Published on October 26th, 2015 | by Brad0
Doctor Who – The Woman Who Lived
With Doctor Who being a BBC production, it doesn’t have the budget available to it that the larger American programmes do. This means that, in order to do the bigger things you want to do, you have to do a bit of creative money-saving in other areas. One of the options is a Doctor or companion-lite episode, wherein either the Doctor or the companion (or both) won’t feature in the action, allowing them to be off filming something else at the same time. These episodes tend to be smaller and more intimate in scale, which can allow for real creativity to shine through, a la Blink or Midnight, or they can be a bit of a disaster, a la Love and Monsters. The Woman Who Lived is a companion-lite episode, as Clara is nowhere to be seen while the Doctor reencounters Ashildr (Maisie Williams), 800 years after the events of last week’s The Girl Who Died.
The years have often been unkind to Ashildr. Watching her loved ones die time and again has hardened her heart, and she’s currently getting her thrills as a highwayman known as The Knightmare. As she’s holding up a carriage (in a scene which reminded me of the hold-up from Blackadder the Third’s Amy and Amiability – they even manage to work the “well hung” joke in later on in the episode!) the Doctor stumbles in, looking for an alien device known as the Eyes of Hades. The carriage’s occupants flee whilst the Doctor and Ashildr bicker, leading them to team up in pursuit of the artefact.
Ashildr, now calling herself Me as she’s tired of making new names for herself as everyone she knows dies, wants the Doctor to take her with him. He’s evasive, so she goes about her original plan, to steal the Eyes of Hades and use it to open a gateway to another galaxy alongside her house guest, a cat-like alien named Leandro. Their plan requires them to hijack the death of condemned highwayman Sam Swift the Quick, played by friend of the site Rufus Hound, and use it to crack open their gateway. This continues a recurring theme of series 9 so far of the deaths of others being hijacked for nefarious purposes, following the schemes of The Fisher King and Odin. Hound gives a very funny performance as the cocksure criminal, turning even the lead-up to his death into a stand-up routine.
The plot with the cat-creature and the gateway is all window dressing, ultimately; The Woman Who Lived is more concerned with pitting its two immortals together and discussing their perspective on the lives of the mortals who pass through their perspective for a little while. In The Girl Who Died, the Doctor has misgivings about the life he has forced upon Ashildr, and they’re mostly proved right in the early sequences here. For the Doctor it becomes imperative that he redeem Ashildr, so that he can keep on lying to himself a little longer about what he does. Maisie Williams really holds her own with Peter Capaldi in these scenes, and they’re very much the highlight of the episode.
These last couple of weeks I’ve been cultivating a theory that the Doctor has already seen Clara’s death. The Woman Who Lived adds more fuel that fire. As well as the very on-the-nose ending with the Doctor’s pensive look after Clara tells him she’s not going anywhere, there are a couple of key lines Ashildr gives to support this point – one where she points out that Clara will eventually die on him, and one where she asks him how many people he’s lost, which she phrases as “How many Claras?”, unknowingly referencing the many deaths of the impossible girl.
The Woman Who Lived is an interesting beast, much more concerned with the character beats between the Doctor and Ashildr than any plot developments, to the point where the alien involvement feels very much like an afterthought. The two performances at the heart of it are very enjoyable, which is important. I don’t know that this would work every week for the type of show that Doctor Who is, but as a one-off, it was a refreshing change of pace.