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.
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:
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.