“The Doctor would never let you do this.”
So Face the Raven is the third-to-last Doctor Who episode of the season, and on the face of it (geddit?) it should be pretty good. It sees Clara, the Doctor, and a guy called Rigsy who we’re supposed to remember from Flatline, an episode broadcast more than a year ago, visit a hidden street in London ruled over by the ever-present Mayor Me (previously Lady Me, previously Ashildr) where all the aliens hide from the humans.
Which is to say: HOLY CRAP STEAMPUNK WITH ALIENS.
(Also, Sarah Dollard genuinely stole my NaNoWriMo idea.)
But, see, Face the Raven is possibly the most irritating Doctor Who episode I’ve seen in a while.
Because – and this is important – it isn’t really about steampunk aliens. It’s about the Doctor and Clara, and about giving Clara a good death scene. It uses the steampunk aliens, and its Murder Mystery set-up, for no deeper purpose than to move the Doctor to where he needs to be for the series finale.
Which makes Face the Raven very, very problematic indeed.
Face the Raven is a story about a refugee camp, in the context of the largest migrant crisis of the 21st century. But it doesn’t choose to look at these refugees, their experiences, their viewpoints, only to use them in the service of the wider story: getting the Doctor to the denouement of the series.
Face the Raven is a story about a POC wrongly accused of a crime in an age of racial profiling and frankly racist arrest rates; but it doesn’t choose to look at Rigsy, at his character and his experience, in any meaningful way. It uses him as a way of getting its white male character, the Doctor, into the right place for his grand series finale.
Face the Raven is a story about an immortal woman, Mayor Me, doing her best for the people she’s sworn to protect, in a time when fewer than a quarter of all UK MPs are women. But it doesn’t choose to examine her struggles of conscience and the hard choices she has to make; it chooses to vilify her, to use her to get the Doctor (white, male, middle-aged) to where he needs to be for his Grand Finale.
Face the Raven is a story about a woman who chooses to die for a man she barely knows, in a time when women are portrayed almost exclusively as sidekicks or as damsels in distress. But it doesn’t choose to focus on her fear; it doesn’t show us a Clara who accepts the consequences of what she’s doing; it doesn’t allow her choice to be anything other than a mistake, a mistake made because she failed to tell the Doctor what she was doing. Because she chose to be independent. It doesn’t allow her a death: her death is, by her final speech, made about the Doctor. Not about her, not about the woman who is about to die, but about the white man, immortal, privileged and oh so clever, the man who will never have to die.
Face the Raven is a story which makes the experiences of minorities a vehicle for the concerns of a white man. It makes everything serve the Doctor. This isn’t a story about the Doctor visiting a planet and helping; it’s a story about the Doctor being The Most Important Person in the Universe Ever. I wouldn’t mind if this was a story about helping. But it’s not. Everything in the story exists only so that the Doctor will go where he needs to go.
And we wonder why Doctor Who is broken.