In which the Doctor is attempting to trace an alien energy signal. He is travelling alone as Clara is on a school trip, and the TARDIS has brought him to a forest west of London in the year 1651.
The Doctor tracks the signal to a coach which is in the process of being held up by the infamous Highwayman known as the Knightmare, who has an accomplice hidden in the bushes - a figure with glowing eyes.
The coach is occupied by a man named Fanshawe and his wife. They manage to escape as the Doctor and the Knightmare argue over the object they were both seeking - a jewelled amulet known as the Eyes of Hades which belongs to Mrs Fanshawe. The Doctor knows that this is really an alien artefact of potentially destructive power which should not be on Earth.
The Highwayman unmasks to reveal Ashildr, though she now calls herself Me.
She takes him to her mansion where he learns something of her life so far. She is very rich, having amassed a lot of money over the centuries. She no longer uses her old name as it is forgotten in the past. She is known as Lady Me now, and has been known only as "Me" for a very long time. She has a room which is full of diaries detailing some of her adventures as her experiences are too many to remember.
She fought at Agincourt and acted as a village wise woman who cured it of scarlet fever, until suspected of being a witch. She has been married and has lost husband and children to plague. The Doctor admits that he has sometimes kept an eye on her, such as when she founded a leper colony, but not so much recently. Whilst he reads through some of the volumes, she sneaks outside and meets a hooded figure hiding in the undergrowth - the figure with glowing eyes. He is suspicious of the Doctor's presence but she lets him know that she has a plan to use him to help obtain the Eyes of Hades.
In the house, the Doctor refuses to take Ashildr with him on his travels. He does agree to join forces with her to break into Fanshawe's home to steal the amulet.
The theft is successful though they wake Fanshawe up and he comes after them with a blunderbuss. Ashildr is on the point of killing him to facilitate their escape, but the Doctor stops her. He is shocked that she should kill just for an item of property.
On their way back to her mansion they are waylaid by a gang led by another Highwayman named Sam Swift.
Ashildr quickly gets the better of him, and once again the Doctor sees her about to kill someone - forcing him to intervene. Swift is soon after captured by troopers and sent to London to be hanged.
Back at her mansion the Doctor insists on meeting Ashildr's accomplice and discovers that he is an alien - a fire-breathing inhabitant of Delta Leonis named Leandro. It is he who has been seeking the Eyes of Hades as it can be used to create a portal to his homeworld. He has agreed to take Ashildr with him. For the amulet to work, a human life must be sacrificed to energise it. They were going to use Ashildr's aged servant Clayton, but decide to use Sam Swift instead.
Troopers arrive to check that Lady Me is safe, after Fanshawe's reports of burglars in the vicinity. She informs them that the Doctor is the accomplice of the Knightmare and should be arrested. She and Leandro then depart by coach for London. The Doctor is able to extricate himself from the troopers and takes a horse to follow them.
A large crowd has gathered at Tyburn for Sam's execution. The Highwayman begins cracking jokes to entertain them, in order to delay the hangman. When the Doctor arrives he joins in, to buy time while he thinks of a way to stop Leandro. He uses his psychic paper to claim that he and Swift have been pardoned by Cromwell. Ashildr places the Eyes of Hades round Sam's neck, and it immediately begins to drain his life-force. Leandro emerges from hiding as the skies open, revealing a portal to his home planet. However, he really intends to use it to allow his people to attack and invade the Earth. Realising she has been cheated, Ashildr seeks the Doctor's help. She had been given one other Mire medical chip by the Doctor, should she ever want to create an immortal friend for herself. She uses it on Sam, bringing him back to life. No longer being energised, the amulet stops powering the portal, causing it to collapse. Just before it closes, Leandro's people blast him dead for his failure.
Later, at a local inn, Ashildr asks the Doctor if Sam is now also immortal. He doesn't think so - the excess energy having been used to close the portal - but, just in case, he asks her to keep an eye on him. She starts to realise why the Doctor refused to let her travel with him. They are too similar in many ways. The Doctor wants companions who have alternative views to himself. He explains to her that he did once travel with an immortal person - Captain Jack Harkness - and warns her she may bump into him sometime.
She decides that she will be happy to remain on Earth from now on, but will be devoting herself to protecting the planet from the consequences of the Doctor's actions.
Back in the 21st Century the Doctor is reunited with Clara in the TARDIS. She tells him about her school trip and shows him a few photographs on her phone. He sees a familiar figure in the background of one image, observing Clara. It is Ashildr...
The Woman Who Lived was written by Catherine Tregenna, and was first broadcast on Saturday 24th October 2015.
Tregenna had previously written a number of episodes of Torchwood's first two series - Out of Time, Captain Jack Harkness, Meat and Adam. She was only the fifth woman writer on Doctor Who, and was the first to write for the revived series since Helen Raynor delivered The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky. Not one female writer had been employed for the whole of the Matt Smith era.
As we have mentioned already this series, Steven Moffat had stated that there would be a few two-part stories this year, but the definition of a two-parter might be shaken up a bit.
To date, the first four episodes clearly made up two two-part stories, and the similarity of the title structure / content seemed to indicate that The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived would comprise a third.
However, the two episodes are linked, rather than conjoined. This second episode could just as easily have been placed later in the series - where it would actually have worked better - and didn't have to immediately follow the Viking episode.
It was necessary that the Doctor revisit Ashildr and see the consequences of his actions, but that could have taken place any time prior to her third appearance in Face The Raven.
Treganna was a good choice for this story, as she tended to produce stories which had a strong emotional element, and often added considerably to the development of some of the main characters. Out of Time
gave Owen Harper his first proper relationship, the ending of which would have implications in the Series 1 finale as he put the whole world at risk to win her back. Captain Jack Harkness
introduced some back story for Jack, as we met the man whose name he had stolen, producing a doomed love affair at the same time. Meat
was a "Save the Whale" scenario but it also finally brought Rhys into the Torchwood team for the first time. And Adam
offered up a lot of Jack's childhood history and revealed information about his long-lost brother, which would play into the Series 2 finale.
In The Woman Who Lived, the most powerful sections are those dealing with Ashildr's immortality - the initial highs and the inevitable lows which seem to far outweigh the former. She was a respected wise woman in her village - only to then have them turn against her and accuse her of witchcraft, and -most poignantly - we see her bury her husband and children.
We also have the Doctor facing up to the fact that he is the person responsible for all this.
The story juxtaposes two seemingly immortal people - one who can flit around in time, and another who has to travel by the "slow road".
The actual Leandro / Eyes of Hades plot might as well be an after-thought - a bit of conventional Doctor Who tacked on to keep the kids happy.
As with the previous week, Maisie Williams leads the guest cast as Ashildr / Lady Me.
Leandro is portrayed by Ariyon Bakare, under impressive lion-like prosthetics. Bakare is best known these days for his role as the villainous Lord Carlo Boreal in His Dark Materials. Its third season arrives later in 2022.
The servant Clayton is played by Struan Rodger - his only on-screen role in the series to date. He provided the voice of the Face of Boe in New Earth and Gridlock, and would go on to provide the voices of the Kasaavin in Spyfall I & II.
The Fanshawes are played by John Voce and Elisabeth Hopper.
Sam Swift is Rufus Hound who has had a varied career, from comedy to West End musicals. He featured as a celebrity fan in the special programme which introduced Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and has lately played the Meddling Monk on audio.
It should be noticeable from the synopsis that Jenna Coleman had little to do this week. It is a companion-lite story. This was to allow the story to concentrate on Ashildr.
Overall, it's an episode which concentrates on character over the usual sci-fi adventure trappings, and in this it is successful.
Things you might like to know:
- The first draft of the story had the title "The Doctor and Me".
- In writing this episode, Treganna did not know the plot of The Girl Who Died. It was still being written. All she knew was that Ashildr was a Viking girl.
- She watched the 1945 version of The Wicked Lady, which features a Highwaywoman, as part of her research, as well as reading up on 17th Century folklore about a Welsh Highwayman called Twm Sion Cati.
- The Doctor tells the troopers who try to arrest him that he has the Dunbar Victory Medal. There were actually two battles fought at Dunbar. The first was in 1296 as part of the Scottish war of independence, but the Doctor will be referring to the more recent one - in 1650 - in which Cromwell's New Model Army defeated a Scottish force during an English invasion of Scotland, which had recognised Charles II as the new monarch following the execution of his father.
- Ashildr fought at the Battle of Agincourt, fought on 25th October 1415. This episode was broadcast the day before the battle's 600th anniversary.
- The Doctor makes reference to events of The Visitation, regarding the Terileptils shortly starting the Great Fire of London.
- Peter Capaldi celebrated his 57th birthday on the day that the Tyburn scenes were filmed, whilst Maisie Williams celebrated her 18th when filming forest scenes.
- The Doctor refers to Leandro as "Lenny the Lion". He was a 1950's ventriloquist puppet.
- He also refers to the Knightmare as "Zorro", as both wear similar eye masks.
- A subtitle error on some copies of the Region 1 DVD of Doctor Who Series 9: Part One saw the Doctor exclaim "Oh s***!" instead of "Of course!" when talking to Ashildr and Leandro.