Saturday, 24 October 2015
The Woman Who Lived - Review
The second half of the Ashildr story - or is it the second part of a trilogy...?
Readers of Blogtor Who will be able to answer that one.
First thing to mention is that this episode was written by a woman. It's the first story to be commissioned from a female writer since Steven Moffat took over as show-runner. Fret not, there will be another along in a moment (episode 10 to be exact).
Catherine Tregenna, who has written for Torchwood, has elected to concentrate on the consequences of last week's episode. Much of The Woman Who Lived is taken up with the Doctor and Ashildr (or just plain Me these days) talking.
The alien artefact / lionesque Leandro plot feels just tacked on, to provide the obligatory alien and a bit of jeopardy for the last 10 minutes. Superficial stuff. Like the Fisher King, we have a great bit of make-up and design woefully underused.
It is those scenes between Maisie Williams and Peter Capaldi that this episode will be remembered for. Great performances from both. The curse of immortality, how it hardens you, lies at the core of this. Tragically, Ashildr hasn't just seen people grow old and die, she has had children who didn't even survive infanthood - victims of the Black Death.
Ashildr is bitter, and blames the Doctor for cursing her, whilst he thought he was saving her. The Doctor reveals that he has checked on her at least once, and thought she was using her new life for good - running a leper hospital. Turns out he was wrong. Over time she has turned into an adventuress - seeking thrills where she can find them. This has led to her fighting at the Battle of Agincourt, and now taking up the life of a Highwayman in the England of 1651.
Ashildr seems to have found out quite a bit about the Doctor - presumably from having met characters through time that he has encountered. There haven't been many televised stories set in the period between Viking times and the 17th Century, but fans will be able to think of a few characters whom Ashildr might have met, starting with the Saxon villagers of The Time Meddler.
The Doctor lets her know that the plague will be visiting England again soon, and that London will burn - providing a reference to the Fifth Doctor story The Visitation.
Rufus Hound plays the thief Sam Swift. As a comic, allegedly, he gets to provide a bit of stand-up just before he gets hanged at Tyburn. In keeping with the bawdy 17th Century, we get a couple of knob jokes. (Younger readers: ask your parents. Actually, no - they'll only fob you off with some nonsense, so ask your big brother or sister. If you don't have one, ask someone else's. Or just wait until you're - oh - about 12).
Anywhose, back to the plot. After the brief flurry of action at Tyburn, the Doctor and Ashildr have a final tete-a-tete in the pub. She was never going to go travelling with the Doctor, so she decides to help clear up his messes, and seek out more folk whom the Doctor has left behind. (The door is left open for a potential immortal relationship with Captain Jack Harkness).
Clara didn't appear until the closing moments - and the Doctor discovers that Ashildr has been keeping an eye on her in the present day. Clara does the fatal thing of telling the Doctor that she isn't leaving him any time soon - the kiss of death for any companion.
Next week, Zygons. Lots of Zygons. Plus the return of UNIT and the last-seen-dead Osgood. Will they finally reveal that that was her dad we saw back in The Daemons?