Doctor Who series 9: geeky spots in Face The Raven

Spoilers: our viewing notes and geeky spots for Doctor Who series 9, Face The Raven...

So, ravens have been faced, the Doctor has been betrayed, and the groundwork has been laid for the two-part finale. But there’s no time to mourn; here’s our weekly Doctor Who viewing notes, featuring all the callbacks, references and things we otherwise thought interesting. As ever, this is the collected observations of one tired fan, so feel free to catalogue the things I’ve missed in the comments below…

Face The References

This story reunites the Doctor and Clara with graffiti artist Rigsy, who first appeared in last year’s Flatline and acted as Clara’s assistant while the Doctor was trapped inside a TARDIS whose outer dimensions were shrinking. The Doctor was initially unimpressed with Rigsy, dismissing him as another ‘pudding brain’, but quickly saw his worth as a source of ‘local knowledge’ – a nickname that quickly stuck and is used again in this adventure.

Rigsy isn’t the first Doctor Who character to get a tattoo; Toby Zed’s body was filled with them while possessed by the Beast in 2006’s The Impossible Planet, and the Doctor’s old friend the Corsair was revealed to have sported one in The Doctor’s Wife. Two series regulars have sported tattoos due to the actors’ real-life markings: Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones, and none other than the third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee – the actor’s snake tattoo can be seen during a shower scene (steady) in his debut story, Spearhead From Space.

The narrowly averted marriage alluded to at the start of this story wouldn’t be the Doctor’s first – we last saw him get married in 2013’s The Day Of The Doctor, when he was forced to exchange vows with Queen Elizabeth I. The eleventh Doctor had two weddings of dubious validity – once to River Song, whilst hidden inside the eye of a robot duplicate of himself, and once to Marilyn Monroe, in what he later claimed was not a real chapel. He was also engaged to marry Cameca in 1964’s The Aztecs – not having realised that in drinking cocoa with her he was proposing marriage. Finally, Clara stated in last year’s Death In Heaven that the Doctor has been married four times.

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As well as his disappointed fiancee, the Doctor has encountered several other notable sentient plant-based species over the years; in 1976 the Doctor and Sarah Jane encountered the carnivorous Krynoids sprouting from The Seeds Of Doom, while ten years later the sixth Doctor and Mel faced the Terror Of The Vervoids, an engineered plant-like race notable among fans for their unusual design.

The TARDIS has contained a phone ever since 2005’s Aliens Of London, when the ninth Doctor used it to call Rose. It is rare but not unheard of for it to receive calls – Winston Churchill used it to summon the Doctor in The Beast Below, while the 2010 series ended with the Doctor receiving a call from an unknown royal about a mummy on the Orient Express in space. For a time, calls to the TARDIS were redirected to the phone secreted within its exterior, but the twelfth Doctor appears to have reversed this.

Clara’s plea for the Doctor to heal himself is evocative of the eighth Doctor’s final words ‘Physician, heal thyself’, as eventually heard during the 2013 mini-episode The Night Of The Doctor. Similarly, her insistence that he be a Doctor is a callback of sorts to The Day Of the Doctor, in which Clara pushes the Doctor to remember why he adopted the title in the first place.

There’s another callback to The Day Of The Doctor near the beginning of the story, as Clara hangs upside down out of the TARDIS as it flies above London – the eleventh Doctor’s response to dangling at several hundred feet on that occasion was somewhat more panicked.

This is the second time Clara’s alluded to some sort of relationship between herself and Jane Austen; in The Magician’s Apprentice she remarked to her class that the writer was ‘a great kisser’. The subject of Austen first came up between Clara and the Doctor in last year’s The Caretaker, during which the Doctor interrupted another of Clara’s Jane Austen lessons to correct her and she accused him of being ‘bezzie mates’ with the author.

Clara tells the Doctor that his ‘reign of terror’ (Which is the name of a 1964 story – probably by coincidence!) will ‘end at the sight of the first crying child’. This was previously mentioned by Clara in The Girl Who Died, having first been deduced by Amy Pond in The Beast Below.

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As with pretty much any genre television series, Doctor Who has featured no shortage of deadly countdowns, from the Daleks’ radiation bomb in the second ever story to the real-time countdown to destruction in tenth Doctor story 42. Perhaps the most chilling countdown to a possible death was in 2010 tale Flesh And Stone, in which the Weeping Angels forced Amy to count down to her own becoming an Angel.

Clara mentions her ex, Danny Pink, who of course met his death in last year’s Dark Water. Arguably there wasn’t much bravery involved in his death, as he was hit by a car whilst chatting to Clara over the phone. However, after being part-converted into a Cyberman he made a heroic sacrifice – a courageous act no doubt made easier by his lack of emotions at the time.

Though it is a rare occurrence, Clara isn’t the first of the Doctor’s travelling companions to meet with an untimely end; in epic first Doctor tale The Daleks’ Master Plan, companions Katarina and Sara Kingdom both contributed to that story’s body count. The fifth Doctor then lost two companions – the robot Kamelion in Planet Of Fire, and Adric, who perished in the space freighter which wiped out the dinosaurs following the events of Earthshock. The Doctor’s previous companions Amy and Rory Williams were technically killed by the Weeping Angels in The Angels Take Manhattan, but since their death involved being transported to the past and living happily to a ripe old age, it doesn’t really count.

As in last year’s Dark Water, the key to the TARDIS once again takes the form of a regular Yale key. This has been the case throughout most of the Doctor’s lives, though the third Doctor also had a more alien-looking key with a zig-zag motif (apparently at the request of Jon Pertwee), which reappeared through several of his later incarnations; only Yale keys have been seen since the 2005 revival.

Several aliens make cameo appearances in this story; Ashildr is flanked by two disguised Judoon, the galactic police force first seen in 2007’s Smith And Jones. Long-running foes the Sontarans and the Cybermen are represented, and we also see an Ood, who debuted in 2006’s The Impossible Planet.

Rigsy isn’t the first graffiti artist to use the TARDIS as his canvas; a young boy spray-painted the ship with the words ‘BAD WOLF’ in 2005’s Aliens Of London, only to be made to clean them off in the following episode. Additionally, The Happiness Patrol in the seventh Doctor story of the same name painted the TARDIS a pleasant shade of pink.

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Though this is the first ‘invisible’ street in Doctor Who, the 2010 series saw a similar incident; in The Eleventh Hour the newly regenerated Doctor helped Amy Pond discover a room in her house that had been hidden in plain sight for 12 years using a perception filter.

Face The Raven features the first two-faced alien the Doctor has encountered on screen – in a literal sense, anyway. However, in 2010’s The Beast Below the Doctor encountered the Smilers, three-faced androids used to keep the peace aboard Starship UK.

The Doctor’s confession dial first appeared in Missy’s possession at the start of this season in The Magician’s Apprentice; could its reappearance here mean a return for Missy before the finale’s over?

It’s A Trap (Street)

As Clara explains, trap streets are an absolutely real phenomenon, used by map makers to identify anyone attempting to pass off their work as their own; the addition of trap streets transform a map from a representation of fact into a creative work, making it copyrightable. It is thought that common maps of London could contain as many as 100 of these.

Retcon is a drug introduced in spin-off series Torchwood and frequently used by Captain Jack Harkness and his team to preserve the secrecy of the organisation. It was shown in that series that, like Rigsy, characters could on occasion retrieve their memories after being given the drug.

The inaccessible nature of the trap street, as well as its general design, will no doubt remind many viewers of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series of books and films.

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Both the concept and the name ‘teleport bracelet’ should be familiar to fans of Doctor Who’s 70s stablemate Blake’s 7; the crew of the Liberator were forever using them to transport to and from alien planets.

Ravens have long been used to symbolise death, with references as far back as Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Providing a thematic link to last week’s episode) and the epic Old English poem Beowulf. Ravens famously guard the Tower of London, which is used in Doctor Who to house UNIT’s Black Archive – UNIT chief Kate Stewart comments in The Day Of The Doctor that the tower’s ravens need their batteries replacing as they’re ‘looking a bit sluggish’.

This is Simon Paisley Day’s second appearance in Doctor Who – he previously played the Steward back in 2005’s The End Of The World. In the interim, his other roles have included Alan Cortez in Being Human, Major Barrymore in Sherlock and Reverend Treeboys in Pudsey The Dog: The Movie.When he’s not analysing Doctor Who in too much detail, Pete presents and produces Geeks Say Things, the Den of Geek podcast. You can subscribe and download all five episodes – including the just-released winter preview special – here