What a beautiful, poignant episode ‘The Woman Who Lived’ was.
Series 9 of Doctor Who is shaping up to be one of the best since its revival, and we’re now at the midway point. ‘The Woman Who Lived’ was a huge step up on last week’s ‘The Girl Who Died’.
Yes, by these titles alone, you can probably guess that these episodes are narratively linked – but they’re not two parts of the same story.
I don’t have many negatives this week. I know some didn’t like the humour in this episode (as a side note, how the hell did the BBC get away with that ‘well hung’ joke before 9pm?!) but I really enjoyed it. Rufus Hound (more on him in a bit) was a delight.
But what I didn’t like was the music, especially during the robbery of Lucie Fanshawe. Had it been darker or more menacing, it would have changed the tone of the entire episode, and everything would have run more smoothly.
And, as is common with throwaway monsters, Leandro the Leonian wasn’t fleshed out all that much. It was quite obvious that he was going to double-cross Ashildr/Me, but at least he wasn’t defeated with love.
The prosthetics were gorgeous (even if his voice jarred somewhat) and his plan had some believability to it, so I guess he isn’t the worst monster threat we’ve had. I get the feeling he was only incorporated so that there was an alien threat – the children wouldn’t have been happy without a monster to cower over.
But onto the highs, and boy, are they high. Without Clara hampering the plot, we’re greeted to an almost rival for ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ – a two-hander between two capable actors, resulting in something breathtaking. Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams are simply sublime during these prolonged segments in which they discuss immortality and loss.
What is particularly striking is the notion that whilst Ashildr has immortality, she still has the cognitive functions of a normal human, and as such she can’t remember everything that she has experienced in 800 years. This notion is chilling, as if the fact that she has removed some segments of her journals because she wants to forget some things that she has done. Surely this will be explored at a later date, right?
The shot of Ashildr crying over her deceased babies was particularly haunting – perhaps the bleakest show Doctor Who has ever done?
‘The Woman Who Lived’ is all about redemption. I’m not sure I entirely buy the Doctor’s reason as to why Ashildr can’t travel with him. Surely having an equal will do her some good.
He gave her immortal life and then left her with no explanation, so it’s not surprising that she exploited this by first doing good, and then later turning bad and becoming a highwayman. Everything she has done – the good and the bad – is entirely the Doctor’s fault.
Ashildr’s drive this week is to leave Earth, and because the Doctor won’t take her with him, she teams up with Leandro. But despite the fact that she has become desensitised to life, she doesn’t hate the Doctor for leaving her. She tells Leandro not to kill the Doctor, suggesting that there is still some humanity in there. Somewhere.
And it all comes spilling out during the climax. This may have felt rushed or forced to some, but the idea that Ashildr kills Sam Swift (Hound) only to realise her mistake felt entirely believable to me. And it also made the second immortality chip an actual part of the plot, in that she sacrifices the chance to make somebody she loves immortal in order to redeem herself and save Swift.
Given that Ashildr is still alive in the present day (more on that in a moment), surely Swift has to be also? Or if not, how did he die? And is Ashildr to blame?
We’ve given two epilogues this week to nicely wrap everything up. During the first Ashildr swears to look after those that the Doctor leaves behind, and she says that she’ll look after Swift. And during the second, we get yet more hints that Clara’s time in the TARDIS is numbered.
I’m still adamant that she is going to die, and I’m thinking it’ll happen in episode 10. Episode 11, ‘Heaven Sent’, is a one-hander, featuring Peter Capaldi alone. Why else would he shut himself off from everyone else? Surely it’s because of the death of his closest friend.
Now, onto the spoilers, so if you don’t want an aspect of the final six episodes to be ruined, LOOK AWAY NOW.
The writer of episode 10 has confirmed that Maisie Williams will be back as Ashildr, and given that this is the episode where ‘not all of them will get out alive’, it’s certainly sounding ominous for Clara.
I only hope that Ashildr isn’t to blame for her death or departure. That’ll render her redemption this week moot. Or, on the other hand, maybe another sinister female threat is entirely what Doctor Who needs. Time will tell.