Sci-Fi · TV & Movies

Doctor Who Review: The Woman Who Lived

(“The Woman Who Lived” is indeed last week’s episode, I’m just behind. Yesterday’s episode will be reviewed in the next day or two.)

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“The Woman Who Lived” is blessedly quieter than “The Girl Who Died.” For much of the episode it’s just two characters talking, but the whole thing is still a bit funny, with snappy dialogue and even a standup comedy bit. The focus, though, is on the characters, and that’s the way I like it.

I love Ashildr/Lady Me as a counterpoint to the Doctor. She’s small and innocent-looking, yet effortlessly nefarious, while the Doctor seems more threatening to those around him but if he actually considers anything shifty, his angst over it will probably take up an entire episode. I like the idea that her memory is just “normal-sized” and she physically can’t remember all the parts of her long life. It makes sense that she’s desensitized herself — I think that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction, although the Doctor seems to think it’s unexpected. It’s certainly troubling for those who cross her path, but reasonable. I also like that she’s become ambiguous and indeed troubling, but not crazy and not scene-chewingly evil. I knew she was veiling the extent of her villainy, but it’s a more realistic development of the idea. She could’ve been another boring version of the crazy Master/Missy, but she’s not. She’s something new.

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Thoughts on the middle:

  • Ashildr’s gendercrossing is understated — perhaps too understated, given the preponderance of “disguised as a boy” stories, but still. It’s interesting, and it could develop nicely, and no one says anything wildly offensive, so it’s a step up from previous stories.
  • The exchanges of Ashildr asking to travel with the Doctor are well done. Her desperation and the Doctor’s reluctance are well matched and nuanced. Clara’s unexplained absence adds tension.
  • Beauty-and-the-Beast Alien drops a little silliness, but okay. It’s really just the costume design, as a thematic element it works nicely. Ashildr’s whole plot reminds me of something the Master would do, in a good way — he was always trying to work with alien invaders and then getting double-crossed.

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The big annoyance is yet again, we have the supporting characters blaming the Doctor for everyone else’s villainy and everyone else’s pain. It is actually moving in this context, and Maisie Williams invests it with a distinct air of “trying to find someone to blame,” but it’s less meaningful because it happens ALL THE DAMN TIME. I appreciate the Doctor’s position, though. His grief, yet refusal to take her villainy as his fault. Then Ashildr’s change of heart is a bit sudden, but again, Williams did a nice job portraying a woman trying to stifle her own conscience the whole way through, so I can believe it. I also liked her line in the denouement, “The last thing we need is each other.” For once, the insightful comment is really true. They’re too well-matched, and too much inversions of each other. She couldn’t travel with him largely because she’s already too much her own person, and it’s not enough like him. (Finally an INTERESTING thematic comment about Doctor/Clara? Or am I just wishing it is?) But still, Ashildr and the Doctor can be friends… And as she says, “It’s your friends you have to watch out for.”

The first half of the two-parter doesn’t relate to the second at all except for those seconds of making Ashildr immortal, so there’s no salvaging “The Girl Who Died” in my esteem. However, for once, they’ve successfully established a brand-new character who’s interesting, unique, and a valuable addition to Doctor Who. I hope we see her juuust often enough.

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5 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: The Woman Who Lived

  1. I found this episode very frustrating, personally, mostly because of the alien. Though the leonine aspect of the aliens in “The Warrior’s Gate” was more understated than the one here, I couldn’t help feeling like it was supposed to be the same race, and the way his kind were emerging from a mystical(ish) portal like that only heightened that feeling, and yet there was nary a mention of Romana. (And the new show’s continued insistence on forgetting that Romana ever existed is one of my pet peeves, that really got under my skin, especially since the part where he told “Lady Me” about Jack felt, to me, in the build-up stage, like he was going to mention Romana (though looking back on it, I shouldn’t have thought that) and of course he didn’t.)

    I’m definitely ready for supporting characters to stop blaming everything on the Doctor. I don’t see why they’re still doing that; I can’t think — off-hand — of a single instance where it actually made sense. (Presumably there’s been at least one that did make sense, but I certainly can’t think of one.)

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    1. Ohhhhhhhhh I didn’t even think of The Warrior’s Gate! I loved that episode and these lions were way boring compared to those and now I’m sad.

      At least in this case the Doctor actually did purposefully change the whole course of Ashildr’s life in a huge way. It was a much more significant action than, say, having a companion, because Ashildr had no say in it at all. Companions do have a say, and then they turn around and whine “Look what you made meeeeee…” or the Doctor has a completely positive influence, but the supporting characters accuse him of being a menace somehow. It’s senseless and irritating.

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      1. Sorry; I didn’t mean to make you sad.

        True, Ashildr’s reasoning makes much more sense than what the companions and/or those looking at them frequently say. I guess I find it hard to compartmentalize my reactions, after hearing it so often. Just once, when someone accuses the Doctor of making soldiers out of his companions, I wish he’d zing back that Jamie was *less* warlike after traveling with the Doctor, instead of more! (I know, they won’t do that because then they’d have to explain who Jamie is, but…I’d still like at least the reference, even if it was only a throw-away. Especially with all the jokes(?) about the Doctor’s new Scottish accent!)

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