06 “The Woman Who Lived” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

It occurs to me, setting out to write this review, that although both Peter Capaldi and David Tennant are Scottish, only the former has been allowed to keep his accent in the role of the Doctor. I am astonished that this has yet to feature in an angry press release from the SNP, actually.

So hiting the midway point, where are we? Surprisingly, with an unusually good series, so far. That might not be everyone’s view, and granted I am a fan, but I haven’t written any episodes off yet, and usually by this point I would have expected at least one review to consist mostly of sighs. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, my very stating that in the preface of a review has doubtless jinxed it. But here goes (Allons-y! -Ed)

In interregnum England, the Doctor crosses paths with Alshildr, the Viking girl whom he brought back to life. The centuries of immortality have weathered her, and left her weary of the world and cold to human lives.

The first thing that I have to say about this is that I really do see no reason why it had to follow “The Girl Who Died” immediately. As I said when I reviewed “Under the Lake”/”Before the Flood”, the series does not make enough use of the time-travel component at its core. Here was a golden opportunity. The next two-parter could gave split this pair up, and made no real difference given that time clearly passes between them (Of course, the actual content of the next two episodes could blow that assumption out of the water -Ed).

That aside, though, did I like the episode? On balance, I think so.

The face of my reservation is that the plot of the episode felt very so-so. One of those forgettable filler episodes from previous seasons, which might well be as forgettable here, if not for the bigger picture.

It basically boils down to a Lion-themed alien who is the last of his species wants to…well, I’m not entirely clear on that. Anyway, it winds up that he isn’t the last, but is the vanguard of an invasion. He wants to use the McGuffin of the week to open up a wormhole, and promises to take the bored Ashildr with him. The McGuffin requires the sacrifice of a life, and predictably when the invasion fleet turns up Sir Kitty (Not his actual name, but Leandro, is only marginally less stupid -Ed) turns out to not want to take her anywhere.

So far, so meh.

But the point of this episode is less about the plot than it is the characters. 800-or-so years have changed Ashildr, to the point where she has forgotten even her name. A large part of her coldness is put down to her having lost her children in the Black Death. The fact that she pulls it off is largely down to that Maisie Williams is such a good actress.

And here is where Doctor Who might be onto something. The interaction between the Doctor and Ashildr (Or Me, as she has taken to calling herself -Ed) crackles with the sort of fun that recalls Captain Jack Harkness (Who gets a namecheck -Ed), and is very entertaining to watch. She carries the weight of the centuries well, and mostly believably, and her about-turn realisation that she does care about human life feels neither too abrupt nor too absurd.

What the core of this episode is, though, is another extension of this series’ theme. That basically boils down to what happens to those who adventure with the Doctor. We have already seen that Clara is becoming more Doctor-like the longer she stays with him, but Ashildr falls into the category of the people that the Doctor leaves behind. Purposefully, in her case, as he always resists travelling with immortal companions.

But if Ashildr has suffered through so much of human misery, then her eventual redemption and decision to look after those who the Doctor leaves behind makes more sense than I might have worried. I can see her returning possibly in the climax of this series, as we barrel towards a conclusion which has the potential to be the most interesting series arc that Doctor Who has experimented with in a long time.

Given that the last scene shows Ashildr/Me in the present day, in the background of a Clara selfie, looking almost sinister, I expect that she’ll have a big role in the series finale, and quite possibly as an antagonist. Just a hunch, but I did call it correctly on the Doctor being in the cryo-chamber a few weeks ago. So who knows, maybe I’ll manage two correct prophecies.

Again, despite its flaws, this was a win for me. It had its negative points, true, but despite this it seems to have a clear idea of where it is going. And, as I have said time and again, in relation to many different things, that makes a whole world of difference. The combination of having a strong actress opposite Capaldi, an engaging theme, and solidly written characters feels like a bit of novelty with Doctor Who, but it not only works but carries it through any issues that do arise.

This will almost certainly be controversial, but I do feel that this series could be the making of Peter Capaldi as one of the best actors to play the Doctor.

Closing thoughts:

  • Am I the only one a little disappointed that an episode entitled “The Woman Who Lived” contained not a single Harry Potter reference?
  • I notice that Clara barely featured in this episode, and start to wonder if the occasional failings of Capaldi-era Doctor Who are not something rather specific.
  • Oh I do hope Sam Swift doesn’t end up immortal.
  • The Knightmare is a terrible name. It doesn’t even make any sense.
  • I still don’t like the sonic sunglasses, and now they start fires? What happened to “not a weapon”?
  • I am heartily looking forward to the reciprocal appearance of Peter Capaldi in Game of Thrones.
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