Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived
SPOILERS FOLLOW, they always do, just assume they’re going to be there and we can move on. OK? Good.
I’m going to lay my cards on the table right now and say that I love Doctor Who. It manages to skate over an ever growing gorge of cynicism and sarcasm, crashing slap bang into the middle of a cliff-face in my brain made of childish glee. It’s very well crafted telly. It’s a show that primarily runs on ideas and character and no two episodes are alike. There are some duds, but Doctor Who has given us some clever, heart breaking and infuriatingly well-crafted bits of science fiction.
As for the episodes themselves, here is a quick recap. The Girl Who Died (Part 1) sees the Doctor and Clara get abducted by a group of Vikings. Soon the warriors of the village are abducted by one of the many interchangable alien warrior races, this week called The Mire, masquerading as Odin. It’s up to the Doctor to come up with a plan to save a village of plucky underdog misfits. However, this leaves a girl, Ashildr (played brilliantly by Maisie Williams) dead. The Doctor then realises why he has the face of a Roman man he once saved (Back in Tennant-era adventure The Fires of Pompeii). Because he saves people. Realising this he uses alien tech to bring back Ashildr, however this has consequences for her ability to die.
The Woman Who Lived (Part 2) skips forwards a few hundred years to Cromwell’s Britain. Ashildr, now calling herself Me, is still alive and living as a Highwayman and a rich lady of leisure., and on the hunt for some rare jewels, the power of which she’s been told by Leandro, a Lion Man from outer space (mmhmm), will transport her off planet. When the Doctor arrives truths are said, consequences are faced, and fans are smattered with shit.
I’m going to start with what I think didn’t work and then move onto the positives. First of all, I feel it somewhat let down the mystery of the Doctor’s current face. While it checks out that maybe it was a subconscious reaction to remind himself of what he can be… that doesn’t explain why he looks like the civil servant that murdered his family before turning the gun on himself from the excellent Torchwood: Children of Earth. However, that would be a bit dark for Saturday night family viewing.
A large issue with both episodes is (and there’s no way to say this nicely) the monsters were lame. Catman and Odin felt like hammy stand-ins for a villain role, with no real thought or imagination behind them. The second episode in particular suffers just that little bit more because the design is so uninspiring. We didn’t need to see what a Lion-man looks like, we can all guess pretty damn well. This paired with ‘WUH-OH! COMEDY GUARDS’, the conceit that ‘every death is a fracture in reality’ (naah, fuck off) and the plonky comedy music in part two formed some elements that were quite irksome.
As for the Mire, how many ‘deadliest warrior races in the galaxy’ are there in the galaxy? The Doctor’s plan to defeat them is amusing, (and involved a giant snake thing, could this be hinting to a return of Mr.Allthesnakes? – TV Ed.) although not hilarious as the script desperately wants you to believes as the characters find it funnier than the audience. Thankfully, the unoriginal, uninspiring villains and surrounding plot don’t take up much of the screen time, making them quite inoffensive.
But my main issue with these episodes though is NO. RUFUS HOUND. NO. THAT’S… EUGHHH. CHRIST, BBC! PLEASE! OH GOD! STOP FLIRTING, YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH TO BE HER FATHER! SURE, HER CHARACTER IS OLD ENOUGH TO BE YOUR GREAT GREAT GREAT GRANDMOTHER BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT ALRIGHT (I’m sure this was done respectfully and professionally by the crew and actors and everyone was a grown up about it. I’m sure later they also ate beans. That has no relevance, but I reckon Rufus Hound fucking loves beans. I have no evidence to back this belief up, but nor do you for the contrary).
So now the grumbling and griping is out of the way, what worked? Just about everything else. Peter Capaldi has grown into the Doctor as his Doctor has grown from the rude man of Gallifrey. His interactions with the other characters have therefore become dialogues and less like monologues that happen to be interrupted by incredulities. He’s listening and caring. The way he becomes the strategist for a band of misfits can only happen if he cares. The way that he tries to run can only come because he knows he will care, which is not always a good thing; what he does on an impulse is not necessarily beneficial to everyone in the long term. The Doctor’s wisdom and philosophy gets lost in an emotional need to do something positive, because he needs to be the man that saves people.
These episodes are also pretty harsh at times. A village loses its sons and brothers, actions have consequences and Me has lost children and lovers. It plays the trope of the negative side of immortality very well. The childish wonder we see in Ashildr is lost when we see Me, replaced by vengeance and hatred. History is ugly, and this is not something Doctor Who has shied away from.
Part 2 also had that pub scene. If you haven’t watched the episodes, it might be worth it just for that scene. I’m not entirely sure why but I really liked that pub scene. It wasn’t a happy ending. It wasn’t a sad ending, it was an ending of mutual agreement between two people who go way back. No one wins. This paired with scripts that are at times quick and witty is a winner.
Maisie Williams is brilliant in these episodes, and gets to show a sporadic evolution of character. The Childish Ashildr is not the cynical and nihilistic Me. She is desensitised before our very eyes at the end of part one in a visually striking scene. Rufus Hound also does a great turn and gets to be the natural showman he is. Creepy (and probably stinking of beans), but great.
As I said at the start of the review, I think Doctor Who is brilliant, this series has been particularly good, and one of the best for a while. Yes, it is different now to how it was a few years ago. Is that a bad thing? No. Has it gotten worse? Not necessarily. Mark Gatiss was on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (which is great), during which he made the point that Doctor who doesn’t get worse as it goes on, it changes. It will never and can never be like how it was when you were a lonely pre-teen and it was there as a friend. It can never be as it was when Tom Baker, David Tennant or Patrick Troughton was The Doctor and don’t expect it to be.
So, are these good episodes? Yes. No doubt. Are these the best? No. By no means. But, they are interesting characters in interesting situations, which asks larger questions than you’d expect for a bit of fun for a Saturday night. Or Maybe you do expect it. It’s your fun, mate.
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