Sunday, October 25, 2015

Doctor Who Is NEW!: The Woman Who Lived

Hi there, Whovians! Welcome to my weekly Sunday post, Doctor Who Is NEW! Today, I peer back through the swirling mists of time, back, back, back to the distant past...of last night to look at the latest new episode of Doctor Who

So let's get to that. But first the spoiler alert and countdown.

Be ready to stand and eat liver in 5





The Woman Who Lived 
by Catherine Tregenna  

We open in the 17th Century with a coach being robbed by a highwayman called The Knightmare. We know this about the robber as the coach driver provides quite a bit of helpful exposition. But then the Doctor stumbles into the robbery, rather literally. It takes him awhile to realize there's a robbery going on, he more focused on the whiz bang tech in his hands, presumably detecting stuff. While the Knightmare and the Doctor argue about who is interfering with whose robbery, the coach driver quite sensibly drives off. 

Then the Knightmare is revealed to be...Ashildr! (Hey, from Game of Thrones, it's our special guest star, Maisie Williams!). It's been about 800 years since the events of last week's episode and our sweet & quirky girl from the Viking village hasn't changed a bit. Well, outwardly, that is. Inside is a different story. 

Over the centuries she has learned some varied and quite useful skills (including mimicking a man's voice as the Knightmare). But her humanity has eroded over time. Outliving everyone around you apparently has quite a deadening effect on traits such as kindness and compassion.  Also forgotten is that her name is Ashildr. Her body may be immortal but a human mind can only hold so much stuff so she has forgotten some things like names, even her own. All that's left is...Me. She calls herself "Me". 

But she remembers the Doctor. Oh yeah. 

The Doctor catches up by reading her journals, the only way Me can keep up with everything she's done and witnessed. It is a record of heartbreak and loneliness. While the Doctor is bringing himself up to speed on what this immortal he created has been up to, we discover Me is in league with some...growling thing in the woods outside her house. Uh oh. Can't be good. 

The Doctor and the Knightmare venture forth to a nearby estate to steal the object that eluded them both in the botched stagecoach robbery, a lovely amulet with the heartwarming name of The Eye of Hades (or Haides as it said on the close captioning). Since the Doctor is involved, yes, it's alien and yes, it's dangerous. 

By the way, Me still has the 2nd plot device alien med kit the Doctor left with Ashildr back 800 years earlier. The idea was that she would use it on someone to not be lonely. But Me hasn't found anyone good enough to give it to. Or given what a pain in the ass immortality can be, probably no one she hated enough either. 

On the way back from the robbery, the Doctor and the Knightmare are waylaid by another highwayman, a roguish fellow called Sam Swift the Quick. Quick as in the Knightmare makes quick work in kicking his butt. 

Back at her manor, Me makes an entreaty to the Doctor to take her with him on his travels. Considering that the Doctor has been lamenting that his companions tend to go away, you would think having an immortal companion would solve that problem. But the Doctor says no. Well, Me has other plans to get off this planet. And we meet the creature she met with furtively the evening before. 

He's a lion. OK, a humanoid lion alien creature person named Leandro but I'm gonna call him Leo, OK? Seems Leo needs the Eye of Hades to open up a portal to get home and Me is going with him. Problem is, someone has to die to trigger it. Very helpfully, Sam Swift the Quick is about to be hanged back in town. 

Leo and Me leave the Doctor behind but the Doctor finds a horse who apparently agrees to take the Doctor back to town. (The Doctor can talk to horses, you know.) In town we find Sam Swift basically doing a stand up set and keeping the crowd laughing, trying to forestall his date with the hangman's noose. But a cloaked Leo bellows out, "Hang him already!" which riles the crowd back up. But the Doctor shows up and, with the help of the psychic paper, shows that Sam Swift has been pardoned. But Me will not be denied her chance to leave this world so she slaps the Eye of Hades in Sam's chest which kills our erstwhile robber/stand up comic. A purple ray shoots out of Sam, opening up a hole in the sky from where aliens began bombarding the Earth. 

Hey, turns out Leo was "lion". You know, like "lying". Lion, lying, eh? Oh come on!

OK, moving on. Me has a very abrupt change of heart about her feelings for other people and wants to save people from this attack.  The only way to do that is to reverse the cause of the portal opening: Sam Swift's death. So Me uses the 2nd plot device alien med kit on Sam, Sam returns to life, the purple ray beam turns golden and the portal closes but not before Leo gets zapped for screwing all this up.  

Things rap up in a bar where Sam is having the time of his life getting drunk, telling stories and getting laughs. The Doctor explains to Me...oh heck, Ashildr...that due to the interaction with the Eye of Hades, the alien med kit may not make Sam as long lived as Ashildr. But the Doctor is, of course, just guessing. He also explains to Ashildr why he can't take her with him. People like them need the short lived people around them to remind how beautiful and precious life truly is. Two immortals travelling together is just asking for trouble. (Also Maisie Williams needs to get back to the set of Game of Thrones.)  Well, Ashildr decides to dedicate her life to helping those the Doctor leaves behind. Back in the...for lack of a better word...present, Clara pops up in the TARDIS with a picture of a student that the Doctor had helped. And in the background of the photo, the Doctor spies Ashildr. Keeping watch. 

After the somewhat disappointing The Girl Who Died from last week (mind you, only somewhat), Doctor Who was back in fine form this week with The Woman Who Lived. And if last week didn't make me see it, this week I could clearly see what the big deal with Maisie Williams is. 

Maisie as Ashildr, AKA Me, AKA The Knightmare has to thread a needle very carefully. A thousand years has changed Ashildr and not necessarily for the better. But she is not evil, she's just been worn down a long life beset by tragedy, heartbreak and loss. At any given moment, Maisie has to channel humorous wit and steely cold resolve, compassion and resentment, practiced nonchalance and heartbreaking empathy. It is a most complex character Maisie Williams has to bring to life and she does so amazingly well. 

And Peter Capaldi holds things down on his end with the Doctor absent his usual foil, Clara. While gone for most of the episode, her impact on the Doctor is still keenly felt as the Doctor's reactions to Ashildr refract through the prism of his relationship with Clara. And when Clara does show up at the end, she says the thing that companions should never say to the Doctor: I'm going to be with you forever! 

Dammit! Rose said that! Donna said that! This does not bode well. As my daughter said, "It was hard to see the screen clearly with all the foreshadowing." 

The sci-fi plot of the humanoid lion alien creature person and his space portal thingy was standard stuff, not great but not wobbly either. Which is just fine as the focus was where it should be, on the Doctor and Ashildr.  

A few other points of note: 

The classic series 5th Doctor story, The Visitation, gets referenced when the Doctor warns Ashildr away from the forthcoming fire in London, blaming the Terileptils, the alien meanies from that story. 

Capt. Jack Harkness gets named checked as well. Cool! 

Rufus Hound as a field day with his scenes as Sam Swift the Quick, particularly standing on the hangman's gallows, keeping the crowd laughing to forestall his death. There's more than a bit of raunchy humor. (For example, Sam says he will be remembered for being "well hung".)  

The Doctor's total obliviousness that he's in the middle of hold up at the start of the episode and that funny exchange between the Doctor and the Knightmare was very enjoyable. It put me in mind of the Monty Python sketch with John Cleese as a highwayman who has trouble keeping things straight such as what order his victims should do things and exactly how his ideology is supposed to work. 

The sonic sunglasses are still a thing. Yes, Steven Moffat actively and passionately hates you.  

Oh and before I wrap this up, a shout out to Catherine Tregenna who has written for Torchwood (which might explain the Captain Jack reference) but this her 1st outing on Doctor Who. If she can write more episodes like The Woman Who Lived, she's welcome back anytime. 


And that's all for this post. A blog keeping note: next weekend will be a Double Doctor post. Saturday, I'll assess how the series has shaped up so far and rank the first 6 episodes. Then Sunday will be the review of next week's episode, The Zygon Invasion

Meanwhile there's a new post coming up tomorrow on this here blog thing. Until next time, remember to be good to one another.

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