If the conclusion of “Face the Raven” left you speechless, you certainly aren’t alone. The 10th episode of this Doctor Who season marked the end of Jenna Coleman’s three-year run as Clara Oswald, the Doctor’s longtime companion. Not just a long time, but in fact the longest-tenured of all the Doctor’s companions. Even though it’s no secret that Coleman was leaving the show, the way in which her character was killed off sent a jolt throughout the Whoverse.
For decades now, Doctor Who episodes have adhered to a fairly strict formula: Doctor and Companion investigate a mystery, Companion inadvertently does something silly to endanger him, or herself, and Doctor does something clever to save the day. Roll credits, see you next week. That’s just the way it works. By all given accounts Face the Raven was a milk run: This season alone, Clara has escaped from at least four positions more precarious.
Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have made the deaths of major characters almost routine. Yet while Doctor Who doesn’t shy away from death, Game of Thrones it is not. In the Whoverse, killing off a main character is a big deal. Typically when a main character is about to meet their demise, there is a certain build up, a certain foreshadowing, a certain gravity to the exit. For some, Clara’s death seemed a bit disrespectful: you simply don’t kill off a three-year mainstay in what by all given accounts was a throwaway episode.
In a way, that is the genius of Clara’s death: with five minutes left to go no one actually thought Clara going to bite the big one. Clara was doing the same Clara things Clara has done for three seasons, and all of a sudden, she was gone. The scene itself wasn’t gory — Doctor Who has never been big on blood and guts — but it didn’t have to be; Clara’s final scene was the fact that the “Impossible Girl,” the Doctor’s own personal savior, could be killed off so nonchalantly, so unexpectedly in and of itself was all the shock needed. In fact, the exit was so stunning, it left Jenna Coleman herself in tears.
Many will disagree, but Clara’s exit really was a master stroke. With a show like Doctor Who, it’s legitimately difficult to surprise fans, yet the show’s writers were able to take viewers from “Oh look, yawn I wonder how they’ll get out of this one.” to “HOLY SHIT SHE’S REALLY GONE!!” in a matter of seconds. Who fans were promised a “sad, gripping, and strange” end to Clara, and that is exactly what was delivered. It may seem a bit cheap, but looking back to the previous episodes this season, this really was a sucker punch that was set up perfectly; show writers played fans’ emotions like a fiddle, and honestly, as a fan, what more could you want out of your favorite TV show?
Moving forward, show runner Steven Moffat confirmed Coleman will make at least one more appearance this season, but she definitely won’t be returning in the future. In whatever context she reappears, it will give Clara fans a chance to properly say goodbye and get some sense of closure. That said, regardless of how you feel about Clara’s character, her departure should excite you for the season’s conclusion.
For the past season and a half, Clara was the Doctor’s tether to humanity. In the first eight seasons of the new series, the Doctor/companion relationship was always some iteration of flirtatious love interest. Yet, Clara’s relationship with Capaldi’s Doctor was specifically platonic; she acted as half psychiatrist, half den-mother. She was the human keeping the impetuous, often cranky Timelord in line.
In her final scene, Clara implores the Doctor not to let her death change him and makes him promise not to seek revenge. And though the Doctor goes off on one of his predictable bravado-filled rants, threatening to rain down 18 different kinds of war upon Maisie Williams’ Ashildr, the moment he realizes Clara is really going to die, we see what it looks like when the Doctor finally loses his shit. He is powerless to stop it, no aces up his sleeves, no rabbits to pull out of his hat, and his reaction was one of eerie calm. No more bluster, no more outrage, just him standing there helplessly while his longtime companion dies.
If the last five minutes of “Face the Raven” are any indication, Capaldi is uniquely suited to play the Doctor who completely ran out of fucks to give. While Doctors past have traveled solo after losing companions, this Doctor is alone and completely unhinged. Will he keep his promise to Clara and keep it together, or will he finally let loose the beast? Either way, this promises to be one of the most entertaining season finales in the show’s long and illustrious history.