Leading up to Face the Raven rumors suggested this was going to be the episode where Clara Oswald leaves the Doctor and the TARDIS. Peter Capaldi so much as confirmed this days before the episode. The two uniquely Whovian experiences are the Doctor’s regeneration, and the departure of a companion. We always know when the companions are leaving, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, it often makes the adventure more painful to watch. Fear the Raven is indeed Jenna Coleman’s swansong, or should I say Ravensong? It’s a moment we’ve known would come, but could never have prepared for.
First off, Rigsy is back! Clara and the Doctor met him in the episode Flatline, where at the end of their adventure he was given the TARDIS’ phone number for emergencies. His call comes as a surprise to Clara and the Doctor while they’re taking a breather from some unseen adventure. Rigsy woke up one day with a new tattoo he doesn’t remember getting, and worse still is that it’s counting down. That’s strange enough to get the dynamic duo on the case, and they even invite Rigsy along for the ride.
It turns out the strange tattoo is pretty serious. The Doctor surmises it’s a countdown to death, but luckily he knows just the place to get information. For as long as anyone can remember tales have been told of secret spaces hidden about London. Hidden streets and alleys home to a bustling alien culture living secretly on earth. The Doctor has never been there, but he knows how to find it.
The hidden alley he finds leads to a refugee camp for aliens stranded—or hiding—on earth. The biggest surprise, however, is when Ashildr shows up as the community’s Mayor. Clara hasn’t actually met Ashildr since the Doctor encountered her many years after their first meeting. She does know all about her though, since she apparently knows everything the Doctor doesn’t want her to know. The Doctor is wary about seeing Ashildr, and with good reason. It turns out she was the one who marked Rigsy for death since he has been found guilty committing a crime; killing one of the refugees.
All isn’t what it seems as we’re led to believe the refugees aren’t what they appear. Disguised as humans, some familiar foes are present; Judoon, Sontarans, a Cyberman, even an Ood. Ashildr has created a haven for aliens left behind on Earth, or looking for a place to hide. It’s a sanctuary with necessarily strict laws to keep the fragile peace. The consequence for murder is death.
Clara can’t stay patient and wait for Rigy’s innocence to be proven, so she takes matters into her own hands by agreeing to a shady deal that could help her friend. She chooses to take on the death countdown because she thinks it will buy them all time to sort the problem. She has become so confident in her decisions that she no longer doubts her own cleverness. Gone is her sense of fear. No longer does she need the Doctor to act first. She acts on her own, an independent equal of the Doctor, and it is her downfall.
The Doctor starts to see pieces that don’t fit. He suspects Ashildr not only knows more than what she’s let on, but that she’s somehow involved in the incident. The team locate one of the sanctuary residents who is able to read people’s minds and the Doctor asks her if she can read what Ashildr is up to. It seems Ashildr has actually crafted a mystery to ensnare the Doctor.
It looks like Ashildr’s motives are fairly complicated, but she didn’t want to hurt anyone. But that doesn’t help Clara, who became too clever for her own good. She gambled on her trump card, and it came up short. Even the Doctor can’t fix this. The Doctor flies into threats of absolute destruction, death, and mayhem against Ashildr. These aren’t idle threats. They’re genuine. In the face of Clara’s inevitable death he shows just how much he cares for her. Clara can’t bare to see him in such a state and begs him to take no action. She brought this on herself and it’s her burden alone. But the Doctor admits his role in letting her get too reckless. He knows he’s responsible.
Clara’s last moments are spent ordering the Doctor not to take revenge, not to lose himself when he’s alone, and to keep on keeping on. Clara’s exit is shockingly mundane, but hugely complex at the same time. An almost abrupt end to something three years in the making. I think it highlights something missing from Doctor Who since its revival: companions don’t always leave in an outlandishly dramatic way.
From bright-eyed novice, to a Time Lord in her own right, Clara Oswald leaves the Doctor on her own terms. It’s a strange sort of departure in the sense that we all knew it was inevitable. You could tell it was going to end poorly for a long while, and in the end it’s largely the Doctor’s fault. He let Clara become too much like him.
I believe Clara Oswald’s story is the most interesting of all the Doctor’s companions. She wasn’t my favorite, but she’s close to the top. No companion has ever been so intertwined with the Doctor’s life, or been involved in such an expansive ride through Doctor Who history. With a look she was able to get him to undo his greatest decision regarding the Time War and the Death of his people. No Companion has ever held so much sway over the Doctor. She may not be everyone’s favorite companion, but her impact and relevance cannot be ignored. Good bye, Clara. And Hello dangerous and unsupervised Doctor!