RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘The Woman who Lived’

So what happened?

Both on the trail of an unearthly object, The Doctor and an infamous highwayman called The Knightmare cross paths in 17th Century London during a carriage robbery by the latter, and their bickering allows those being robbed to ride away. Removing the mask and changing her voice back to normal, the highwayman reveals ‘himself’ to be a highwaywoman and none other than Ashildr, the girl who died and was then brought back to immortal life with Twelve’s help at the end of last week’s episode. Except all of the years on her own have caused her to forget her previous identity, and as everybody she’s ever allowed herself to get close to has inevitably died, she’s taken to referring to herself simply as ‘Me’. Taking him back to the mansion where she now lives (easily affordable because of all of her ill-gotten wealth over the years), where she houses countless diaries to aid her remembering of her artificially long life, she agrees to let him help her steal the object they’ve both shown an interest in from the family they allowed to get away.

Me/Ashildr (Maisie Williams) thought The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) had come back for her.
Me/Ashildr (Maisie Williams) thought The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) had come back for her.

In between sporadically asking The Doctor if he’ll take her with him, a plea which he pointedly refuses, Me hints that she has an accomplice, and after they successfully steal what turns out to be an amulet called the ‘Eye of Hades’ and evade capture by Sam Swift, one of Me’s contemporary adversaries, Twelve comes face to face with who is apparently helping her: a fire-breathing lion-like alien called Leandro. Because he alleges that he was stranded on Earth after his race was overthrown and his wife killed, the duo seek to open a portal so that he can return home, but this will require the death of someone to facilitate. Intending to go with him, they initially consider using her butler but change their minds when they hear that Swift has been caught and will be hung at the gallows in the morning. Tying The Doctor up, they head off to do their bidding and tell police guards that he’s The Knightmare’s sidekick.

Sam Swift's death being used to open the portal.
Sam Swift’s death being used to open the portal.

Eventually managing to get away by bribing them with where the ‘highwayman’ keeps his treasure, they give him a horse and he heads off to stop their dastardly plan. Meanwhile, using her enemy’s request for a kiss before his death to her advantage, ‘Lady Me’ takes the opportunity to implant the amulet in his chest and the crowds look on in horror as a portal begins to open in the sky, but little does she know that Leandro has betrayed her trust and actually plans to use the hole in the sky to allow the very much alive members of his race to invade Earth. Horrified by what’s she’s been complicit in, the caring young girl she used to be appears to come back to the fore and Ashildr uses the spare Mire first aid kit The Doctor gave her hundreds of years before on the dying man; his renewed life force successfully closing the portal.

With ‘Lenny’ vaporised by his own people for his failure, the two immortals go over events in the local pub and surmise that her role should be keeping a check on his good intentions and the effect they have on the people around him from a distance. Later Twelve is alone on the TARDIS and playing the guitar to pass the time when Clara boards and tells him how the girl he took to see Winston Churchill got a B+ in her assignment, and then shows him a selfie of her student with her certificate. In the background he notices Ashildr peeking through the school fence, and staying true to her word.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: Right now in the Netherlands this big advertising campaign has been set up for the musical, Beauty and the Beast. I felt the company had some way to even invade Doctor Who to get me to buy tickets. ‘Hey, that’s the beast!’ was what came to my mind first. It turned out to be some alien lion, but it still felt so out of place. And on top of it he was a lying lion scumbag too. What a ‘liarn’, that Leandro. With his alien spaceships and time portal. I am not sure this episode really needed a monster and it truly felt like a late addition to the story. Let’s say I am glad that hole in the sky is closed and I hope it will never be opened again.

Danielle: This week’s alien was definitely an afterthought, and secondary to the burgeoning frenemy situation with Me/Ashildr and The Doctor. I don’t really know what else to add about him other than the fact he reminded me of a fire-breathing version of Chewbacca from Star Wars, but with a haircut and a cape. Suave.

Leandro, the flame-breathing lion-like creature, didn't exactly have us quaking in our fezzes.
Leandro (Ariyon Bakare), the flame-breathing lion-like creature, didn’t exactly have us quaking in our fezzes.

Creep Factor

Marieke: I think the creep factor wasn’t the flame spitting lion. It was more psychological, around the issues of immortality, death and loneliness. The Doctor and Me being mirrored, good versus evil (even though that binary is too rigid), it was a nice way to explore the Doctor’s life without it being completely about him. Creep isn’t always necessary, but this episode was a strange follow up to last week’s Viking extravaganza, with gallows and an old fashioned Mission Impossible style burglary (well, not that flashy…) but with a dead serious undertone (pun intended). The whole shooting from space segment looked clunky, out of place and just bad. It was more laughable and not in Vikings fun kind of way.

Danielle: There was a touch of creepiness with ‘Lenny’ hanging around in the bushes. I mean how can that not be creepy? I have no idea what goes on on his planet, but It’s not respectable behaviour on Planet Earth. Not that he cares. The b*****d! In all seriousness though, this wasn’t your bog-standard Doctor Who episode and character development trumped the usual conventions. Perhaps the creepiest thing here was Ashildr’s transformation into Me, and how the implications of living such a long life hardened her to other people’s suffering. It’s a worrying portent of what The Doctor could become one day, and perhaps a reflection of how the immortality of the Time Lords changed them to a violent race.

Mystery

Marieke: Will we see Me/Ashildr again? Who is she really? She is obviously keeping tabs on the Doctor, looking at Clara’s selfie. Of course Clara’s ending is also still part of the mystery, with lots of little hints here and there, especially in her own dialogue. She is not going anywhere even though we all know she will be. The one left behind, both Me, Lion and the Doctor is also a theme throughout the show. The answer might still lie in Gallifrey. The latest addition to the mystery is not possibly immortal Sam Swift. Will he live for us to see him pun another day?

Danielle: Ask and ye shall receive! Since my Fezzy friend asked the question, the Universe has afforded us an answer! Maisie Williams will be making another appearance in Series 9 as a fellow immortal alongside Twelve, which perhaps explains why she’s featured so prominently over the last couple of episodes. Her presence is obviously leading us somewhere definitive, aside from Me/Ashildr acting as a foil for the protagonist. It’s interesting that memory and the affect it has on character was mentioned in ‘The Woman who Lived’. It makes me wonder if we’re going to have a Donna style trade off for The Doctor again where Clara will get to live if she forgets her adventures with him. Hmmm…

Familiar Face

Rufus Hound as Sam Swift.
Rufus Hound as Sam Swift.

Along with Maisie Williams’ guest part, we saw comedian and panel show regular, Rufus Hound, as Sam Swift, punning his way to the gallows and back. A light-hearted character which brings some fun to the episode, but at the same time felt out of place because of the serious undertone. But not as much as the lion, so it wasn’t all bad!

The Verdict?

Once again the thread that held this two parter together didn’t really bind the two episodes cohesively. Rather they flapped about and did their own thing. Of course Maisie Williams was there to create some kind of continuity, and both ‘versions’ of her character were great in their own way, but Me/Ashildr’s complexities and the mirror she held up to The Doctor and his constant dilemma of being the one who both leaves and is left behind weren’t quite enough to allow this to be a convincing adventure, even if it did raise some thought-provoking issues. The threat from Leandro and his Leonian ilk didn’t feel like much of a threat at all, and Hound’s character seemed too much like forced comic relief. That’s not to say that these two episodes might not prove to be an important introduction to an influential character in Whovian folklore in the future, but it feels too early tell and the rest, sadly, might prove to be as easy to forget as Me’s long, long life. More generally, there’s still some disagreement between the two of us about how well Capaldi is doing, but where we both concur is that Series 9 is yet to fire on all cylinders. In the words of the great philosophers, D:Ream, things can only get better…

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