TV Review // Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 6: 'The Woman Who Lived'
Warning: contains spoilers!
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Maisie Williams, Jenna Coleman
Written by: Catherine Tregenna
Directed by: Ed Bazalgette
We’re used to (and liking) the two-parter approach that Doctor Who is taking this year and while The Woman Who Lived is ostensibly the second part to last week’s rompy The Girl Who Died, it is completely different in tone and in quality.
Having been brought back to life for eternity by the Doctor, Ashildir, the brave Viking girl has now lived for 800 years. So what would that do to a person? To live so long. To see everyone you ever loved - even your children - die. To live so long with a normal sized human memory.
Ashildir has even forgotten her own name and now just calls herself Me (or Lady Me, if you please). She appears to have lost all of her humanity and keeps the memories of her life in a library of journals. The Doctor can’t believe that the girl whose life he saved has become this woman who sees her fellow humans as mayflies. As smoke.
Ashildir/Me repeatedly begs the Doctor to take her away with him, but he refuses. He’s left her to take the slow road through life, but she longs for more. She longs to leave the Earth and travel the stars. In order to achieve her dream of adventure away from the tedium of an eternal life on Earth, she has vowed to help a cat-faced alien called Leandro, who has promised that in return he’ll take her to the stars. But Lenny the Lion, as the Doctor calls him, is more dangerous than Ashildir/Me can imagine.
If this makes it sound as though The Woman Who Lived is a dark episode, that’s because in some respects it is. But it’s also a pretty decent adventure. There’s a guest appearance from Rufus Hound as highwayman Sam Swift, who does for searies 9 what Frank Skinner did in series 8 - confounds any potential critics with a charming performance, even if it’s a bit, ‘scuse the pun, swift.
In the face of the hangman at the gallows, Sam Swift shows that his life is never more precious than when he’s about to lose it. This, along with Leandro’s devastating betrayal of her, causes Ashildir’s humanity to reassert itself.
As the Doctor says his farewells to Ashildir in a great scene that stands out among great scenes, Ashildir promises to keep an eye out for those the Doctor leaves behind. It’s a fascinating scene and the Doctor wonders if he’s made an enemy of the girl he saved, while also being glad that he did save her. The door is left open for us to meet up with Ashildir or Me or whoever she may become next, again. Which can only be a good thing.
So what of Clara while all of this was going on? We know that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show, but not when or how. The shadow of death still lingers, as does the prospect of being left behind by the Doctor. The episode ends with Clara returning to the TARDIS and the Doctor’s happiness at her return. How long can this partnership last? And how will it end? We can only wait and watch. And so will Ashildir.
Fan pleasing moments: The Doctor tells Ashildir about Captain Jack Harkness “He’ll get round to you.”
Question of the Week: With one (and possibly two) immortals now left behind on Earth, will we be seeing Ashildir or Sam Swift again soon? Let’s hope so.
Best Line: Ashildir to the Doctor, “How many have you lost? How many Claras?”
Music: We can’t be certain, but was that Chris Issak’s Blue Hotel that the Doctor was mournfully playing on his guitar as he’s missing Clara?
(Review: Andrea McGuire / Images © BBC)