TV Review // Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 5: ‘The Girl Who Died’
Previously: Before The Flood
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Maisie Williams
Death has been a constant theme of all episodes thus far in this run of Doctor Who and it’s overtly hinted at in the title of ‘The Girl Who Died’. But on this occasion it’s not Clara, whom we know is already leaving at some point this season by similar devices but not exactly how. In fact, the title refers to Maisie Williams’ character Ashildr who is given a better chance of survival than most by the Doctor’s actions at the end of the episode.
Speaking of the episode, it’s one that could easily fall into a par with the not bad but not entirely great either Robot of Sherwood. But… it doesn’t! In the initial watch the episode seems a little slow but grows on you as the various elements sync together. After all, Vikings have little of the gravitas of other show regulars, and in the end are little more than background players despite their prominence in the narrative. But that’s no bad thing when you have Peter Capaldi really digging his role with many great character moments to enjoy along the way.
As with much of series nine so far the nuances of the story are subtle and played out at a leisurely pace in comparison to the all out action speed of much of Matt Smith’s run as The Doctor. The return of the two part narrative (as this one is, once more) though has paid dividends in making this run so much more satisfying and what’s more, they stand up to greater scrutiny on second viewing and impress just as much. From the pen of Jamie Mathieson (with Steven Moffat), behind the rather good episodes Mummy On The Orient Express and Flatline, the dialogue oozes wit while being not especially hilarious and has some highly quotable dialogue to enjoy before the truly meaty drama arises.
Keeping things simple seems to a key trait of this series so far and the plot is not designed to make it any less so. The aforementioned meaty drama comes in the final minutes once the The Girl Who Died does just as is promised in the title. Following a literal dance battle against the (rather camp, actually, until we see what they look like under the helmet) Mire, “one of the most fearsome warrior races in the galaxy” according to The Doctor, Ashildr is revived by a reprogrammed chip from the Mire Warriors felled by the electric eels and is apparently unable to die. This is the cusp of the plot, as we see a flashback to The Fires of Pompeii of series 4, (doesn’t David Tennant look young?!) and find out not just why this current incarnation has the face it does but what it takes to leave more than a footprint in time.
All of this is wrapped up in a well designed and directed episode that just about manages to balance its elements in such a way as to be genuinely watchable on more than one occasion. As we approach the half way point of series nine it’s fair to say that this is shaping up to be as good a run as the last comparable series, the fifth. Long may it continue!
Music: It was a shame not to see the guitar enhanced titles that graced Before The Flood but we’re sure they’ll return soon… please? It was interesting to hear the Benny Hill music though.
Best Moment: The Doctor has a plan: ‘You didn’t tell me you had… electric eels!’ and a rather obvious homage to Monty Python and The Holy Grail when “Odin” appears in the sky to invite the larger hoard of Vikings to join him in Valhalla. (In reality: a human juicing machine.) Who else heard Terry Gilliam’s voice in their head?!
Next: The Woman Who Lived
(Review: S.Gahan; Images © BBC)