Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Series 9 Episode 5
There was much hoopla in the months leading up to Doctor Who’s ninth series when Maisie Williams was announced as one of the guest stars. Williams is best known for her role as Arya Stark in the HBO’s Game of Thrones.
From the hype and excitement, I’ll assume she’s pretty good. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones, and I’ve given up about halfway through the third book on reading it for about a year now. I will say that Arya was a great character, one that I enjoyed, but the writing style of the book frustrated me to no end, so I had to put it down again. Eventually I’ll get back to it I suppose, but there have just been so many other things and books that have taken priority.
While half the buzz about Williams’ appearance in the show is because of her acting ability (as I said I assume she’s a good actress given that she won a Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor in a Television Series), but the bigger buzz seem to come from the conjecture generated about the character Williams will play based on the teaser trailers and clips released before the season began. From a few simple lines, which are probably taken out of context, it is assumed that somehow she is related to the Doctor’s past. He says “you!” when he sees her, and she says something like “what took you so long old man?”. I’m hoping she really isn’t tied to the Doctor’s past, because every attempt they’ve made recently to “adjust” the history of the show has turned out poorly. Remember those multi coloured Daleks? Hopefully this clip just means Williams ran up a flight of stairs faster than the Doctor and he arrives at the top out of breath. While I love Capaldi this year, I’m sorry, his “chase scenes” do look a little awkwardly comical. He looks to run about as well as I do.
This episode was written by Jamie Mathieson, who wrote what I considered to be two of the best episodes from last season (Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline), and this one felt much more Mummy than Flatline. The prelude of this episode with Clara drifting in space and the TARDIS under attack resolved really quickly and seems to have just been the means to get the Doctor to land on Earth in the middle of a viking camp. The Doctor and Clara are quickly taken prisoner and separated from the TARDIS as they are brought to the viking village. Along the way, as the Doctor tries to show off his superiority, the viking warriors break his sonic sunglasses. And a huge portion of fandom rejoiced. Their journey to the village takes them two days. Two days when Clara assumes the Doctor is coming up with an escape plan; and he does….sort of. Presented to the villagers the Doctor proclaims himself to be a human manifestation of Odin, and demands that he and Clara be released. The vikings of course don’t believe him because a visage of Odin appears in the sky above them with an offer to bring their most strongest and bravest warriors to dine in Valhalla with him. Suddenly several armoured (almost robotic looking) warriors materialize to scan the villagers and take the strongest and most intelligent. Of course Clara is taken too, along with Ashildr (Maisie Williams), a young viking girl who the Doctor seemed to recognize earlier. The vikings are not taken to Valhalla, but to a spaceship, where they are killed and “Odin” drinks their testosterone to strengthen himself and his warriors. They are actually an alien race known as the Mire, who Ashildr inadvertently challenges to a battle, which does happen to save her and Clara’s lives. Returned to the village, Clara and Ashildr inform the Doctor that they have 24 hours to train the farmers who were left in the village into warriors to defeat a vastly superior foe.
Again we are given great insight and development into the character of the twelfth Doctor. Character development taking priority over gimicky plot decisions and condescending dialogue. That’s why I’ve enjoyed this season so far. The Doctor seems worried, and almost fearful. He doesn’t see any way that he can train these men to fight the Mire and win. He has no sonic and no TARDIS, and a somewhat comical crew of viking farmers. The Doctor’s best advice for them is to run. Hide. Get out of there, and avoid the fight. And it makes sense. How many times has the Doctor changed people and turned them into weapons or warriors? How has it ended for them? The Doctor is worried what would happen if he did manage to win. If the villagers defeat the Mire word would spread, the Earth would become strategically important, it would become a target. If he saves one village, he causes ripples that would turn into tidal waves as someone would come and wipe out all life on the planet, all because he saved this one village.
Of course the Doctor does come up with a plan and he does save the village, but at what cost? Remember, the title of the episode is The Girl Who Died… Through some superior trickery and the help of the villagers and especially from Ashildr, the Mire are shamed into retreat, and blackmailed into not returning and not telling anyone what happened, but it costs Ashildr her life. At this point the Doctor has a revelation. Catching his reflection in a barrel of water, he knows who he is, and he knows why he has the face that he does. He remembers back to his own past, back to the Fires of Pompeii, where (at Donna’s pleading) he saved Lucius Caecillus Ivcundus and his family from the deadly eruption of Vesuvius. He chose this face to remind himself that he saves people, no matter what. No matter how impossible or “wrong” it might seem at the time, he’s the Doctor and he saves people, so he comes up with a way to revive Ashildr using reprogrammed nano technology from one of the Mire’s field medical kits, but in doing so, he fears he may have made her effectively immortal, and with that little bit of alien technology inside her, it also makes her a hybrid. The kit will keep “repairing” her forever, which will lead us into next week’s episode: The Woman Who Lived.
This was another solid episode, and I liked how, though it is technically a two parter, it was really self contained. In fact, it may not even be a two parter, rather it just continues with characters from the previous episode, kind of like how Adam joined the Doctor and Rose at the end of Dalek and carried on into The Long Game way back in Season 1. The story was both light and dark. There were humourous moments with a viking who fainted at the sight of blood, and there was the slaughter of the village’s warriors. It was easy flowing, but also touching and full of heart. The Doctor translating the cries of a baby was an incredibly well acted and well written scene. It is interesting to note that next week’s “follow up” episode was not written by Jamie Mathieson, but by Catherine Tregenna who had previously written episodes for Torchwood, including the very good Out of Time episode, where a plane from the 1950s appeared through the rift into the present day.
• Very solid character development, and very touching insights into the Doctor again.
• Lots of references back to the show’s history. Not only clips of Fires of Pompeii and Deep Breath, but quite a few quotes from previous Doctors. Tonight Capaldi’s Doctor “reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” and lamented that “time will tell, it always does” quoting his third and seventh incarnations.
• I also really liked the earlier line he had that said “premonition is just remembering in the wrong direction”.
• The Mire were quite an effective “monster” and I really liked the look of them, both with and without their helmets on.
• The Doctor once again thinks his way out of the problem.
• The end of the sonic sunglasses!
• The sonic sunglasses are back, as they’re seen in the trailer for next week.
• I really liked the costume for Capaldi’s Doctor. The simple white button down shirt, the black boots and the coat were classic and in my mind could be iconic. Mixing it up with t-shirts and hoodies really doesn’t do it for me when we were given such a good look in the “unveiling”. And the checkered pants from tonight were kind of silly looking.
• Clara really didn’t do a whole lot this week. She muddled into trouble (twice if you count the opening), gave the Doctor a bit of a pep talk, and got a hug, but for the second week in a row, really didn’t do a whole lot. I know she hasn’t been the most liked companion by the fandom these past few years, but they can’t just ignore her. Perhaps these episodes were written before Jenna Coleman had agreed to return for another season, and they’re just shoe-horning her in?