Doctor Who series 9: geeky spots in The Girl Who Died

Eye-patches, a yo-yo, Game Of Thrones and Benny Hill. Here are the geeky bits and pieces we noticed in Doctor Who's The Girl Who Died...

While Ashildr watches the centuries pass waiting until her paths cross with the Doctor again, here’s something she might want to read to the pass the time – it’s the fifth of our geekly, weekly viewing guides to the ninth series of Doctor Who, pulling together all of the references and callbacks, recurring themes and motifs, and tenuous connections that we thought were interesting enough to write about anyway.

As always, if you spot something that we haven’t, please do share it with us in the comments below – so far, you’ve proved that we have some impressively eagle-eyed readers out there! And remember – it’s just a bit of fun…

Norse Mythology

This isn’t the Doctor’s first encounter with Vikings; in 1965’s The Time Meddler, the Doctor and his friends are tied up by a group of Vikings whilst trying to stop fellow Time Lord the Meddling Monk from changing the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. In 1989’s The Curse Of Fenric, it is revealed that the seventh Doctor’s companion Ace is one of the descendants of a group of Viking settlers responsible for stealing and burying a flask containing evil entity Fenric.

This episode demonstrates a fundamental flaw of the Doctor’s new sonic sunglasses, in that like most sunglasses they can be easily snapped in two. However, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver was no less prone to destruction; it was first – and perhaps most memorably – destroyed by the Terileptil leader in Peter Davison story The Visitation, leading to a long sonic-less period for the Time Lord (as the tenth Doctor puts it in Time Crash, he ‘mostly went hands-free’). Recent models have been less robust; the tenth Doctor burnt his out in Smith And Jones, and its replacement was overloaded in The Eleventh Hour. Later, one of the eleventh Doctor’s sonics was bitten in half by a sky shark in A Christmas Carol. However, as we learn in The Day Of The Doctor, all of the screwdrivers – and presumably now the sunglasses – use the same programming. 

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The Doctor tells Clara that advanced technology can seem like magic; this idea forms Arthur C Clarke’s Third Law, which states that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. This forms the core of 1971 tale The Daemons, in which the third Doctor works to convince the villagers of Devil’s End that the ‘black magic’ at work beneath their church is in fact the advanced science of a race of god-like aliens. Clarke’s Third Law was also explicitly referenced in 1988 story Battlefield.

The Mire and the Daemons aren’t the only alien races to have posed as, or been mistaken for, gods over the centuries. The Doctor has met members of both the Greek (Kronos the Chronovore, from The Time Monster) and Egyptian (Sutekh and the rest of the Osirans, from Pyramids Of Mars) pantheons, and was even worshipped as a god himself by the Caecilius family of Rome – but more on them shortly.

The twelfth Doctor has inherited the fourth Doctor’s love of the yo-yo; he was seen using it to check the gravity in last year’s Kill The Moon, a trick first seen in the Tom Baker story The Ark In Space. The Doctor’s yo-yo was presumed to be magic once before, by his primitive companion Leela in The Robots Of Death.

The Doctor reads from his 2000 Year Diary. This is very similar in appearance to his 500 Year Diary, first seen in the second Doctor’s debut story The Power Of The Daleks and appearing in several other stories. A 900 Year Diary was briefly glimpsed within the seventh Doctor’s TARDIS in the 1996 TV Movie.

As the Doctor suggests in this episode, he’s no stranger to a bit of swordplay; we first saw him do battle in his first incarnation, in 1965’s The Crusade, and he’s picked up a blade whenever the situation’s required it since. The tenth Doctor, of course, lost his hand during a swordfight in 2005’s The Christmas Invasion – fortunately he then grew a new one.

‘Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’ is oft quoted as the third Doctor’s catchphrase, and is used here by the twelfth, who admits that he’s not sure it means anything. Jon Pertwee famously found the technobabble he was required to speak to be challenging, so when he came across ‘reverse the polarity’ in a script and liked the phrase, he asked for it to be included more often. However, the full ‘reverse of the polarity of the neutron flow’ was only spoken by Pertwee twice – once in 1972’s The Sea Devils, and again in 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors.

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The Doctor explains to Clara that Ashildr may now be immortal, ‘barring accidents’. The second Doctor uses the same caveat when describing his own people in 1969’s The War Games. And the Doctor’s line “Time will tell. It always does.” is lifted directly from 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks.

Modern Legends

Clara once again wears one of the orange spacesuits that have become almost as much a part of new Who as the psychic paper or River Song. The design first appeared in 2006’s The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit when the Doctor used one of the suits found on Santuary Base 6. The tenth Doctor wore the suit on several more occasions, and the suit then resurfaced for the eleventh Doctor in 2013’s Hide. Clara first wore one of the suits, alongside the twelfth Doctor and pupil Courtney, in last year’s Kill The Moon.

The Doctor once again ‘speaks baby’; this talent was first revealed in 2011’s Closing Time, in which the Doctor drops in on his old friend Craig and meets his infant son Alfie – or, as the Doctor tells Craig he would rather be called, ‘Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All’. The Doctor responds to the baby’s crying – Amy Pond pinpointed his compulsion to help crying children as a quality of the eleventh Doctor’s in The Beast Below.

Clara complains to the Doctor “You never tell me the rules.” An aged eleventh Doctor famously shouted this at the Daleks shortly before regenerating in The Time Of The Doctor.

‘Odin’ isn’t the first Doctor Who villain to wear a technological eyepatch; bionic space pirate the Captain wore one in fourth Doctor tale The Pirate Planet, while Madame Kovarian (among others) wore ‘eye drives’ in order to help them not forget the Silence during the 2011 series. The revived Danger Mouse also wears an electronic eyepatch; this definitely isn’t connected, but there are fifteen episodes up on iPlayer now and they’re well worth checking out.

Clara tells the Doctor that it’s not like him to turn men into fighters and he disagrees, citing Clara as an example. This is a realisation he’s faced before; when the tenth Doctor was captured by Davros and the Daleks in 2008’s Journey’s End, he was confronted with the uncomfortable truth that old friends like Martha Jones and Sarah Jane Smith were willing to go to extreme lengths to stop the Daleks as a result of their time with the Doctor; Davros asserted that the Doctor had turned them into weapons because he was unwilling to wield one himself.

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Here, as in Into The Dalek, Clara tells the Doctor that he is her hobby.

The Doctor hacks Odin’s teleport in order to hasten his departure. The ninth Doctor displays a similar aptitude for controlling other people’s teleports in 2005’s The End Of The World, in which he uses his sonic screwdriver to force Lady Cassandra to return to Platform One to answer for her crimes.

For the second week in a row, the Doctor talks about changing time and the ‘ripples’ it creates. In his frustration over Ashildr’s death, he shouts “I can do anything!”, echoing the tenth Doctor’s response to Astrid’s demise in Voyage Of The Damned. The Doctor then makes a direct link with the events of the 2008 episode The Fires Of Pompeii, in which the Doctor argues with Donna that he has to let the citizens of Pompeii die before being persuaded to save just one family – the Caecilius family, whose head was played by one Peter Capaldi. This subconscious choice, combined with the phone call he makes to Clara in Deep Breath, can only lead us to assume the eleventh Doctor didn’t have much faith in his successor…

Ashildr isn’t the first person to have been made immortal as a result of the Doctor’s adventures; when Rose acquired god-like powers from the TARDIS in 2005’s The Parting Of The Ways (You had to be there), she resurrected Captain Jack Harkness, who had been killed by Daleks. It was revealed in spin-off series Torchwood that this had, in fact, made him immortal. Also worth a mention are the superb 1999-2000 Doctor Who Magazine comic strips The Road To Hell and The Glorious Dead, which saw the Doctor use alien technology to save Japanese warrior Katsura Sato from the brink of death, making him immortal in the process. The ten-part epic that followed explored, amongst other things, the consequences of this decision.

The Doctor goes out of his way to point out that Ashildr is now a hybrid. Three weeks ago in The Witch’s Familiar, Davros reminded the Doctor of a Gallifreyan prophecy which stated that two great warrior races would be ‘forced together to create a warrior greater than either’. Davros assumed this meant the Daleks and the Time Lords; could he have been wrong…?

Going North Of The Wall

If you’ve read a single piece of pre-publicity for this story, you’ll be aware that Ashildr is played by Maisie Williams, currently better known as Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones. That character’s sword-twirling nature is referenced and slightly subverted here, as although we see her briefly practising her swordplay it is of no use in the story’s climax. Williams isn’t the only Game Of Thrones actor in the cast – Murray McArthur, who plays Hasten, also played a Wildling Elder near the end of the show’s fifth season.

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There are a few more possible (read: tenuous) Game Of Thrones nods in the episode; the more obvious is the large dragon-like creature which Ashildr summons to scare the Mire – which also isn’t a million miles away from the sea creature featured in the canteen mural featured heavily in last week’s two-parter. There are also the repeated references to ‘fire in the water’; during the Battle of the Blackwater, a key moment in the Game Of Thrones series, Tyrion Lannister deploys ‘wildfire’, which sets the ocean alight and wipes out much of Stannis Baratheon’s battle fleet.

In his renaming of the Vikings, the Doctor references Noggin The Nog, the Oliver Postgate Viking animation which ran on-and-off on BBC television from 1959 to 1980; ZZ Top, the American rock band responsible for hits such as La Grange and Gimme All Your Lovin’; and Heidi, the 1881 novel by Swiss author Johanna Spyri.

Proving instrumental (pun intended) in this episode is Boots Randolph’s 1963 track Yakety Sax, which became famous as the theme tune for British comedy series The Benny Hill Show, which ran from 1955 to 1991. And what better way to end this week’s article than with this video from YouTuber Babelcolour, who in 2008 used a remix of Yakety Sax as the bed for a video featuring some of Doctor Who’s silliest moments? Enjoy!

When he’s not analysing Doctor Who in too much detail, Pete presents and produces Geeks Say Things, the Den of Geek podcast. You can subscribe and download all the episodes so far – including the just-released fourth episode – here.

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