Summary : "The Woman Who Lived" makes The Doctor face an unpleasant path he could easily wind up on.
Picking up hundreds of years (per Earth’s time) after last week’s Doctor Who episode ends, “The Woman Who Lived” finds The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in England, 1651, having a run-in with a highwayman known as The Nightmare. It doesn’t take long for The Nightmare to reveal herself to be none other than Ashildr (Maisie Williams), the Viking girl that The Doctor gave immortality to. What has happened to her and why is she robbing coaches?
Ashildr is a cautionary tale that is more about The Doctor than the girl herself, as least in “The Woman Who Lived.” It has long been known that The Doctor doesn’t function so well when he travels alone, without a human companion. Ashildr has shunned taking on someone like a companion, and instead lives a life of isolation. As such, she has lost sight of how meaningful life is, and no longer cares much for her fellow men, seeing them as disposable. It’s not a pretty outlook, and it’s one that The Doctor could share if he’s not careful.
The Doctor realizes pretty quickly what has happened. I guess an addict is always good at recognizing those traits in others, and that’s what loneliness is to The Doctor and Ashildr, an addiction, one that is very damaging to their health and those around them. The Doctor determines he must break Ashildr of this habit and help her see the value in life again. Essentially, he serves as her companion, giving her reasons to look past the surface and find the meaning of life.
Because of this, “The Woman Who Lived” is an excellent installment. The plot with the roguish Sam Swift (Rufus Hound, Hounded) is fun, and the monster-of-the-week is OK, though thankfully minimal. Instead, this is a character piece for Doctor Who that uses another person to reflect a characteristic back at The Doctor for further examination. In this, it succeeds quite well.
The consequences of “The Woman Who Lived” remain unknown. Near the close of the episode, Ashildr says she will make it her life’s work to clean up The Doctor’s messes that he leaves behind. Might this be early Torchwood or UNIT stuff? (Doubtfully the former, which has already been explored a bit.) Or might Ashildr mean something else, something more sinister? While The Doctor says positive things to her after this disclosure, there’s an edge to their exchange that feels like everything won’t be honky dory after this.
Stranger still is Ashildr appearance in the background Clara’s (Jenna-Louise Coleman) present day photograph. Ashildr is sporting a sly grin that doesn’t necessarily bode well. While this might be of comfort if the facial expression were more jovial or if Sam were with her, it instead, the way it is, raises the heckles on the back of one’s neck. Is Ashildr following Clara in order to make sure her life isn’t messed up by her travels with The Doctor? Or is Ashildr beginning to actively work against The Doctor, which she says she won’t do? It’s a question of how Ashildr sees things, as there is definitely an easy path here to put Ashildr and The Doctor at odds and have Ashildr sincerely believe she’s doing good.
Thus far, season nine of Doctor Who has consisted of two-parters, and the next two weeks look no different. Yet, I feel Ashildr’s story is not at an end, and we simply must see her again before this year comes to a close. She’s far too interesting a personality to allow to stay away, and allows the show to dig into the core of The Doctor. I’m sure Williams’ Game of Thrones commitments make her availability limited, but Ashildr has to return.
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