This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
9.5 The Girl Who Died
To badly paraphrase the show itself, a good episode of Doctor Who lives or dies on its story. Fortunately, The Girl Who Died has a very good one. And lordy, that ending should have started some serious commenting by the time you read these words.
After all, The Girl Who Died – the first half of the third two-parter in Doctor Who series 9 – actually seemed all but done 35 minutes in. That’s when the Mire – this week’s baddies – were sent scurrying to their doom with the aid of electric eels and Benny Hill.
You’ve just got to love this show. Next week, can we have tin openers and the hits of Black Lace?
The Mire were good value too, not least their robotic-esque enforcers, who looked, appropriately enough, like a homage of sorts to Thor‘s destroyer. They were useful foes, the mightiest warriors sent to do battle – thanks to a faux pas by Maisie Williams’ character – with a village that was ill-prepared to battle them. Good job eels were in stock.
Anyway, The Mire’s defeat allowed the Doctor to showcase the importance of perception, along with reputation and story. A few useful points were made there. And in truth, had The Girl Who Died been a one-off episode that stopped there, I would have been satisfied. I’d had a rollicking good time by that point in the most outright fun episode of Doctor Who series 9 so far.
But it wasn’t over, at all. And I suspect it’s the last 10 minutes that’ll get the internet chattering the most, and with good reason too. For just as everything was apparently wrapped up, in came the gotcha.
“We’re going with the Vikings”
In this case, it was to do with the aforementioned Maisie Williams’ Ashildr.
In the build up to series 9, there had already been speculation planted as to just what her relationship to the Doctor would be (one of the trailers for the current run made a great play of teasing it). After all, it’s clear that he knows more about her than at first glance. Plus, you don’t cast a high profile person from Game Of Thrones and not find something interesting to do with them. Else it’s like bringing in Sean Bean for something, and letting him see the back third of the script.
There’s more to Ashildr, and this is confirmed at the point just past her apparent demise. Seemingly lying dead, due to heart failure, she came back to life, and in doing so, the episode directly linked to The Fires Of Pompeii which, of course, marked Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who debut in a different role.
Crucial questions, here. The Doctor tells us that his face is a “reminder”, but a reminder of what exactly? Then comes the even bigger question: he says that Ashildr is a hybrid. But a hybrid what? Put it this way: we’re not getting the answers properly this week.
Still, let’s have a chat about them. We’ve seen differing hybrids in recent times. There’s the Doctor Donna Noble, for one. Could Ashildr be in some way linked to her? A bit of a stretch maybe, but you never know. And then there’s, of course, Davros talking about a hybrid at the start of this current run, which seems a more pertinent reference, given it happened just a few weeks ago (although we were explicitly shown Donna here).
So what happened back then? Well, Davros talked of a “Gallifreyan prophecy” back in The Witch’s Familiar, and this in turn is about a pair of warrior races being united into one greater warrior (our geeky spots article goes into more detail on what he exactly says, and what he doesn’t). There’s already a theme of that in The Girl Who Died, given that fake Odin is knocking back other people’s testosterone to make an even better warrior.
But Ashildr is clearly something different: that long shot of her at the end, as the camera swirls around her? It’s not every supporting character who gets that. She’s a mysterious hybrid, and she’s lost her oyster cart.
I think it’s an excellent cliffhanger. There’s little point ending an episode on a moment where one of the main characters is going to die in Doctor Who, because nobody believes they will. It’s false stakes. But ending on a character who may change the central characters in some way? That’s far more interesting. “She’ll see me often enough once she understands”, teases the Doctor (leaving behind another repair kit). I, for one, eagerly await the resolution.
Now we’ve done the ending, anyway, I can get on with the 35 minutes beforehand. Because they deserve not to be overlooked.
“It’s going to be the yo-yo again, isn’t it?”
The episode started with the cloister bell (which has been ringing a lot lately), with Clara in a space suit, and with the TARDIS under attack. Which, of course, was all the excuse that was needed to land in the midst of the British countryside, whilst vikings attack. Splendid.
Very quickly, this one proved a real tonal change from the four episodes we’ve had thus far in Doctor Who series 9. It’s a much lighter episode, a romp through the countryside where the comedy quotient is duly ramped up.
Rather good comedy too, no better than when Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was pretending to be Odin, and then Odin appeared in the clouds. Oh sure, there was an explanation. “What’s the one thing Gods never do? Gods never actually show up”, ultimately raged the Doctor, no doubt pleasing someone in Tunbridge Wells who will in turn no doubt write a letter of complaint. But still: the appearance of Odin was and is comedy gold. If only Sir Anthony Hopkins could have cameoed, it would have been perfect.
But we do have Peter Capaldi. You don’t need me to tell you that he’s an immensely gifted comedy – as well as dramatic – actor, and he’s clearly having a ball here. Trying to blag vikings with the help of a yo-yo was wonderful, but even the training of the villagers was having so much fun with the usual conventions of such things.
Less successful is the continued quandary of where Clara fits in now. At one point here she declares that the Doctor is her hobby, in effect that since the death of Danny, she’s dedicated herself to the Time Lord. “Get a new one”, Capaldi bites back, but it’s clear in The Girl Who Died that he cares very much for Clara.
That said, that’s nothing new, and it does feel that familiar ground is again being trodden. But maybe there’s a slight difference in Capaldi’s reaction here. Mind you, it still doesn’t help that it’s not in doubt Jenna Coleman is leaving the series, so it does feel a little like treading water until we get a more substantive direction with regards her departure.
“Choose your words carefully, false Odin”
But still: I don’t want to take anything away from the fact that this was a wildly entertaining 48 minutes of television.
By turns funny, bonkers and intriguing, Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat’s triumphant script – and Mathieson is making a very welcome return following Flatline and Mummy On The Orient Express – is snappy, pacey and fun.
And in a strange way, it’s the first of this series’ two parters that didn’t feel like one. No criticism there: some stories need room to breathe, some get you to the end of the first part, and pull the rug.
It’d be fair to say the rug has been pulled.
Expect answers to big questions next week. And hopefully, more Odin-esque jokes. Can’t wait…
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