In the last episode of “Doctor Who,” we were introduced to a new evil alien race, The Mire, and to a young Viking girl named Ashildr, who with The Doctor’s help, saved her village. Now, Maisie Williams from “Game of Thrones” returns as that now immortal character, this time in the guise of The Knightmare. What has she been up to since we saw her last? Join me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “The Woman Who Lived.”
Stand and Deliver!
We open on an old school English robbery, masked dandy highwayman on horseback robbing a stagecoach of its valuables in the seventeenth century. The brigand is one of the most feared of the time, the Knightmare by name, and the victims were about to give up their booty, when, what else, a Police box drops in and The Doctor wanders in, foiling the robbery by default. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, the Knightmare is Ashildr.
The two greet each other like old friends, as if they’ve run across each other before, and more than just in that Viking village last episode. Maisie Williams is acting, and it’s a brilliant performance, very mature, as someone who’s eight centuries older might be. Distressingly, she’s become bitter at a world that keeps dying around her, no longer remembers being Ashildr, and refers to herself as Me. Ooooh, scary, much like Avengers foe Kang the Conqueror, she is the only constant she can relate to, everyone else is dead. Except The Doctor, whom she thinks is going to take her away, or stay.
Notably this episode was written by Catharine Tregenna, who besides penning episodes for “Eastenders,” “Casualty,” and “Law & Order UK,” she also wrote more than a few for “Torchwood,” one of which was nominated for a Nebula Award, called appropriately “Captain Jack Harkness.” So she has cut her teeth on Whovian immortals before. Me has settled into her fate nicely, and has been living like a modern literary vampire all this time – living a lifetime, then faking a death and moving on before anyone notices she doesn’t age. She’s becomes jaded however, bitter, nothing like the little Viking girl actually.
The sad part is, that not being a Time Lord, or a vampire, or even Captain Jack, she can’t remember everything. Her human mind doesn’t have the memory capacity for so many lifetimes. Her lives exist in her diaries and journals. She barely remembers anything at all, including some emotions. Ten minutes in, and the dreamer of the last episode is a tragic figure. Bravo, Ms. Tregenna.
Curios and Curiosity
The thankfully Clara-less (Taekwondo lessons apparently) Doctor is in this time and place hunting down an alien artifact that does not belong here, using a curious device he calls a curio scanner. In the robbery, the Knightmare was after a rare gem, and it seems that the both of them are after the same item. The problem is Me has a silent partner who may not be on the up and up. Meanwhile The Doctor peruses Me’s library, learning of the sometimes tragic lives she’s forgotten.
In a nice bit of trivia, The Doctor references the 1666 Great Fire of London, noting that the Terileptils started it. In fact, not only did Peter Davison as The Fifth Doctor start that fire, but he was also there as Tom Baker, and William Hartnell as well. And while I’m unsure if it’s canon or not, Time Lady Iris Wildthyme may have been there too. Talk about your fixed points in time, eh?
Me seems to know more than she should about The Doctor, and our Time Lord is hip to it. She can forget lives and emotions, but remembers details about him? It would seem that perhaps her silent partner/family cat has filled her head with these things. The only things that seem sincere about Me are her desire to journey with The Doctor, and her gloom at being immortal.
This was a bugaboo that rose its ugly head in the last episode. Some folks just aren’t meant to be immortal – that’s something The Doctor now knows from Me, but also, he knows the sorrow of which she speaks. The watching of those around one grow old and die is a pain The Doctor knows, and one he avoids by, either purposely or accidentally, recycling them out every year or so. I would re-ask Me’s question – how many Claras have there been? How many companions has The Doctor gone through? Surely it’s at least a hundred, right?
Leandro and Loneliness
When this episode’s monster of the week makes himself known, it appears that Me isn’t all that nice anyway, and her fire-breathing lion-man associate is just run-of-the-mill. He’s a minor threat, but it’s a funny, sharp, Clara-less Doctor, so I’m happy. Me, on the other hand is a selfish little brat, who wants what she wants, and that’s all that matters. Her parting shot, “You didn’t save my life, you trapped me inside it,” says it all, and slaps last episode’s lesson of Save everyone right in the face.
While everything works out in the end, it seems a bit too pat, too clichéd, and far too easy. As good as the performances are, the script is weak in parts. That said, I don’t think this story would have worked without either Maisie Williams or Peter Capaldi. I don’t know how I feel about Me taking on the clean up committee position with The Doctor – because isn’t that the Impossible Girl’s job?
Speaking of Clara, she shows up at the end, and makes some statements that make her leaving at the end of this season seem even more final and doom-like. Foreshadowing is a bitch. Nevertheless I will be happy to see her go, and was happy without her most of this episode. Sorry, folks, not a fan.
Next: The return of the Zygons, and Osgood!!