Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived - "Time will tell. It always does."

The Girl Who Died - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 5 (Overall Series Story #260a) | Previous - Next | Index

And fandom broke out in cheers.

Watching twitter immediately after the BBC broadcast, I didn't see much positive reaction. If any. "Meh," about summed it up.

That was surprising, because I was also reading that David Tennant is shown as Ten, and we learned something about why the Doctor chose Caecilius's face -- things I expected would be generally fan-pleasing. Also, this is the Maisie Williams one! A big cameo, a big reveal, and a big guest star not leading to positive reactions had me worried that we were being served a clunker this week.


Maybe low expectations helped, but that was a perfectly good story well-told. It flew by, never dragged. When there was laughter and celebration I enjoyed it the way I always do such displays: waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then, when it inevitably did, the anguish felt genuine even though we never saw the line from the promos, the "What took you so long, old man," so Ashildr's death never felt like the fridging it seemed to be on the surface.

And what the Doctor did to Ashildr, that's pretty significant. Significant out of proportion to the rest of the episode, even. Single village stakes may have been part of reason folks weren't feeling invested? But those weren't the real stakes. The Doctor intimated he may have made a terrible mistake in his anger, one with scale beyond his Time Lord Victorious mistake? Ripples to tidal waves.

Overall the vibe was very Part One -- perhaps another reason for general lack of positive reaction. This story clearly needs its second part to be complete. But for what it was, I didn't think it a dud at all. And as I'm writing this, a positive review has gone up at Eruditorum Press, and I'm starting to see more positive tweets, so it's not just me enjoying it after all.

  • How do you know that Odin fella wasn't Odin? He showed up. "And what's the one thing the gods never do?" "What is heaven but the gilded door of the abbatoir?" You knew those lines would be like catnip for me. But more than just being casually dismissive of religiosity, what really stuck out for me was the Doctor tells them to stop fooling themselves first. Because they know it, they know what they're up against isnt' a god because gods are stories. The stories can be beautiful, or they can be rubbish, but the one thing they can't be is documentary, because there are no gods and we all know it.
  • And yet, again the Doctor uses language like, "God knows?" and when he decides to take action to bring Ashildr back to life, he tells anyone who's listening that may have a problem with what he's doing, "To hell with you." I never know what to make of this kind of language, if it's a writer's tic, putting words in the character's mouth that don't really belong there; or, if we're supposed to accept it as background noise, the Doctor saying things so they'd be understood in their import by a 21st century human; or, if it's meant to convey that the Doctor believes in God and hell. If the latter, it'd be the worst sort of nonsense, so I'm hoping the writing's not that awful, just sloppy, or more sly than is generally credited. 
  • The serpent Ashildr projected seems to have lived in legend. Looked an awful lot like the serpent on the mural in the galley of the underwater base from last week.
  • Speaking baby. Thought we'd seen the last of that.
  • It may be time to retire "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow."
  • All it needed was the Benny Hill theme.
  • Ripples and tidal waves were mentioned several times in this story and I can't help but wonder why that thematic focus? For us, the damage done to time by a traveler meddling is, ultimately, never going to be an interesting story on those terms. We travel in time one way, and as interesting as it may be to think about bootstrap paradoxes and what happens if someone crushes a butterfly while hunting dinosaurs, we're never actually going to have to worry about those dilemmas. The dilemmas we need to worry about, when it comes to meddling, and getting involved in saving villages, are the ones that have to do with the whys and hows of our governments deploying drones, and invading (and never leaving) countries like Afghanistan. The consequences of ill-considered actions, even if well-intentioned, is a fundamentally interesting question. (That the actions my government takes don't even seem well-intentioned is another matter.) Whether there's any way to read what the Doctor does, when saving people, when getting involved, as being dangerous in the same way our generally disastrous decisions to throw weapons into conflicts, seems like a stretch. But, if that's not the point of raising these sorts of questions, then what is? Here's an idea:

Additional Resources:
Jack at Eruditorum Press (absolutely, spot on, nailing it)
The Mire try to appropriate the Viking’s culture and turn it against them. Ashildir plays the same trick right back at them. She attacks them with monsters from sagas.  Her silliness, her distraught bravado, turns out to have not been so silly after all. Turns out she had more to back it up with than she thought. 
So, in other words: the big manly testosterone-fuelled bullies, who reckon they're the only ones allowed to play war games, are resoundingly beaten and humiliated by a society in solidarity, fronted by a nerdy (even faintly genderqueer) girl who is a better, more imaginative, more powerful gamer than they are.
Jane at Eruditorum press
AV Club review
Locations guide
TV Tropes page transcript

The Woman Who Lived - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 6 (Overall Series Story #260b) | Previous - NextIndex


When we first found out Maisie Williams was going to be in Doctor Who, we all wondered if she'd be a new character, or a return of an old one -- Susan and Romana being the most hoped for if the latter were going to be the case. Once I had two images in mind -- Maisie delivering the line "What took you so long, old man?" and a leonine alien -- the Romana angle took root. Ashildr though was fantastic, and I wasn't at all disappointed with her being a new character. Was, and am, delighted.

This week though, Romana was conspicuous by her absence, a ghost that haunted the story as the Doctor mentioned traveling with Capt. Jack, but not Lady Me's more obvious parallel, the Time Lady, and Leandro stubbornly seemed to come from E-Space and felt like he had to be a Tharil. There I was, howling melodramatically like Tom Baker for Shada, "Romaaaaaaana!"

The Doctor makes the case against Ashildr as companion, refusing multiple times to let her travel with him, but for all the touching bits about mayflies, I am unconvinced. The Doctor and Romana, both Romanas, worked. The Doctor's older now, sure -- Ashildr roughly the same age in "The Woman Who Lived" as the Doctor was back then -- but aren't we already getting an awful lot the Doctor turning Clara into another character like himself? Couldn't we imagine a series where he traveled with a companion who's ability to recover from injury and longevity made her well-suited to becoming a time-traveling adventurer? The Doctor as mentor to a younger apprentice seems like the sort of role he'd do fine with ... since he'd be forced to take on the younger character's perspective, the perspective he fears he lacks, and doing so with the likes of Lady Me would mean he wasn't risking the the apprentice's life the way he is Clara's. (In fact, we're dangerously close to suggesting the Doctor is a sort of vampire if he needs to keep traveling with young human woman and using them like batteries, aren't we?)

Back to this week though, if some folks are left cold by Rufus Hound as Sam Swift and/or Leandro being hokey and his villainy underwhelming -- frankly, he doesn't even qualify as a villain, he was just a henchman stuck in this story's villain role, a role made arbitrary by the fact Lady Me's fading humanity was the real villain of the piece -- then not being especially bothered either of those, the fact that the show seemed to be poking a finger in my eye specifically to say, "Forget Romana, she's not coming back," is where I'm with folks who love Ashildr and these episodes, but find flaws in the gems. Well, that and there are a few genuine flaws in this one that make it slightly less successful than part one.

As a character study, this story is aces when it comes to giving Maisie Williams a chance to shine as Ashildr/Lady Me. The way she mirrors the Doctor as someone living beyond her years, keeping a journal bolster her memory (the Doctor doesn't recall the Mire until he consults his), needing the perspective of the mayflies to maintain an appreciation for the value of lives other than their own ... she's got to pull off the Doctor's ancient and aggrieved air, but Maisie's got to sell it to the viewer with her 18-year-old's fresh face. And she does it. Where she struggles is only where the story let's her down, as Phil points out in his review, when she really can't do much with the fact Lady Me attempts to kill Sam Swift, then has to turn on a dime and convince us she's sorry. The scene with Lady Me and the Doctor at the end banks on us being sold on her having convinced the Doctor, and us, that she's got her humanity back and learned from what she did to Sam, but that never really happened, so the lack of a dramatic turn is merely papered over. We just have to push past it and move on to the good stuff.

The other niggling doubt I have with this episode is how when we step back and look at Lady Me's arc in this story, she basically submits to the Doctor's naming of her (first rejecting the name Ashildr then accepting it) and agrees to a life of cleaning up his messes forever. On the one hand, Lady Me was flawed. She was getting played by a lowly henchman after all, and it's as Ashildr that she lives up to her potential. But the tone of it could be seen as the Doctor mansplaining her to herself. Had this been a Moffat-penned episode, I'd expect we'd be reading a ton of that criticism.

Speaking of which, was reminded in reading one of the reviews of this episode that it's the first written by a woman since Series 4. That seems ... inexcusable. Moffat can't be holding women accountable for the fact "The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky" was rubbish, can he?

(And now I sort of wish I hadn't been reminded of that one, because next week is another UNIT story where contemporary Earth is being invaded by a classic series big-headed species that can make copies of people.)

Clara was mostly absent this week, popping in only at the end to show the Doctor a selfie one of her students took as thanks for the Doctor helping her with her homework and to gaze with wonder at the central console as another adventure begins ... so the Doctor can look at her as if she were a mayfly. He's going to miss her when she's gone, he's already started, and it feels very much like the looks Matt Smith's Eleven was giving Amy on the long march to the departure of the Pond-Williams. He's got to be better at this than he was before. Don't want to see another sulking Doctor thinking he needs to be alone and live in the clouds, etc.


Forgot to include in last week's notes that Vikings didn't know about corn. Before 1492, no European did. So Ashildr should not have said the line about the townspeople being cut down like so much corn. This week, they make up for that by having Lady Me not recognize terms like alarm system and headline.

"Can't we share it? Isn't that what robbery is all about?"

"I don't needed to be indestructible, I'm superb." It's another great line an episode chock full of them, but this one came in the scene were Lady Me seemed to arriving at Malcom Gladwell-type conclusions (10,000 hours to master a skill) independently, when it seems likely we shouldn't be leaning too hard on his scholarship at the risk of looking foolish in a couple years.

"How many have you lost? How many Claras?"

The sonic shades are just back, no explanation. Why? Oh, why?!

The guitar echoing around the TARDIS is great stuff. Of course a white guy my age is going to be susceptible to it though. It's certainly possible the guitar is justly loathed by other fans to the same degree the sonic shades are. It's just, Two played a recorder, and the Doctor should have the ability to play something, shouldn't he? Hope if I lived that long I'd finally get around to learning to play piano or guitar or something ...  

Is this Maisie Williams doing her best work? Or have I missed too much Game of Thrones? She's rightly praised for her work as Arya Stark, but (bearing in mind I'm season behind) I don't know that I saw a performance as nuanced from her in that other series. Every week I find myself almost uncontrollably blurting, "Isn't Capaldi fucking amazing, you guys?!" This week, I didn't; not because he wasn't, but because Maisie honestly is that good. Jenna Coleman holds her own and then some each week, there's no slighting her either. Maisie just knocks it out of the park in these. And, holy shit, I'm just seeing for the first time now that she's back this season in "Face the Raven" on her IMDB page. That's great news right there.

Together and apart, these stories worked. This a two-parter that very easily could've been split and the two would've stood alone just fine.

Asked my son for his opinions of this week's episode, am toying with including a note each week where I capture his 9-year-old's perspective. When asked which character, apart from the Doctor, Clara, and Ashildr, he liked the most, he liked Sam Swift and would like him to come back. I asked him what he thought the most important part of the story was, he went with Ashildr in the background of the selfie. Before I could get into any more of this one with him, he really wanted to talk about Osgood coming back next time, and did that mean it was Zygon Osgood that Missy killed? Or will all Osgoods we see going forward be Zygons and it was the real Osgood who died?

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