After last week’s disastrous episode of Doctor Who, I had honest doubts that they would be able to turn it around quickly enough give Clara Oswald a proper send-off on “Face the Raven.” I was wrong. Writer Sarah Dollard gave her one of the best goodbye episodes for a companion in the modern Who run.
We’ll have to see if Moffat, who wrote the next two episodes, undoes the the death of Clara in an effort to give her a bigger, more “epic” finale where the fate of the world is at stake. Because what I loved about “Face the Raven” is that it wasn’t a a huge episode, where the Daleks threatened to exterminate mankind or the Mistress tried to kill the doctor or the Cybermen ran roughshod over humanity. This was a smaller, more intimate episode, and though it obviously sets up the “epic” two-part finale, “Face the Raven” also acted as a powerful, poignant, and heartbreaking stand-alone episode.
Clara died. She died saving Rigsy. She died with dignity, with bravery, and without undoing anything about what has made Clara such a terrific companion for these last few years. She confronted death, and in the face of it, had enough strength to remind the Doctor of who he is, to warn him against seeking revenge.
“Let me be brave.”
I admit I initially felt let-down by the smallness of the episode, but the more I consider it, the more heartbreaking it feels. When deciding to save yourself to save humanity, the decision isn’t honestly difficult. When deciding to sacrifice yourself for a friend, it’s a bigger, more personal sacrifice, one that befits the spirit of Clara Oswald. It was a quiet, graceful, elegiac ending for Clara.
But the question, as it always is on a show where there are 12 iterations of the Doctor, where The Master returns from the death every other season, and where same decimated villains always manage to cycle through, is this: Is Clara Oswald really dead? Because companions are not killed off in modern Who. They have their minds erased or they are sent to a parallel universe or trapped in time, but killed off, they are not. This is a kid’s show, after all (and there have already been some complaints in the UK that this episode was too dark for younger viewers).
Still, I don’t trust Moffat to leave well enough alone, to simply let Clara’s death be the driving force for The Doctor’s anger at Ashilda in the finale. I feel like he’ll either find a way to bring her back so that he can let her go again, or we’ll find out that the Clara that died was yet another Zygon copy. There’s got to be a reason there was a Zygon two-parter so close to Clara’s death.
Of course, there’s also the matter that Clara has died in two other Doctor timelines, and that echoes of her are scattered throughout the Doctor’s personal timeline. So maybe Clara is dead, but we’ll almost certainly see her — or an echo of her — again this season. It’s the Moffat way; let’s just hope he pulls it off as a sweet nod to the spirit of Clara and not another full-blown resurrection.
R.I.P. Clara: You’ll be missed (hopefully).