Doctor Who 9.11, 9.12 and 9.13: “Face the Raven”, “Heaven Sent”, “Hell Bent”

I could have done these in individual posts, but I’ll be honest: I was busy, I was tired, I couldn’t be bothered.  The three preceding episodes were so offensively terrible, they managed to pretty much destroy my enthusiasm for season 9.

It’s a shame, because “Face the Raven” was genuinely outstanding, and not just because it advanced a strong anti-birb agenda.  And “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent” were both quite good, even though I nearly noped out when —

But I get ahead of myself.

Face the Raven

This was fantastic: the return of two established characters in Rigsy and Me — I wanted to say “established and popular”, but fandom does this thing where it likes to pretend that Rigsy didn’t exist?  Because racism? — and a fantastic new concept for the series: the refugee camp for aliens hidden in a trap street.

I went cold when I heard the word “refugee”, but Sarah Dollard, First Australian Woman To Write For The Show, managed to avoid any offensive subtext, proving that it can in fact be done.

All season, I’ve been predicting that Clara would die through some action of her own, but I expected it to be through crossing a moral line.  Instead, she gets a generous, heroic, completely pointless death.

And that’s great.  My brother, in his response to “Face the Raven”, talked a lot about hubris, and how rare it is for a woman to be portrayed as a hero undone by hubris.  (Someone on Tumblr also said that “hybrid” and “hubris” have the same root, but I can’t find any sources for that.)

Clara’s death, aside from being more evidence that birds are terrible, was an excellent way to go — I’m not in favour of killing companions, but if you must do it, let them go with agency and courage.  I didn’t want Clara to die, but I really liked this death.

In the wake of “Face the Raven”, Doctor Who fandom demonstrated that it’s Still The Most Racist, with “adorable” headcanons about pretending Rigsy’s (quite black!) baby is the Doctor and Clara’s, and just straight-up whitewashing.

(The person who made the first post apologised; the artist behind the second didn’t.  I’m still linking to the first post, though, because a bunch of fans jumped in to say it totally wasn’t racist and why are we looking for reasons to be offended and it’s just a TV show, etc.  Guys, don’t do that.)

Heaven Sent

Awkward fact: I like to do something with my hands while I watch TV, so I usually quilt or draw while something’s on, and I kind of maybe forgot that there’s not a lot of dialogue in an episode with one speaking part, so I maaaaybe didn’t give it my full attention and missed some stuff.  Also, I totally thought Tom Baker was narrating in the end (nope! Just Capaldi!), so honestly I don’t know why anyone would trust my opinion about anything.

But it was good!  Scary and tense and very well-written and clever.  Well done, show.

Hell Bent

I love Gallifrey.  It is a terrible place full of terrible people, but I have a serious weakness for Space Politics As Conducted By Aliens With Really Long Lifespans, Especially If They’re Actually Awful (see also: the Minbari, the Vorlons, the Asari, Vulcans, the Q…)

So I was really into this episode right up until the bit where Clara came back.

I liked her death, but I was also glad to see the back of her.  I knew she’d appear in this episode, but I figured it was just one of her echoes.

And this episode did a whole bunch of things I really hate and didn’t want to see: Clara coming back; the Doctor setting out to destroy a whole lot of things because he lost his companion and he has manpain; Clara becoming immortal and getting a TARDIS.

Luckily (for me), all of these things I hate were executed really well, in such a way that the stuff that aggravates me was mostly avoided.

Mostly.  We still had the bullshit “Doctor abandons his principles because he lost his friend” storyline.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that he was called out on it, and that the script knew this was a bad thing and didn’t wallow in manpain.  I just hate that it happened.

The thing is, all companions are special, the same way that all people are special, but no one’s that important.  I think it’s in “World War Three” when Nine, By Far The Worst Of All Doctors*, tells Rose, “I could save the world, but lose you.”  Yes, and?

This attitude isn’t unprecedented, but when Three freaks out because saving the universe might kill Jo in “The Time Monster”, she tells him to get on with it, then saves the universe herself.

And let’s face it, “White Man Loses Woman, Abandons Moral Code, Goes On Rampage” is a story we’ve all seen.  It’s old.  It’s the exact opposite of what Clara wanted in “Face the Raven”.  And it makes the Doctor look ridiculous, because he’s lost so many people, and it’s terrible every time, but we always see him recover.  This was just going through the motions, like watching Don Draper drinking too much and womanising in later seasons of Mad Men and wishing that he’d just get a clue already and move on.

It’s possible this would have been less unbearable if the Doctor had lost a companion I actually liked, but not by much.  Not even Martha or Amy are worth this much carry-on.

Now, “Heaven Sent” ends up dismantling that plot and creating a new one.  Good on it.  I like a bit of subversion.  I just resent being made to sit through all the nonsense beforehand.  And while wiping the Doctor’s memory is a genius move, and a delightful fuck you to Russell T Davies and the mindwipe of Donna, it just opens up the possibility that one day he’ll lose someone else he cared about, and we’ll have to endure it all over again.

Anyway, Clara gets her TARDIS, but she’s not immortal — in fact, she’s very much running on borrowed time.  I like this ending — it’s a voluntary parting from the Doctor, she gets to keep on having adventures, but she doesn’t have Time Lordhood bestowed upon her like Tony Abbott granting royal honours.

And she’s sharing her TARDIS with Ashildr — well, it might in fact be the other way around — who is finally getting her dream of time travel.  Clara gets to be the Doctor, Ashildr has her wish, and they’re just gal pals in a diner-shaped time machine.  THIS IS GREAT.

On the other hand, it still sends the message that if you’re a special enough white girl, you can escape death and even time itself.  But if you’re a decent, brave man of colour, you’re going to die and stay dead (Danny) and fandom is going to steal and whitewash your baby (Rigsy).  Moffat has done a lot of work to dismantle the damage caused by Russell T Davies’ unpleasant subtexts, but the Problem of Mickey And Martha still looms.

here comes the general

p03b049dOn a more positive note: based on almost no evidence whatsoever, I have decided that the Time Lord General is Romana, and she is quite pissed off that the Doctor shot her.  (Even though Time Lords seem to be handing out new life cycles like candy these days, and she seemed pretty happy to be returned to her preferred gender.)

(I’m also pretty chill with having the General just be her own person, because that means we can add her to our tiny collection of Named Time Ladies, and she and Romana can have a relationship of mutual respect, frequent disagreement and occasional date nights.)

I also loved that the Sisterhood of Karn, on hearing that the Doctor had returned to Gallifrey, basically just turned up to eat popcorn and watch the shenanigans unfold.  These ladies, the Nightsisters, the entire Asari race — I really need to read Dune sometime, since everyone tells me these groups are just different versions of the Bene Gesserit, and I adore them all quite a lot.**  I seriously want to cosplay Ohila one day.  Well, her and Luminara Unduli.  Robes: what all the short, round nerd ladies be wearing (because you can have pyjamas underneath).

The long term

I suspect that I’m going to come back to Clara’s time on Doctor Who and, knowing how her story unfolds, I’ll like her a lot better.  But I never really bonded with her, and I really wish she had been allowed to stay dead.  As it is, I’m settling for hoping that she doesn’t come back.

But I’m looking forward to seeing who our next companion is (please, God, not another white girl from contemporary London — not a white girl at all!), and in the meantime: RIVER SONG.


*Steph says: GET OUT

**Steph says: Bene Gesserit are the best

5 thoughts on “Doctor Who 9.11, 9.12 and 9.13: “Face the Raven”, “Heaven Sent”, “Hell Bent”

  1. You make good points about the Doctor’s attitude towards his companions, and I’d much prefer it if he didn’t destroy the universe on a regular basis while grieving (the showrunners keep trying to up the ante and it’s getting out of hand) but when dealing with this particular circumstance you kind of have to take into account that he got tortured for billions of years inside his own confession dial and trying to talk to Clara was what kept him going. Would he have reacted the way he did if he’d been allowed to mourn properly? I hope not.

    In ‘Hell Bent’ he is so very broken by what happened to him, it felt like he might be capable of anything. I have never loved Clara more than that moment she turned on the Time Lords and told them they were monsters. Because I adore the Time Lords…but they really are quite monstrous. Personally, I would never have let Rassilon off the planet, who knows what he’ll do now?

    1. He wasn’t precisely tortured for a billion years, though, he just relived the same few days for the equivalent of a billion years. Which seems like nitpicking, but he doesn’t have a complete memory of that time because it always takes him so long to figure out what’s happening.

      And Clara’s not even the first human to tell the Time Lords that they’re terrible. Nor is she the first companion to become collateral damage in the Time Lords’ endless showdowns with the Doctor. That has been happening literally since the ’60s, and there is no way anyone can convince me that Clara is more remarkable, or meant more to the Doctor, than Jamie and Zoe.

      1. I get a kick out of it EVERY time one of the Doctor’s friends goes up against the Time Lords – I meant more that I haven’t warmed to Clara as much over her time as companion, but in that moment she was a classic. It’s not clear how much the Doctor remembers about his time in the castle but it always seemed to hit him as he confronted that wall, even when there was no evidence of his punching it (that was my small issue with an otherwise brilliant episode, actually, how is it the wall never resets? How does the timing work?).

        The problem with the current Doctor/ companion dynamic is the showrunners keep trying to make it bigger and better and…friendship doesn’t really work like that. Same thing with the finales. They try to cram a bit too much drama into a limited space. I do hope they try something genuinely different with the next companion.

        1. Ohhh yes, I get you now! Sorry — you’re right about the escalation of the companion role, and that makes me defensive for all the other companions!

          1. Yes, I’ve really been seeing this too, and that’s one of the reasons why I come back to Martha all the time when I think of companions – she was just an ordinary human, with no particular reason for existing (not ‘made to save the doctor’ or with superior powers or anything), and she was a great companion because of what she still managed to do. The more recent trend (I saw recent, I mean the last five years or so?) seems to me to be about making the companion ever more ‘special,’ forcing them to become (or be all along) super humans rather than just normal humans who grow and develop like normal humans. If that makes sense.

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