than anyone.  She's the one who stopped him from destroying his own planet and his own people.  She's seen the worst of what he can be.  Clara knows that, without her, he's likely to go rogue, and that a promise to a dying friend might be enough to keep him from turning into the War Doctor all over again.  As I'm late writing this blog (sorry) we now know exactly who set this trap for the Doctor, and we know he's not entirely keeping his promise, but the promise is what's going to keep him from completely going off the deep end.

But it was a trap, quite maliciously set for the Doctor, and one of his companions got caught in it.  There will absolutely be hell to pay, and the Doctor is going to be, as the title of the final episode of the season suggests, hell bent on shutting down whoever and whatever is responsible for this trap, even if Clara's death was an unintended consequence.  This is time for the angriest, rashest, and unfriendliest regeneration of the Doctor that we've seen in a long time to set things right in the Universe and, before its all over, things are going to get ugly.  The only way I see this lightening up is if somehow Moffat is going to pull a rug out from under us and find some way to save Clara, or at least semi-save her (think River in "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead").  Perhaps something to do with the stupid machine from "Sleep No More"?  But more than likely, this is the end for Clara, and there will be hell to pay.

But for now, in honor of Jenna-Louise Coleman (RESPECT THE HYPHEN!) and her amazing performance as Clara Oswald, a companion named in honor of Elizabeth Clara Sladen, the actress who played Sarah Jane Smith, and a companion who died with more grace and dignity than anyone in the history of the show.  If you are gone for good, which I really think you are, we're going to miss you Clara Oswald, our dead friend:

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