What a tremendously good episode.
No really. It was excellent . . .
Naturally, there’s a but . . . it’s me after all . . .
and I’m very prickly at the best of times.
We’ll get to the but in a minute . . .
The Woman Who Lived is virtually a two hander; a discussion between the Doctor and someone who has been profoundly affected by the Doctor. And what a conversation it is. Love, loss and how immortality strips the humanity from you; how it beats you into submission and stop you from feeling.
It’s similar in theme to the much derided “Love and Monsters” and although I actually really like the episode – ostracizing me from a lot of Doctor Who fandom – The Woman Who Lived is a lot more amiable and . . . and . . .
Hang on. A woman who dresses as a highwayman and affects a male voice during robberies? My God! She’s The Shadow from “Blackadder the Third: Amy and Amiability”! She’s even taken on half of the name. Ashildr doesn’t go by Ashildr anymore, she’s restyled herself as “Me”. All it would take is a pathological hatred of Squirrels for the character to be a complete steal . . .
But I digress . . .
We’ve had glimpses of this theme before, of course; for example, Tennant telling Rose that
“You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone. That’s the curse of the Timelords.”
Well, as a result of The Girl Who Died (grrrrr), the Doctor has passed that curse on to Ashildr from the Viking Village. It’s no coincidence that she founded a leper colony in her post viking life as a leper is essentially what she has become.
Of course, we only know about the leper colony because the Doctor lets slip that he’s been watching her. Naturally, this enrages her as what she really wanted was another long lived person to agonise with. She assumes that he’s back to take her away to the stars and live the rest of her life in a world that matters. A world where the loss of family and friends will stop hurting.
However, the Doctor has merely blundered in by coincidence and doesn’t even realise who the highwayman is to start with. Naturally, she’s deflated and annoyed by this.
There is a MacGuffin led plot that features a gang of criminals lead by a very likeable Rufus Hound, an alien gemstone and Ron Perlman from Beauty and the Beast (it isn’t, but it might as well have been) but it’s not really important. It was some nonsense about an alien promising Ashildr the world and – more importantly, escape – but double crossing her and attempting to instigate a full scale invasion of Earth instead. It resolves one of the hanging plot threads from last week, but as I said, not important and only there because Doctor Who requires a monster. The important stuff is the meditation about immortality.
Catherine Tregenna has given this series an emotional core. She does that well. She softens and makes human, un-human characters and gives them depth; she makes you understand them and their motivations in a way that other writers simply can’t do. Of course, the two episode story format helps, giving more time to develop the characters but that’s not to take away from what she has achieved here. I mean, we did care about the crew in “Under the Lake/Before The Flood”, but Tregenna takes the character of Me and the Doctor to whole new levels. I mean look what she did for Captain Jack in the “Captain Jack Harkness” episode of Torchwood. She made me like him. A tough thing to do, post-Eccleston.
In some ways, I kind of wish she had disappeared off with the Doctor. It would have made for an interesting frisson between the three of them, but I have the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of Ashildr/Me. The selfie and the comment about making a herself the Patron Saint of the Doctor’s Leftovers suggests something more.
I feel the “Are we enemies?” line may come back to bite the Doctor on the arse.
My only problem with this – the “but” – is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to “Men of Good Fortune”, an issue of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” that features Hob Gadling, an immortal created by Death as an experiment by Death and Dream. A lot of the same ground is covered. I suppose if Neil Gaiman isn’t writing for this season, there’s always the option of rehashing one of his stories . . .
Okay, that’s actually really unfair. Yes there are some startling similarities, but it’s a completely different beast.
And you know what?
It’s my favourite episode of this season by several furlongs.