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The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

Tag: doctor who the woman who lived

Doctor Who: Tenuous Alliance Reduces Domesticated Interstellar Scoundrels

So, yeah, this review is up a couple of days late. Not because I was dreading the episode or anything (if the current run of one part of every two-hander being great is to be considered a pattern, I actually had something to look forward to), but because I kept finding better things to do like watching The Clone Wars (DID YOU SEE THE NEW STAR WARS TRAILER? HNNNNG) and drinking beer and browsing through another host of adulatory new reviews. But I finally dragged myself on to iPlayer today, and got around to watching The Woman Who Lived, the second part of the story started in last week’s The Girl Who Died.

Now, by no means am I taking back anything I said in last week’s review, even though apparently the entire critical world disagreed with me (as well as a bunch of people on Twitter). And this week’s episode certainly wasn’t brilliant. But, in comparison, I didn’t mind The Woman Who Lived half as much as it’s predecessor.

The Doctor- sans Clara for all but the last two minutes of the episode- bumps into Ashildr as they’re both tracking an alien artifact. The once-idealistic Ahildr has rechristened herself as the cold, distant Lady Me, and she relates the story of her 800-year life to the Doctor as they blunder through a bunch of silly medieval subplots.

I say this a lot, it seems, but the tone was all over the place in this episode. The difference between this week’s episode and last week’s episode, however, was that some of the scenes actually worked. Some of the emotional notes they hit-such as Ashildr explaining the source of her new name- were strong, and yes, the humour all came off like a sub-par Blackadder episode (You know that joke about the woman highwayman doing a really convincing male voice in third season of Blackadder? I don’t know if this episode was homaging that or straight-up ripping it off, but it was there alright), but the fact that it was loose and didn’t take itself too seriously eked a few laughs out of me.

Eyebrows on fleek. For medieval Britain, that is.

I think Maisie Williams makes a lot more sense in this incarnation, too- I was blown away by her performance or anything, but she had the difficult task of playing a character who was actually meant to be on the Doctor’s level and she pulled it off. The naif of last week is long gone, and I hope they keep it that way. There was also a line in there about her being sick of people assuming she just wanted a husband, which is ironic as Steven Moffat have said that all women want exactly that. I’ll take this as an apology (speaking of Steven Moffat and his questionable ideas about women, I’m writing a four-part mini blog series about feminism in Moffat’s era of Doctor Who. Check it out!).

(and I don’t know where to put this, but I was under the impression that Ashildr, when the Doctor turned her immortal was a child- hence The Girl Who Lived, etc. In this episode she’s shown to have had children and be receptive to the romantic interests of grown men. Now, the episode went to great lengths to show how intellectually evolved Ashildr was and obviously she has actually been around for hundreds of years, so it wasn’t skeevy in that sense, but rather seeing blokes demanding kisses from somebody we were only last week meant to see as an innocent child kind of ooked me out a bit. There’s a reason Edward from Twilight wasn’t twelve, you know?)

And, in another round of Doctor Who Recaps Bingo, the Doctor was without Clara for this episode and man, was he good. Capaldi worked well having a new kind of energy to bounce off of, and sure, I could have done without yet another cringey scene of him playing the guitar, but it was overall a good episode for the Doctor. I think not having to cram in pointless Clara scenes just to give Jenna Coleman something to do really helped them flesh out their world a bit, too, and I liked that.

But this episode was ridiculous. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the big villains:

The women on the far right and far left sum up my reactions exactly.

It’s fucking ridiculous, and don’t you dare try to tell me otherwise. And their plan? To open a gate to the underworld and unleash it’s minions on Earth. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Age of Mythology recently (NO SUCH THING) but that sounds strangely close to the plot of a shitty video game. Also, the episode seemed to revel in underlining the major beats for each scene- seriously, take a shot for every time Ashildr jauntily declares “This is MY robbery!” in the first scene, or every time she tells the Doctor “You made me!” or every time he explains why she can’t be her companion, or…yeah, you get it. Even the emotional scenes in this episode were big and goofy, but I’m much more willing to give the show a bit of leeway if it’s tongue is clearly in it’s cheek. I want to stress that this episode wasn’t a classic or anything, but it was almost just a relief to see the show steady itself after last week’s sad swanny whistle.

If I can say one good thing about this episode, it’s that it’s warmed me to the idea of Maisie Williams returning, which she almost definitely will in the near future (calling it: Minister of War mentioned in Under the Lake). I didn’t think she was groundbreakingly amazing in this episode, and she’s yet another recurring female character who the Doctor has connected with as a child before leaving her to wait for him the rest of her life (Amy Pond, Clara Oswald, Reinette de Pompadour, River Song, to an extent), but I like the idea of a sort of morally ambiguous character who understands the Doctor’s plight better than most people he spends time with.

But are you explaining away Osgood’s return next week with “TWINS”? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.

Doctor Who: Turgid, Awful, Rancid, Dreadful, Intolerable Shite

Firstly, in case you missed it, yesterday I shared my newly-started Patreon for this blog-check it out here. But now, on with the episode.

I mean, where to start with this one? I knew when I saw the teaser for this episode that I was probably going to hate it, but I was hoping that I’d have my low expectations subverted by something that was at least….entertaining? Witty? Emotional? And it’s not that The Girl Who Died didn’t try to give me all those things. It just failed dismally on every count.

Just sidling over to the old Robin Hood sets again, I see.

Outside of the sonic sunglasses being broken (OH YES OH YES OH YES), I can’t bring to mind one bit of this episode that worked for me. Let’s take this beat by beat, folks, because that’s the only way I’ll be able to take a look at The Girl Who Died without tearing my eyes out.

Let’s get the obvious fuck-ups out of the way: firstly, the Mire, a fearsome alien warrior race, declare war on a small Viking village (I cannot be remotely fucked explaining why, because every single twist and turn of this episode was so fucking contrived that I could see the veins on the writer’s necks standing out as they strained to be slightly original). I’ll repeat that: a fearsome alien warrior race, described by the Doctor as one of the most efficient and brutal in the Galaxy. And they’re defeated by….electricity? And the threat of an embarrassing video on space Youtube (I almost slit my wrists when Yakety Sax started playing, by the way)? Not to mention the fact that the immortality chip that the Doctor gave to Ashildr came from the Mire so…why aren’t they immortal? Look, I know the Mire were just a poorly-conceived plot point to push the story along, but nothing about them made the remotest bit of sense. They didn’t even have the good manners to look really cool, for fuck’s sake.

Then, there was Ashildr. Look, I have something potentially controversial to admit here: I think Maisie William is a TERRIBLE actress. I’ve never understood why Arya is such a popular character on Game of Thrones (which is where she found her fame), partly because the writers just went “here’s a trope, you fill in the rest”, and partly because Williams absolutely cannot convey any emotion no matter how hard she tries (side note: Emilia Clarke is only good when she’s speaking a made-up language). And I knew that her presence wasn’t going to enhance this episode for me, but I figured I could get past it, hell, maybe even come round on her- do you remember how fantastic the usually nail-chewingly irritating Frank Skinner was last season?

She was fucking atrocious. The script (by James Mathieson and Steven Moffat, both equally responsible for this monstrosity) didn’t give her much to work with, to be fair, but it’s blindingly clear that she had to directly spell out every bit of her own characterisation in a painfully affected speech (“The boys thought I was just a girl, and the girls thought I was a boy”- oh, so you were just Arya, then?) for the audience because she sure as hell couldn’t convey it in her performance. There was a long shot at the end, of her against the apparent desktop screensaver backdrop of changing skies to signify the years she’d lived, and the camera was focused in on her face, and it was almost hilarious what a complete lack of….well, anything there was to her.

See for yourself. Christ, staring at this face is like listening to white noise- it’s so meaningless it starts to drive you a little insane.

When she died, I was fully hoping Peter Dinklage would wander on-screen with a wheelbarrow and cart her back to GoT, but instead she became the Hybrid, referenced by Davros earlier this season, which terrifyingly suggests we’re going to be seeing a lot of her. The words “hoist” and “petard” spring to mind, because-and I don’t say this often- she was unwatchably bad in this episode, and showed no signs of improving. I think she’s a potential disaster for the series, mainly because Moffat cannot let things go and if he’s come up with this idea he’s going to force it down our throats until he’s satisfied we understand the full extent of his genius.

The Doctor was terrible in this episode, as well- I was on the messageboards yesterday (That’s right, I messageboard about Doctor Who, you wanna make something of it?) and there were a lot of people lamenting the fact that one of the best actors we’ve ever had for the role is getting hurled this level of half-baked garbage. Not only is he patronizing Clara in this episode (“I have a duty of care”- funny, because the last time I heard that line it was in reference to a literal child, which Clara most certainly is not), he’s translating baby soliloquys, he’s grunting out terrible nicknames, and he’s generally fucking about like the most irritating of cocks. He’s been boiled down to a handful of pop-culture references, self-referential jabs to the ribs, and a swerving attitude that darts between a complete lack of care for whatever tertiary characters are about this episode and “I’M THE DOCTOR AND I DO DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES ABOUT HOW I SAVE PEOPLE IN THE MOST OVERBLOWN AND UNDERWRITTEN SCENES OF ALL TIME”.

I’ll say it again: Capaldi is not at fault here. He’s doing his best. But the Doctor is irritating and inconsistent and mean. This episode contained the “reveal” about why Capaldi chose the face he did (basically the show retconning the fact that the actor had already appeared in season four episode the Fires of Pompeii), and the revelation fell flat with an audible thud. So, he chose that face because he wants to save people? I mean, I…I know that. That isn’t a revelation. That’s what he does every single week. I’ve seen a lot of people touting this as a defining moment for this Doctor, but is it, really?

The less said about Clara, the better, in an episode where she exuded almost nuclear levels of smug. Again, Jenna Coleman is not at fault here, but Christ, considering that they re-write the character every episode to fill whatever plot-hole they’ve created for themselves, it’s no wonder that I can’t get a hold on who Clara’s character actually is.

Really getting the most out of those spacesuits, aren’t they?

Then, there was the rest of the episode to contend with: the terrible jokes, the baby giving a monologue (was I supposed to be howling with laughter through that entire speech? I assume not, but fuck me, it was HILARIOUS), the scrappy, half-baked story, the thundering lack of emotional stakes…I really didn’t think that the show would ever outdo (under-do?) last season’s Kill the Moon. But this might have done it.

Kill the Moon was at least ostentatiously terrible, in a way that meant I could sort of see what people liked about it. But this…despite reading a bunch of adulatory reviews and scrolling through the worshipful Twitter feed, I still cannot find one thing that didn’t annoy me about this episode. I’d make a case for this being the worst episode of Moffat’s run by quite a stretch, which is a shame because Under the Lake/Before the Flood were actually pretty decent in retrospect and season nine looked to be shaping up as a stronger entry than the last year.

But this is unforgivable-it would be one thing if it were this awful in a sort of low-budget, rollicking fun way, but the thing that really put the nail in coffin of The Girl Who Died (puns are my FAVOURITE) was how fucking self-satisfied it all seemed. Smug, even. And that infuriated me the most. Well, that, and the knowledge that we’ve got a whole other episode to go yet.

And you think you can dangle Tennant and Donna in front of us and expect it not to make the episode worse by comparison? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.