Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Doctor Who 9.06: "The Woman Who Lived"

“You didn’t save my life, Doctor. You trapped me inside it.”

“The Woman Who Lived” was another episode featuring “Game of Thrones” star Maisie Williams. The episode could be considered a pair with the previous episode, “The Girl Who Died.” It wasn’t a cliffhanger-style two-part episode, though, which was a positive because the two standalone stories were nice compliment to each other. Maisie Williams really did some great work in this episode, revealing to us the real toll of being an immortal being. Time Lords can hide the pain better because of their physiology (they remember more of their past, for instance), but I can imagine that having lost everyone he loved multiple times takes quite a toll on the doctor. I would love if the creative team explored a bit more what makes the Doctor want to keep saving people after having lost so much. What keeps him from being a hollow shell of who he once was like Williams’ Ashildr, who now just goes by “Me?”

This was a Clara-lite episode, with Clara apparently off teaching the Year Sevens at her school Taekwondo. The Doctor, meanwhile, is searching for an alien artifact (an amulet, to be specific). As the episode opens, we get a classic Victorian highwayman scene. A couple is riding along in a carriage when they are stopped by a highwayman who wants their amulet. Suddenly, the Doctor appears on the scene, and he botches everything for the highwayman. The couple end up hurrying off in the carriage before the amulet can be stolen. The highwayman is, understandably, upset with the Doctor for ruining the attempted theft, and he is quickly revealed to actually be a she. More specifically, she is Ashildr, the Viking woman the Doctor saved in the previous episode. Only now she has lived for 800 years, and she has forgotten more life than she remembers. She has taken to her life of crime because she is bored, mostly.

Ashildr is really excited to see the Doctor because she thinks he has finally come back for her and will take her away from her painful, mundane life. She is incredibly disappointed to find out that she’s not the reason the Doctor is in this particular time and place. He has kept an eye on her here and there (for instance, he was very proud to see her founding a leper colony), but it’s pretty clear he lost track. He wasn’t expecting what Ashildr has become. The Doctor wants to know what happened to her, and Ashildr directs him to read her journals. She does herself once in a while when she needs some entertainment. The Doctor sees there are several memories that have been torn out of the books, but a memory of a child dying remains. Ashildr says that’s a reminder not to have any more children.

Ashildr and the Doctor reach a bit of a détente in order to service their common goal of obtaining the amulet, called the Eye of Hades. There’s a bit of a fun heist sequence where the Doctor and Ashildr go to the home of the couple who had the amulet and steal it, but Ashildr has bigger plans. She’s been working with a cat-like being named Leandro, and while Ashildr has attached herself to him as a last resort to escape her misery, he doesn’t seem like he can be trusted. Leandro has convinced Ashildr that she can use the Eye of Hades to create a portal that will take her somewhere else. Ashildr is so desperate to leave her current situation that she doesn’t much care where the portal will take her as long as it is away.

Leandro (and the whole plan) is eventually revealed to the Doctor. The reason Ashildr didn’t tell the Doctor what was going on at first was because the Eye of Hades requires a death to open the portal. Ashildr was originally planning to sacrifice her loyal, long-time servant to activate the portal, but when she hears that rival highwayman Sam Swift is to be hanged, she changes her plans and heads for the gallows. She turns the Doctor over to the authorities as the Knightmare’s (her highwayman moniker) sidekick to give herself a head start. The Doctor manages to avoid jail using a very old trick – he pays the guards a bribe.

Sam Swift is nothing if not a showman, and he’s trying to keep the gathering crowd laughing. I’m not sure if he thinks it will prolong his life, or if he just wants to go out on a high note. The Doctor arrives in time to engage in some witty (and punny) repartee with Sam, and this scene really shows of Peter Capaldi’s comedic chops. He is often very serious as the Doctor, but pre-Doctor, he was most famous for his role in a comedy. As Malcolm Tucker on “The Thick of It,” Capaldi definitely knew how to play for laughs (usually while weaving together epic strings of profanity). Anyway, the Doctor uses the psychic paper to make it appear that Sam has been pardoned, but it’s too late. Ashildr decides to use the amulet on him anyway.

As Sam dies, a portal does indeed open up, but Leandro’s people use it to try and conquer Earth. The portal was never going to be able to take Ashildr away from Earth. Spaceships fly towards the portal opening and start firing on Earth. Ashildr realizes what a mistake she’s made, and she uses the other medical chip (the thing the Doctor used to save her life in the last episode) to save Sam’s life. As Sam comes back to life, the portal closes, presumably because he is no longer powering the amulet. She now has a companion for a while, although the Doctor thinks that the chip won’t give Sam complete immortality. It took too much power to bring him back to life.

At the end of the episode, the Doctor and Ashildr contemplate whether they are enemies or friends now. They decide that they are still friends, but they will be keeping an eye on each other. The Doctor thinks Ashildr is reckless, since she has become so numb after 800 years of living. Ashildr is concerned about how the Doctor tends to discard his traveling companions. After leaving Ashildr, the Doctor picks up Clara, and she joyfully shows him a selfie one of her students took to thank the Doctor for helping her with a paper. The Doctor is grumpy about the idea of a selfie at first, but when he looks at the picture, he is disturbed to see Ashildr in the background.

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