This series of Doctor Who tackled something completely unprecedented in the show: a two-parter that’s not a two-parter. It’s the overarching story of Ashildr, tackled by two different writers, dealing with wildly different plots – and Maisie Williams arguably plays two different characters. After watching The Girl Who Died, I was fairly unconvinced that they were able to pull it off; fortunately, The Woman Who Lived did so.
I didn’t like the last episode much. It was enjoyable, sure, but by-and-large was forgettable and average, with an overstuffed plot that it didn’t need and could have been used better in a real two-parter. Maisie Williams also seemed pretty wasted, much to my surprise, and the big twist felt lame in comparison to all the hype which Moffat and the BBC had built up. However, one thing I’ve learned from the series so far is that you can never judge the whole story by one episode. It’s easy to do so with TV but it’s ridiculous when you think about it – you don’t review a movie after only watching the first hour. All the missing development and fleshing-out of Ashildr came in the second half of the story, and she was spun from your average supporting character into a likely fan favourite.
The subject of immortality has been raised numerous times over the years, mostly in relation to the Doctor. The show mostly takes it for granted but when you actually stop and think about the effects it brings, it’s mind-boggling, and certainly makes me glad that I’m gonna drop dead one day. You have to watch everybody you love grow old and die while you’re unaffected, meaning you can’t really get attached to anyone. If you’re stricken with disease or illness, then you know there’s gonna be no light at the end of the tunnel to relieve you. You have to go through all kinds of horrific trauma over and over and over and over… and over. Because the Doctor’s an alien, we as an audience write all this off until it’s brought up by himself or another character. However, when it’s given to a human, we can totally relate, especially when it’s put in incredibly human terms – like memory. The Doctor is a Time Lord. Nobody’s ever questioned his memory because we just assume he’s intelligent and awesome enough to remember everything. But we’re pretty forgetful people; imagine having 800 years worth of memories bogging you down. It would fucking suck.
It’s a relatively small touch but it’s vitally important, and Williams pulls it all off masterfully. She somehow managed to go from a badass highway(wo)man, to someone who was completely vulnerable, to a double-crossing femme fatale, and back to a badass companion who could more than hold her own against Peter Capaldi. It was amazing to watch, really. The pair had incredible chemistry and Ashildr actually felt resourceful and useful – like she could handle the situation even if the Doctor wasn’t there. So far this year Clara has exhibited none of that, always upstaged by others. I’m a fan but I was really glad she didn’t appear in this episode until the last five minutes.
When it’s dealing with all the immortality-character-y stuff, the episode works really well. Both Capaldi and Williams are clearly comfortable chewing their material and it was awesome to see someone who was essentially a human and female equivalent to the Doctor. Unfortunately, things get a little murky once the alien and cat-Chewbacca plot rolls in. It’s all very rushed and largely unnecessary to the episode; The Girl Who Died had too much plot, but The Woman Who Lived didn’t have enough. Or rather, not enough of what should have been the plot – the Doctor and Ashildr/Me sparring on a low-key adventure.
It’s a shame that she probably won’t get to be the next companion due to Williams’ Game of Thrones commitments. She’d be great. Fortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see her again, either this series or next. Given the photo at the end of the episode and her comments about “protecting the Earth,” could she even be a character in Class? I’m sure she could fit it in her schedule…
Overall, it was a decent experiment; loosely connect two disparate episodes and see if it could work. It did and it didn’t. I definitely think it can, and I’d like Moffat and co to do some more two-parter variations in the future, but this time it was let down by the messy writing in both episodes. However, compliments have to go to Jaime Mathieson and Catherine Tregenna for making Ashildr into such a memorable and kickass character. She’s independent, badass, world-weary, resourceful and Arya Stark rolled into one. She’s awesome, basically.
Next week looks to be a return to normal – the return of UNIT and the beloved Osgood, written by Kill the Moon‘s Peter Harness, all wrapped up in a Zygon Invasion. I’m squealing already.