It would be unfair to refer to "The Woman Who Lived" as the second part to last week's episode, "The Girl Who Died." Instead, it's more of a self contained episode where the Doctor once again comes across Ashildr, who at this point has lived on Earth for over 800 years and now goes by the simple name "Me". For clarity of whom I'm referring to, I'll continue to refer to the character as Ashildr for this recap.
The year is 1651 and both the Doctor and Ashildr are seeking an alien amulet, one currently in the position of a member of the English aristocracy. It's not immediately clear why Ashildr is after the item, but the Doctor is simply looking to burn time removing alien curios from the planet while Clara takes the Year Seven students for taekwondo lessons. That sums up the surface-level plot pretty well, but there's a lot more underneath that makes this a rather enjoyable episode as we hit the halfway point for this series.
HIJACKS AND SHENANIGANS
Since we last saw the young viking a lot has happened in her a long, long life full of forgotten memories. For one, she no longer fully remembers her village, family and friends of her youth. She recalls only glimpses through her diaries, of which some pages are torn out, with others tearstained. Of her memoirs these appear to be the ones she can't bear to read, even more than the memory of the three children she lost to the Black Death around 1348 A.D. She does admittedly state that she leaves those pages to remind her never to have children again, but you can't help but wonder what happened that she'd tear those unknown but notable, devastating memories out.
All of that is irrelevant now that she's known as Lady "Me" during the day, and by night, the "Knightmare" — a highwayman who robs for the thrill of adventure rather than any monetary gain.
The Doctor burns his way into the memories of those he encounters, and even though Ashildr was unable to remember her life in the village, she does remember the man who saved her from death. There is a notable excitement in her conversations when they first reunite as she expects him to take her away from this solitary, isolated life. Instead, he says their meeting once more is mere coincidence and that he's only here to recover something that has no business being on Earth in the 17th Century. Broken inside, she knows that like many of those who came before her, the Doctor intentionally left her on Earth to find her own way.
She offers the Time Lord her assistance in retrieving the precious item. He initially refuses her, but she claims the valuable skills she's honed over centuries will prove useful. It takes 10,000 hours to master any skill and with over 100,000 you're the best there has ever been, she says. Who better to break into the home of Lucie Fanshawe than someone with more experience doing so than any person currently alive?
The shenanigans which follow are particularly amusing, especially their attempts to sneak by the owner of the stately home as he lies snoring on the couch. It's during this burglary that we catch hints of future plots with the former viking, as she refers to Clara as one of the Doctor's weaknesses.
They finally escape their predicament by climbing up inside an oddly clean fireplace, and out through the chimney. It's not long after that the Doctor comes face to snout with Leandro, a member of the lion-like Leonian species who has aligned with Ashildr, but has plans of his own for Earth.
I won't spend much time on this part of the episode as it's very much the B-story to the deepening history between the Doctor and Ashildr, but the design for the villain reminded me of the creative effort put into the character of Vincent from 1987's Beauty and the Beast. It's really impressive to see how detailed and personable the makeup and FX teams working on the show can make what would otherwise be a cartoonish villain. Needless to say his plot to use the amulet in order to open a portal to another dimension was swiftly foiled. Ashildr, remembering what it was to care about others, used the item gifted to her by the Doctor in the earlier episode in order to save not only Sam Swift, but also humanity.
As Doctor Who is ostensibly a show made for children, even though it has an audience of teenagers and adults, I have to say I wasn't a fan of the bawdy jokes during the execution scene. I can appreciate humour, even risqué attempts at it, but having the Doctor respond to a particularly questionable joke about size felt very wrong for this show and the audience it should cater to. It's a trait of Steven Moffat — and even Russell T. Davies to a point — that should be kept for any of the more adult offshoots like Torchwood, as those jokes would fall flat for younger viewers.
It's recently been hinted (heavily) that Maisie Williams has one more appearance still to make this year in Doctor Who. As we've seen in the closing moments on the TARDIS, after Clara makes her return she shares a photo taken with one of her students, in which we see Ashildr lurking in the background. Her promise to watch over those the Doctor leaves behind wasn't an idle one, and her earlier acknowledgment of Clara being one of the Time Lord's weaknesses is probably a sign that she has some bad, jealous intentions towards her time travelling rival.
I mean, that hug Clara gave the Doctor was just adorable. They really have nailed this best-friends dynamic perfectly, and I'll be sorry to see her go.
- It's an invasion of 20 million Zygons already living on Earth after the events of The Day of the Doctor, but what set it off?
- Osgood is back! Or is she? We last saw the U.N.I.T. scientist during the series 8 finale, but she was vaporised by Missy. Could we have seen the Zygon-in-disguise version killed in place of the human version?
That's another recap down folks. How did you get on with this week's episode? You can follow along with this series of Doctor Who via our StoryStream, and if you like that why not check out the rest of our television coverage here at Polygon at the following link.