When details and titles of the current season of “Doctor Who were announced, most of the buzz was about an episode or two featuring actress Maisie Williams, better known as Arya Stark from “Game of Thrones.” Over the past five seasons of the HBO fantasy series, she has given standout performances and has been one of the best things about the show. Now Ms. Williams brings her brilliance over to The Doctor’s corner of the multiverse. Meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “The Girl Who Died.”
“I’m The Doctor and I save people.” How many times have we heard that phrase this season so far? Whether it’s been in the show itself or in the advertising, it’s gotten old. I can’t help but think of the word ‘fetch’ from Mean Girls – as in “stop trying to make fetch happen.” The powers-that-be are trying to make that statement, like fetch in Mean Girls happen. If we hear it enough, maybe we’ll start to believe it.
Here’s the thing though, we did kind of need to hear it said, and yes, repeatedly. This new Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi, who is finally starting to settle into the role (or has he had it down from the start?), is more than a bit reckless, and tends to get folks hurt, either by plan or by accident. Like Batman with every Robin after Dick Grayson, he seems to endanger Clara constantly. How she keeps bouncing back is beyond me. I think I have made it known that in all such matters with Clara, I’m rooting for the monsters. Regardless, perhaps if they keep driving home the “I’m The Doctor and I save people.” point, we’ll believe it.
Stuck in the Middle Again
One of the trademarks of The Doctor’s time with Clara – be it with Peter Capaldi or Matt Smith – is this showing up in media res, or showing up in the middle of a story. Subconsciously I think all the hardcore Whovians know that the radio adventures and the novels occur in between the TV episodes, but with Clara in the picture, we have been seeing this type of thing a lot. There have been far too many unexplained adventures we know nothing but the end of recently, and it’s starting to annoy me.
Here once again, we get the tail end of one of these, just before the TARDIS plops our heroes down in Viking lands. Exiting the TARDIS, The Doctor and Clara are set upon by the Vikings. The Doctor, as per usual, tries to talk his way out of it, but the Vikings are having none of that. They break the sonic sunglasses, and kidnap our heroes far away from the TARDIS. I must say, the first time I saw a sonic screwdriver gets destroyed, I might have shed a tear, but I felt nothing for those infernal glasses.
As the Vikings are deciding what to do with the interlopers, The Doctor tries again, this time pretending to be Odin… imagine his surprise when the ‘real’ Odin shows up in the sky, demanding the finest warriors ready themselves for battle. When armored creatures show up via teleport and collect all of the warriors, The Doctor realizes what he’s dealing with. They’re called The Mire, and they’re one of the most war-like races in the universe.
Hmmm… if that’s so, and they’re right up there with the Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans, why haven’t we heard of them before? I’m not trying to pick nits really, I just would have liked an explanation as to why, that’s all. Their modus operandi is to collect the mightiest warriors and then drink their adrenaline. Oh yeah, that’s nasty, maybe they are up in the big bad five. Once they’re done, the village is left with only the lame, the women, and the children (I know, ageist and sexist, but there it is), but through Clara’s interference, The Mire believe the village are still strong and they’re coming back for another swipe.
Among the remaining villagers is our Maisie Williams, playing the dreamer, the storyteller, the puppeteer, Ashildr. She’s a gutsy one and is determined to fight for her village, and really I kept expecting her to break out in Arya Stark mode and kick some ass, but that’s not her here. However, it’s hard not to see her as such. Shame, so young, and already typecast. Between her, Clara, and a crying baby (he doesn’t speak sign, but he does speak baby), The Doctor is convinced to help these wannabe Vikings train for the upcoming battle.
Even The Doctor sees the futility in the training of these villagers. As hard as he tries, he’s unable to make much of folks like Lofty (is that an “Eastenders” reference?) and Chuckles, or the baby. He concocts a plan using The Mire’s technology against them, with Ashildr the hero, but in the process discovers something very important about himself. Who he is, and why he looks like he does. We learn the secret of this Doctor’s face.
Observant viewers know that actor Peter Capaldi has appeared in “Doctor Who” before (and “Torchwood” as well, but let’s not complicate things), and hardcore Whovians know that Time Lords can actually choose their regeneration forms. The Time Lady Romana notably did it back in the Tom Baker days. We find, and The Doctor finally remembers, that his current form was chosen on purpose, by the David Tennant regeneration.
Capaldi played the patriarch of a Roman family in the series four episode “The Fires of Pompeii.” The Doctor could have saved him and his family from the erupting Vesuvius, but insisted that that was a fixed point in time that could not be changed. Eventually he relented and saved them. Taking the face of that man was The Tenth Doctor’s message to The Twelfth Doctor that he can, and should, save as many people as possible, no matter what kind of ripples occur in time because of it. “I’m The Doctor and I save people.”
The Girl Who Died
With his mantra explained and intact, it’s with great grief that The Doctor realizes that Ashildr has died in the battle with The Mire. Now owning his new mantra, The Doctor decides he must save her at all costs. Using a Mire technology chip that automatically repairs systems, he implants it in her, and she comes back. The Doctor saves everyone, but as with many things like this, there is a cost.
This is the third of three two-parters so far this season, and we know the next episode is called “The Woman Who Lived.” How long will Ashildr live? Has The Doctor created another Captain Jack Harkness? I guess we’ll find out next time, when Maisie Williams returns. I liked this episode a lot. It was fun, it was silly, and actually had an old school Douglas Adams vibe, and that’s a good thing. More please.
Next: Stand and deliver!