RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘The Girl Who Died’

So what happened?

With The Doctor and Clara finding themselves the captives of a typically gung-ho bunch of Vikings and being taken back to their village, he manages to free himself and pull out his yo-yo, inexplicably using it to try and convince his captors that he is in fact their god, Odin. Inconveniently, a face appears in the sky claiming to be the real one and beams down a small army of who Twelve identifies as the war-mongering Mire to transport the strongest in the village to Valhalla, including Clara and a girl called Ashildr. Naturally, he’s fibbing and instead the warriors and the two young women have been brought to ‘Odin’s’ spaceship where they’re stuck between a rapidly encroaching wall and a corridor with life-zapping lasers. It’s only the two young women who escape and they soon come face to face with who was responsible, the man pretending to be a nordic god in order to harvest the warrior life source from the unsuspecting villagers. Realising that they were only spared because they were in possession of one half of the sonic sunglasses, which had been broken earlier when she and The Doctor had been taken prisoner, Clara starts to negotiate with Odin about letting her and her new friend go and leaving the rest of the planet alone too, citing the fact that the shades demonstrated technology and know-how that were light years ahead of his own, but Ashildr interrupts and her Viking bravado disastrously brings about the promise of a battle between his brutal, Mire soldiers and the remaining farmers and blacksmiths left in the village the following day.

Clara (Jenna Coleman) looking aghast as Ashildr (Maisie Williams) challenges Odin to a battle.
Clara (Jenna Coleman) looking aghast as Ashildr (Maisie Williams) challenges Odin to a battle.

Allowed back down to Earth, Clara and her new friend inform The Doctor and the rest of the villagers about their impending fate. Twelve’s initial reaction is to tell them to flee the village and to encourage his companion to head back to the TARDIS with him, but the desperate cries of a baby (obviously he’s fluent in baby) make him change his mind. Originally deciding to take the conventional route and training the villagers in swordsmanship, his very limited success with the men who had more experience ploughing a field than wielding a weapon leaves him and everybody else despondent about their chances of staying alive. However, after a conversation with Ashildr about the importance of identity, home and staying put, he hears the baby crying again and is reminded of the ‘fire on the water’ comment the young child had made earlier, realising she was referring to glow the electric eels that the villagers kept in barrels give off. With this in mind he employs everybody to utilise their skills, including the blacksmith he’d earlier christened ‘Lofty’, to deliver a plan that would allow them to beat Odin and the Mire using brains rather than brawn.

When the alien soldiers and their leader finally arrive the next morning, they’re confused to find the villagers in a celebratory mood, dancing, drinking and generally being merry. Taking advantage of their bewilderment, The Doctor gives the go-ahead and the villagers drop metal wires above the heads of the soldiers in their heavily fortified armour, then drop the other ends of the coil into the vats where the eels are, electrocuting their adversaries and making many of them flee. To rid them of the remaining threat, Ashildr is given a helmet that one of the fleeing Mire left behind and is told to conjure up a dangerous beast as the doors of the banqueting hall open. With her imagination turning a wooden carving into a threatening beast for Odin and the few soldiers who stayed behind after the original ruse, the false god is soon left to his own devices and extremely embarrassed to learn that he’d been tricked. Reluctantly agreeing to leave Earth alone on the condition that his humiliation, recorded by Clara on her phone and ‘improved’ with a Benny Hill theme backing track, won’t be released onto the Universe’s equivalent of the internet, it’s not until he’s gone that their attention turns back to the lifeless Ashildr.

Ashildr's father and Clara are horrified that saving the village cost her her life.
Ashildr’s father and Clara are horrified that saving the village cost her her life.

Having paid the ultimate price for the safety of her family and friends, Clara implores Twelve to do something to bring her back, but he’s resistant at first, citing the fact that small adjustments to fixed events in time can lead to huge, destructive tidal waves in the future. Nevertheless, when he spots his reflection in a barrel of water and remembers it belongs to someone he saved in the past, he has a change of heart that leads to him handing over a first aid patch that was left behind when the Mire ran away along with a spare one he implores her to keep and give to a person of her choosing. After she’s successfully brought back to life, Clara quizzes him about why he gave her two patches before they get back in the TARDIS and, talking from experience, he tells her that Ashildr’s newfound immortality as a result of the advanced technology will inevitably mean she’ll lose people she cares about over and over again. With the extra gift at least she has the opportunity to spend her long, long life with someone else. When they leave we seen a montage of time passing as the girl stays exactly the same, and as her innocent smile turns into a sinister smirk, we’re left with the impression that her circumstances have changed her. And not for the better.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: Oh my god. Well oh Norse god, it is Odin! Not Thor’s dad, not the one with the yo-yo, but Odin. A big head in the sky (the Monty Python references have been flooding Twitter) ordering his robot army to pick out the strong Vikings to abduct them. Turns out the potent Vikings are turned into Viking juice to make Odin stronger. It’s like Red Bull, but without the wings! Viking Viagra! Since the threat was only to this village, I am not sure if Odin works that well as a scary villain. The Fisher King might have been scarier…

Odin and The Mire.
Odin (David Schofield) and The Mire.

Danielle: Odin was like Prince Vultan from Flash Gordon meets the sinister baby from the Teletubbies. (Yes, sinister. We all know that kid had the power to decide whether or not those glorified television aerials lived or died, like a baby-faced, vengeful Roman Emperor.) I liked the fact the character was so evidently tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, complete with winged helmet and a blind love of all things war-related and violence. Not too bright either. Poor false God! No wonder he was overcompensating.

Creep Factor

Marieke: Pretty low. The Mire are impressive, but not creepy, doing their jobs well. Being abducted isn’t nice, but Clara survives. I guess the ‘juicer’ has traits of being creepy, but mostly because it reminded me of the laser dicing chamber in Resident Evil (yes I know, what a reference to think of). Although the idea of being made into a juice… Yeah, not peachy. Actually, maybe peach would have added to the Viking flavour… This was more of a comedy episode too, using the Benny Hill theme and the Doctor naming the Vikings (hey, ZZ top!), so there wasn’t much need for a creepy environment.

Danielle: If we’re talking about creepiness, we should probably discuss the fact Odin was consuming concentrated ‘man juice’ to make himself stronger… Or perhaps we shouldn’t. Drinking an enemy’s blood is terrifying. This is just disturbing on so many levels. The fact it was luminous green didn’t help either…

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) remembering why he chose this face for his twelfth incarnation.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) remembering why he chose this face for his twelfth incarnation.

Mystery

Marieke: I am starting to think the whole Beethoven’s 5th thing is the key mystery this season, AKA what happens after the Doctor has meddled with the situation. Also Gallifrey is still up in the air (har har), so we might hear more about that too. ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ were directly referenced, so we are actually digging into one of the most talked about issues when it was announced Capaldi would be Twelve. His face is a reminder, but of what? Ashildr is a hybrid and can’t die, who exactly is she and what role will she play? Rather than answering questions, this episode leaves us scratching our heads.

Danielle: I think they more or less answered the question about why The Doctor chose that face for his twelfth incarnation, i.e. as a reminder of the time Ten saved Capaldi’s character in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ and that he is capable of breaking the rules of time travel, especially when it means saving a life. It is interesting that all roads appear to be leading to Gallifrey at this point though. If letting his heart rule his head proves to be dangerous in terms of letting Ashildr live, then surely it’s indicating that saving his home planet might not have been the best idea? Perhaps this will all link in with Clara’s leaving storyline, and whether or not he’s prepared to let her die or bring about an even greater catastrophe in order to save her? Leading on from Ashildr, whose name out of interest loosely translates to ‘battle god’, all this talk of hybrids is making me think of a certain half human, half Time Lady who we know will be popping up in the Christmas Special…

Familiar Face of the Week

Maisie Williams as Ashildr.
Maisie Williams as Ashildr.

There she is! Long awaited and used a lot for promotion, this is the episode we finally see Maisie Williams. Normally known as the ‘unfortunate Arya Stark’ in Game of Thrones, we see her as Ashildr, a member of a Viking tribe, declaring war. I guess being a Viking isn’t that far off from being a Stark and she is just aggressive and feisty everywhere! In the next episode we’re likely to see an even more evil side to her now she can’t die. She certainly looked menacing in the promo.

The Verdict?

It’s always hard to judge a book halfway through, and the same goes for the first half of a two-parter. Tonally, it was lighter fare than the previous installment, often opting to make the audience laugh instead of frightening them and it did that well. Twelve attempting to re-train his band of misfit Viking farmers as soldiers was particularly amusing. In some senses though it was a strange episode, in that the bad guys were defeated almost too easily and seemed rather secondary to the burgeoning triumvirate of The Doctor, Clara and Ashildr who were the brains behind Odin and The Mire’s downfall. That does, however, seem deliberate in terms of playing into the wider arc this season of there being consequences to changing history, and because character seemed to be driving the narrative, rather than plot. How effective these two episodes will be in fitting in with and contributing to this theme hinge on how well they portray Ashildr’s immortality affecting her morality in ‘The Woman who Lived’. It’ll be interesting to see how well the writers link the two parts together after creating a disorientating disconnect in the last double bill. Whatever happens, Maisie Williams’ character looks set to have attained full badass status. How could that be a bad thing?

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