A stellar guest performance, solid story, and no Clara? Huh, maybe it IS worth ranting on about how “The Woman Who Lived” is the first Doctor Who episode in seven years not to be written by a dude! Following on from the disparagingly vague “The Girl Who Died”, “The Woman Who Lived” trumps last week’s adventure as a swashbuckling romp for Doctor Who, and offers an interesting spin on this series’ set-up of consisting of almost all two-parters.
“The Woman Who Lived” sees the Doctor and Ashildr unexpectedly meeting each other in 1600s London, where the Doctor is on the hunt for an unusual alien artefact without Clara’s assistance (yay!) and Ashildr, in her immortal state, now calling her self ‘me’ operates as a heartless highwayman. Wishing to escape from Earth, Ashildr pleads with the Doctor for help, but he flatly refuses. Unknowingly, Ashildr may have more than one method of escaping from Earth, and the Doctor soon finds himself entangled in Ashildr’s evil plans.
Catherine Tregenna‘s script forgoes any full focus on timey-wimey plot devices in favour of using them as a springboard to bounce forth some delicious emotional delivery from the episode’s cast, especially from Maisie Williams. A sea-change from the girl we met in “The Girl Who Died”, Maisie’s character is now worn away from centuries of living, and it shows greatly. The Doctor himself almost takes a total backseat here – indeed, much like his oblivious wandering through the carriage Ashildr holds up, he’s wandered into an episode that’s strictly for Ashildr. Maybe it’s just as well Clara didn’t show up, she clearly wouldn’t have offered anything of value here.
The focus on Maisie’s character isn’t without its faults though. “The Woman Who Lived” doesn’t really get the adventure going until the second half, with much of the first half devoted to displaying why Maisie might make a far more effective and engaging companion than Clara. However, Tregenna fills the episode with some gorgeous dialogue from opening to closing credits: “I didn’t know your heart would rust because I kept it beating.” being just one smattering of loveliness from this episode, but Ashildr’s confrontation with the Doctor, in which she deplores how he always runs away from things, drags the episode down. There’s nothing wrong with illustrating the not-so-positive side of the Doctor, if anything it makes his character all the more interesting, but there’s no originality on what Ashildr says. We’ve heard it all before, how the Doctor is The Man Who Never Stops Running, The Runaway Child of Gallifrey, The Little Man in the Big Blue Box Who’s Always Running – we’ve heard it all before!
However, even if you have to sit through “The Girl Who Died” in order to make sense of this adventure, “The Woman Who Lived” is still one of the highlights of Season 9 so far. Great performances all-round, a solid if not-too-exciting story and some sweetly comic moments make this a highly enjoyable episode of Doctor Who, even if Tregenna can’t seem to find much originality in the emotional weight this episode carries.
Overall grade: B
+ Maisie Williams nails it! She gives such a watchable performance.
+ Clara’s nowhere to be seen!
– The Doctor must get pretty pissed off when he has to sit through another speech about how he always runs away.
Ashildr and Jack Harkness need their own time-jumping/life-extending/sass-spewing spin-off. You know it to be true.
Rather convenient that the Doctor should turn up at the time when Ashildr is plotting her escape from Earth, don’t you think?
Even the Doctor is now on the hunt for Infinity Stones!
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