Well, let’s get the nitpicky out of the way first. “Face the Raven” was Sarah Dollard’s first Doctor Who script, and it’s extremely good in many respects, but it makes a critical error in basing the big problem around an extremely complicated deathtrap with more rules than a television hour can realistically address. This naturally leads an audience to start questioning “why didn’t they” and “why couldn’t he” instead of dealing with the fictional reality. In a book, this might have worked a lot better, because a novel doesn’t have the clock until the end of the episode ticking. I can imagine somebody like Susanna Clarke providing the full contract between Me and the Quantum Shade in the book’s appendix. So as much as I like this story, there are questions that are never going to be satisfactorily answered; the episode just has to shout “She just can’t, okay?!” and honestly, television should never need to do that.
Wait until we get to episode twelve, though. That mess is nothing but questions.
That said, everything else is really good. Maisie Williams is back as Me, who we last saw in the 17th Century, and she has sprung a trap for the Doctor using his and Clara’s friend Rigsy, who we met in “Flatline” in season eight. I really love the realization of the “trap street.” The Harry Potter films had a couple of similar “hide in plain sight” places that I don’t think were done as well as this, and the occupants of the street, mostly survivors and refugees from various attempted conquests of Earth, remind me of Kate Orman’s novel Return of the Living Dad. Although full credit to Orman: this episode has some amusing familiar faces, but nothing here is as ridiculously lovely as the novel’s poor Auton, cut off from the Nestene Consciousness and stuck forever in the form of a spatula.
It’s a very intense episode that kept our son practically motionless for its full running time, which rarely happens. Clara’s death scene is really amazing and he was absolutely silent. He said afterward “That… kept me on my toes. It wasn’t exciting the way I like it, but I couldn’t guess what was going to happen.” Despite my problems with the script, everybody involved did an outstanding job with the material. My eyes were dry this time, but I have watched it something like eight or nine times, and a little of its power has admittedly been a bit dulled.