A group of ravens is called a “conspiracy” for a reason: They’re always stirring up trouble. They knock on poets’ doors late at night and make them think about death. I spent a year in Alaska, the state that gave its name to the starship where we first met one of Clara’s echoes, and the Native story I heard the most was the one in which Raven steals the sun. I think the Doctor knows the feeling.
We all knew this was coming, but I don’t know if that makes it any easier: Clara Oswald is dead. I’m not up on the exact science of death by shade raven, but I feel pretty confident in saying that she’s met her end, making her the first companion of the modern Doctor Who era to (permanently) die onscreen. All that’s left now is to figure out how we all feel about it. Let’s run through the plot “quick as you like,” as Oswin would say, and get to the fallout.
It starts with a tattoo that isn’t a tattoo. Rigsy, our friend from “Flatline,” wakes up with a number counting down on the back of his neck and no memory of the last 24 hours. He calls the Doctor and Clara, as you do in this sort of emergency, and they piece together what happened: Rigsy wound up in a hidden street, a pocket of alien life on earth where refugees from across the galaxy are offered safe haven. The street is governed by strict rules set in place by none other than Ashildr, now known as Mayor Me, who’s been here since the Doctor lost track of her in the 1800s.
She’s forgotten her name again, but she hasn’t forgotten the Doctor — or the promise that she made to care for the ones he leaves behind. Maisie Williams’ performance here splits the difference between the Ashildr of Viking times and the Me we last met; she cares, but as an action rather than a feeling, and she has no trouble making the tough calls. When an older gentleman with a number on his neck pleads mercy (He only stole the medicine because his wife needed it!), the Mayor stands firm, and a raven made of smoke chases him down the street, flies into his chest, and kills him.
The number on Rigsy’s neck marks him for the same fate. It’s a chronolock binding him to the raven, which will take his life when the minutes tick down to zero: punishment for a crime that no one can prove he committed. Rigsy was found standing over the body of a beloved member of the community named Anna, a Janus whose two faces allowed her to see into the past and the future. Someone has to pay, and Rigsy is a convenient scapegoat; if he’s the killer, people on the street don’t have to suspect each other. The Mayor agrees to release him if they can prove his innocence, but turning the tide of public opinion in Rigsy’s favor won’t be easy.
Clara has an idea to buy them some time. Before the man died for stealing medicine, his wife offered to take the chronolock in his place; death can’t be cheated, but it can be passed on as long as both parties are willing. But the Doctor made the Mayor guarantee Clara’s safety, and the Mayor’s protection is “absolute” — which should mean that Clara can’t be killed. If she takes the chronolock from Rigsy, they’ll both be safe. He’s hesitant, but she’s sure of her logic; trapping people at their own game is “Doctor 101.” Anyway, Rigsy has a baby now. Does he want his daughter growing up without a father just because he wouldn’t take a risk? Rigsy agrees, and Clara takes his burden.
Maybe, just maybe, Rigsy and Clara should have agreed on the idea of switching the chronolock but held off on actually doing it until the literal last minute. There’s more going on here than a case of convenient scapegoating — this is intentional scapegoating, meant to draw in the Doctor. Anna’s daughter confirms it; as a female Janus, she shares her mother’s psychic powers, a fact that she’s kept hidden by masquerading as a boy. She can tell that the Mayor’s plan involves the Doctor, but because his past and future are so hard to separate, she’s not sure what that plan is.
The one piece of good news in all of this: Anna is alive. The Mayor claimed that Anna’s body was being kept in a stasis pod until it could be sent home for burial, but the Janus burn their dead. She’s actually being kept there as bait for the Doctor. When he finds a keyhole inside the pod’s control panel, the Doctor knows that it’s a trap — the Mayor wants him to use his TARDIS key to open it — but a daughter needs her mother, so he does it anyway. Anna is freed as a teleport band closes around the Doctor’s arm.
NEXT: Does it need saying?