[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 9, Episodes 9 And 10, "Sleep No More" And "Face the Raven"

Courtesy of the BBC
Well... those were some fairly polarizing episodes, weren't they? In this series' only pair of unconnected, stand alone episodes, your enjoyment of them likely entirely depended of what you thought of the big twists in each. Also, in how much found footage annoys you as a gimmick, how much of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere you felt "influenced" Face the Raven, and how much soul you have. In short, Raven was a modern episode with a gut punch of a great ending, and Sleep was a bizarre experiment that went no where, added nothing, and was as confusing as it was basically shit. A rare poor offering from the usually reliable Mark Gatiss. We've found the skunk of the series, folks. Every series has one, and the one with the eye goop monsters will sit comfortably forgotten along with the one with the trees and that one where a guy had oral sex with a slab of concrete.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are very small when I'm cross.


Sleep is clearly a half formed thought of an idea. Or, it is a perfectly formed thought of a half baked idea. The end reveal that nothing makes sense because it's all been fabricated is interesting, but it calls to mind three issues: if everything was fabricated, then did any of it really happen? If everything was fabricated, then what was the point? And if everything was fabricated, why should we care? The answer to the last one is we shouldn't, which renders the other two moot. I feel like Gatiss might have spent too much time with this idea alone, and that his friendship with Moffat overrode what should have been the editorial instinct to chuff this one out. As it stands, I think the only episode of Who that it can comfortably share a bunk with is the maligned Ghost Light episode of the Seventh Doctor, an episode famous for it's nonsensical plot, due to bad edits, rewrites and unnecessary complexity. To say that Sleep makes no sense, and that is the point, is an easy way out of a painted corner. And one I'm happy to paint over.

Raven was a lot of things coming to an end. It was the third part of the Ashildr trilogy, in which she has grown into a confident if misguided protector of the people. Her mission in life, once only to live, then to protect those the Doctor leaves behind, has grown into protect all those that can't protect himself. This fits the larger theme of the series, that the Doctor influences people to become facets of himself. Unfortunately, they only ever seem to take on one facet of his personality, and without the whole lot, they usually just end up making a monkey of them-self. And getting people killed. So, points to Me (or The Mayor, or whomever she is) for the idea of bringing the riff-raff of alien castaways on Earth together in a melting pot culture, where they can irk out a more comfortable life than if they were under the guise of UNIT. The Zygon debacle is mentioned several times, which suits because the Trap Streets serve as a nice political analogy for ghettoization and ethnic grouping among immigrants, carrying on the social metaphors from the Zygon episodes. Those coming to a major city, looking to survive or make a new life, are clumped either intentionally or incidentally together with their "own kind," preventing true immersion and assimilation. And fostering increased feelings of paranoia and distrust between all involved. Like the Zygon episodes, Raven was written before the Syrian refugee crisis, but couldn't serve as better analogies towards the worst of reactions and behavior towards them.

Raven was also the culmination of both of Clara's on going storylines. Her transition into a Doctor-lite character, and ultimately her own story. Clara has come a long way from the gimmick Moffat introduced three series back. And in that time, we've forgotten all the nonsense that brought her on the show in the first place (as did Moffat and episode writer Sarah Dollard, who forwent the "run you clever boy, and remember" line that usually precedes the death of a Clara). But what was not forgotten is that, all versions of Clara are fated to die in the serve of the Doctor. So it has been since her first episode, and so it ever shall be. Clara, in her original purpose, was a tool, a force to serve a protection over the Doctor and his many iterations. I have never been a fan of this idea, and have been happy that it was largely abandoned after the 50th occurred. But she did protect the Dozenth Doctor, from himself. It wasn't that she was shoehorned into his back story to wave her arms as he chased some threat. It was that, Capaldi's Doctor has been the one most likely to self-harm from the start, and Clara was the one that brought him down. She was his carer, as he brilliantly summarized last series; she cared for him.

I quite liked this exit. I liked it as much as I despised the reverential way that Amy was dispatched. With the likes of Rose or Amy, it is clear that the authors fell too much in love with their own creations, and allowed that emotion to over writer their good sense, and the stories suffered. We didn't get the sorts of exits that we could have gotten based on where the narrative was headed, because the author felt the need to jump through hoops to make themselves happy. The same is entirely true of Ten's departure from the show, which felt like more of a sloppy, dog-tongued kiss than an emotional finale. But this exit served the character first, the other characters second, the story third, and the author's emotions last. I also appreciated that Moffat allowed another author to dispatch his creation for him, and maybe that is the trick. Maybe the folks who create these character can't be allowed to be in charge of their leaving. Dollard lacked the intimacy with the character, which meant she was able to do what was needed, rather than what she wanted.

What I liked most about Clara's death, and it was a nice proper death - I'm of the personal opinion that more companions need to die, because travelling with the Doctor really is a stupid idea when you come right down to it - is that it completed her transformation into the Doctor. All last series, and to a lesser extent this series, was a build up to Clara taking on more and more of the Doctor's personality, his tendencies, and his disconnection. "It's an ongoing concern," he tells Rigsy, as she dangles out of the TARDIS door mid flight, much as we've seen Eleven do in the past. And her sense of perspective shifted too. Since the loss of Danny Pink, she had begun to fall into the habit of failing to see the forest for the trees. Focus on the individual at the expense of the whole. This is the opposite issue that Capaldi's Doctor has struggled with since the beginning. Except for Clara, he can't see individuals. Only people. He'll save people, at the expense of a person. Which is why his saving of Ashildr was meant to be profound. Except, the ripple that turned into a tsunami with that choice lead to Clara's death. Focusing on the individual cost him the only individual he cared about.

But Clara's transformation into the Doctor could only be completed by enacting the one constant in the Doctor's life: his willingness to sacrifice himself for someone else. The Doctor dies for those he lives for, is as succinct a description of his life to this point. Three, Five, Eight, Nine, and Ten have all chosen death in order to ensure the direct survival of an individual. Others, like Four and Eleven, for the greater good of the universe. Self sacrifice is one of his primary virtues. Clara simply did what comes absolutely naturally to the Doctor. The difference between Clara and the Doctor is that, death for the Doctor is an inconvenience. He can allow himself to be put in those situations because he knows that there is a very good chance, he'll still come out alright. He'll win the day, and walk away, in some form or another. Clara isn't reckless, which is an unfortunate label to put on her, she's selfless. She is basically doing what Missy said is the trick to being the Doctor: think you're going to win, and you'll think of a way to win. The only reason reckless applies at all is because she has something to loose: her life. And in the end, she lost. She died well, and nobly, but she died.

She also got a great monologue, again something only usually reserved for a departing Doctor. She got to be bold and brave and selfless and heroic, while the Doctor got to be the one who stood by and watched and cried, and suffers the vacancy of it afterwards. The script also pulled a lot of comparisons with the War Doctor, which is nice to see that Hurt's regeneration isn't simply going to be forgotten as that one weird blip in a single episode. That his experience will continue to inform the character and the show going forward. Clara begs him not to become the Warrior, but to stay the Doctor and heal himself. Not to fall into the trap that the War Doctor, and all the modern Doctor's have felt at least once, when they are so ravaged by pain that they shed their grace and lead armies. Be he the War Doctor, or the Time Lord Triumphant, or a Good man who goes to war, when the Doctor hurts, the universe burns. Clara's whole point and purpose on the show has been to keep him from tipping over that edge. To pull him back. Now that she's gone, the question must be asked again:

What sort of man is he?
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

3 comments :

  1. I think you mean Gaiman's Neverwhere, not Nevermore.

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    Replies
    1. Though would be a nice link to the Raven episode!

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