‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 5 review: ‘The Girl Who Died’

The Vikings gave us a lot of words that we use in common English.

I saw it on a Horrible Histories once so it’s true. One of them was ‘happy’. That’s fortunate, because it’s a great word to apply to ‘The Girl Who Waited Died’ – 45 minutes of Saturday-morning style fun that should make fans very happy indeed.

With cartoonish vigour we’re dropped into the middle of an adventure, just as Neil Gaiman wanted us to be in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ with The Beatles or Rain Gods, but had to cut for reasons of time. Here Jamie Mathieson gives us TARDIS console pyrotechnics, talk of battle, and Clara drifting through the void while an unseen creepy-crawly makes a bid for her delicious brain. As openers go, it’s the most impressive since ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Mire

Then we’re set down in a Viking village so far in the backwater that they haven’t heard that Vikings didn’t actually wear horns on their helmets. Without sonic sunnies to hide behind, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor does a top Tom Baker impersonation and whips out a familiar yo-yo. He’s softened since the last time he whipped it out in Season 8’s ‘Kill the Moon’, hasn’t he?

The Heavens open, and in yo-yo the Mire (another Viking word, etymology fans): a deadly race who, like a militant Tropicana, have come to squeeze only the ripest warriors for their manly juices, with no bits in.

What follows might rankle those who sat stony-faced during ‘Robot of Sherwood’, as we get a Viking version of Dad’s Army with The Doctor as Captain Mainwaring to a Homestead Guard of incompetents.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Odin (DAVID SCHOFIELD) Peter Capaldi Twelfth

And then it becomes Home Alone as The Doctor works out a plan involving electric eels, some anvils, a ‘rubbish’ figurehead and a feasting hall. Compared to recent episodes, The Mire’s defeat is a pleasingly simple solution, But they’re simple villains; essentially tinned Sontarans or Judoon. And anyway, it’s not really about baddies this week is it? Just like The Doctor, your attention’s split between a straightforward foe and a mysterious girl.

It’s a thesis for another time, but even through other writers Moffat likes to make a mystery of women, doesn’t he? River, Clara, Missy… Now Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams continues the tradition.

Ashildr believes in the power of stories. That’s another Moffatism right there: the power of stories. From ‘Silence in the Library’ all the way to ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ and the many chapters in between.

It’s a sign of Maisie Williams’ envied natural talent that she lifts Ashildr above being convenience or novelty. Were it not her in the role – and had the significance of her character not been so unsubtly telegraphed by trailers – the episode would have risked being as lightweight as that other immortality tale ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Jenna Coleman Clara

Her death is no surprise, but why would it be? Unlike the infuriatingly opaque ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ the spoiler’s right there in the title. Just as it is in next week’s. What is a surprise is The Doctor’s reaction to it.

He’s watched so many people become ghosts and now his conscious suddenly springs out. Do you want to know how The Doctor ‘frowned’ his face? Like ‘how many toilets does the TARDIS have?’ it’s a question that never really needed to exist. You didn’t stare at Colin Baker’s curls or Karen Gillan’s eyes and ponder the origins. To misquote the Time Lord, you never ask why, only who.

If it had to be done, then this was how to do it: simple, poetic, ferocious, and unapologetically fan-service-y. Capaldi nails it. It’s his finest moment on the show to date. The grand old man of time exerting his privilege. And it’d be surprising if such a succinct manifesto didn’t have ramifications for Season 9’s finale.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Odin (DAVID SCHOFIELD)

The Doctor saves Ashildr. Because some days not everyone dies. Some days everybody lives. But living forever? That’s even more complicated, as the unorthodox but beautiful final 30 seconds communicate.

After the dead feints of the previous two cliffhangers, it’ll be refreshing to spend a week thinking about the consequences of someone living instead of fake dying. It gives us a more profound cliffhanger than we’re used to.

Is Ashildr the foretold Hybrid that Davros spoke of? Given what Steven Moffat’s said recently, probably not. But that just makes it all the more delicious. She’s something new.

‘The Girl Who Died’ is a treat of two parts. Funny and serious, flippant and sincere, mad but with method in the madness. There’s probably no other way to describe it. Not even in Viking.


Aired at 8.20pm on Saturday 17 October 2015 on BBC One.

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What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…

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  • Mazzy

    Well I absolutely loved that one. We got some real laughs, some food for thought and further hints about this series’ arc. Capaldi was beyond superb in this one. His comic timing assembling the troops was laugh out loud funny but the moment when he realised his power to save Ashildr was utterly superb and one of the finest pieces of writing and acting this series. Perfect pacing as well. I think this may be my favourite episode this series – five stars from me and that makes five in a row of flawless or near flawless episodes.

    • Edward Delingford

      Capaldi just took things to another level last night and his chemistry with Maisie was wonderful. I am certain we haven’t seen the last of her after next week.

  • Intothevervoid

    Thought that was spot on across the board. Great humour, great acting and lots of portents about the arc. Capaldi really excelled himself in this one. I agree that the reveal about choosing his face was done superbly – it has Moffat fingerprints all over it. Next week though is the one I am most looking forward to and those who have seen it are very hyped. One theme continued is that living forever is not necessarily a great thing and I am sure that most of next week will focus on the curse which immortality has given Ashildr. Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams were wonderful together and I am sure we’ll see more of her after next week. Jenna had less to do but interesting that we got some sparks from her dealings with Maisie and we continued her somewhat selfish attitude.
    Overall, tonally a very interesting piece and I think you could see the joins a little between the Mathieson and Moffat bits (Moffat must have script edited the heck out of this compared to Robot of Sherwood as the jokes hit their target every time unlike the Gatiss episode). One which rewards on rewatch and sets up next week’s important episode really well.
    So, for me this series still hasn’t put a foot wrong and since next week is meant to be the strongest in the series to date and plays off the back of tonight’s hugely enjoyable one, makes me confident we still haven’t hit the duff episode yet. Zygons early viewers are also very positive too. I am still confident that it won’t be the Gatiss one that ends this perfect run of stellar Who and feel more and more that we simply aren’t getting a single duff one at all this year.
    Five down, five different but all brilliantly written, acted, directed and plotted episodes.

  • That was fun. Not in a camp way, not in an embarrassing-to-watch way, not even in a guilty pleasure way. This was top-quality entertainment that had you cheering at every turn.

    Benny Hill music? Hilarious!
    Fake Odin? Love it!
    Spider Mines? Creepy as hell but also very funny.

    None of this episode should work. But it does. That’s six for six now. Another solid 10/10 and I can’t wait for next week.

    • Sophie

      Nice to see someone take this episode in the way it was intended by the writers. A good blend of outright fun but with some really lovely character beats. Think this worked perfectly. Agree that that this series is setting standards we have not had before. Truly something for everyone.

      • I think some people have missed the point and will only see this as a silly disposable fluff piece. There’s a clue in the title! It’s not called “Invasion Of The Mire” it’s called “The Girl Who Died”. People who see it as the former have missed the point entirely.

  • Trevor Anthony Thornicroft

    Er… The Judoon weren’t villains. They’re the police force of the Shadow Proclamation.

  • Helles

    Best so far this year for me without a doubt. Really, really laugh out loud funny. Capaldi – no words left to describe how good he was tonight. The refelection about being the doctor and saving people – exquisite. Think that scene could be THE iconic moment this entire series. Next week can’t come soon enough. Full marks from me again. The quality of this series is insane!

  • FFF.

    Worst episode ever. Is this a sci-fi show anymore? It’s like I’m watching Teletubbies.

    • Byronical

      >Sigh< always gotta be one in every comments section . . .

  • Mr. X

    this shit turned into a kids show for brain dead fangirls, rhey need new writers….

    • JJ

      You want to volunteer? Start writing a script. Doctor Who was originally supposed to be a kids show. Now it’s a family show for adults & kids.

      • I wouldn’t ask him to do it because he can’t use grammar correctly and he misspelled a few words.

      • Mr. X


        • What a mature response!

          • Mr. X

            LOL FUck off asshole

          • What a sensible reaction!

          • Mr. X

            k bye

  • Sophie

    Cracking episode. Funny vikings will give kids lots of laughs but some really deep and sophisticated stuff as well about choices and implications. Think this one is going to be a firm favourite with the younger viewers but real meat for the adults. 9/10.

  • Bulldogboy

    Did anyone else notice Clara’s hoarse voice, must have had a cold

  • Robert Spitz Jones

    I’d have to rank this one BELOW Love & Monsters, … but L&M was written by a child, .as for this one?.. I think it was a hurried plot just to set up next week..
    IMO. It would have been ALOT better if it was actually Jack getting saved, then it would tie in to everything about Jack Harkness
    AND ANOTHER reason I disliked this episode..
    Electric Eels in Norway??..
    The era known as the Viking age lasted for more than 300 years, from the late 8th century to the late 11th century
    and yet,..
    Electric eels inhabit fresh waters of the Amazon and Orinoco River basins in South America, in floodplains, swamps, creeks, small rivers, and coastal plains. They often live on muddy bottoms in calm or stagnant waters.

    • John McJohnson

      Seriously?! Get over Jack already!!!

    • Gio Ciampa

      It wasn’t written by a child – just the Absorbaloff itself

      • Reportedly the child was upset about how the Abzorbaloff was realised on screen. Not like the rest of us, disappointed that it should be used in such an indescribably awful episode.

        • Gio Ciampa

          Not sure I’d agree with “indescribably awful” – but that’s for another time and place

          • My dislike for that particular episode is the stuff of legend in some circles. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating when I say that.

          • bar

            true, but we don’t hold it against you Moo.

  • Lemmy Koopa

    A story with juxtaposition all over it.

    The humor was cheeky fun. Benny Hill. Monty Python (Odin hologram). Nicknames.

    I never did like the “I speak baby” thing, but it worked well with this episode, despite hating the concept of it.

    I loved the breaking of the sonic sunglasses. The end of the screwdriver was a step in the right direction. The end of the sunglasses was also beneficial as I already saw them being and becoming just another overused and cop-out device. I expect a Visitation-Enemy Within esque haitus for sonic devices (leaving maybe an episode or two for another guest sonic device, like AotC’s sonic lance).

    The Doctor’s character development scenes were poignant. I am stoked that the in-universe reasoning for Capaldi’s double cast wasn’t “The Doctor decided to take a vacation to Pompeii to see Donna again.” Anything would have been better than the Doctor and Ceacellius (I’m not going to check the spelling) being the same person. I still would have preferred no reason at all (i.e. Almost every other double casting in Doctor Who’s history), but this was better than most possibilities.

    Overall, solid story. But nothing big about the episode was so fantastic that it would beat out the previous two stories (although we still have a part 2 to see, but given that the only similarity will be Ashildr, I would personally count it as a separate story). It was a story that was good in most aspects, but not completely outstanding in any. I’ll likely attribute this story to The Awakening of Peter Davison’s run. Short (at least compared to the rest if the series), poignant, good in almost every category but not mouth wateringly fantastic in any.

  • Edward Delingford

    Spent a lot of time mulling over this one overnight. I *adored* this but hard to articulate exactly why when on paper so many things somply don’t work, but it does. Best of series 9 to date and up there with Listen as the best Capaldi episode. Looking through some reviews this morning and Patrick Mulkern in Radio Times and Philip Sanifer much more eloquently express why this episode works so beautifully on so many levels. Pure magic and I expect to be similarly transported next week.

  • John McJohnson

    Good stuff. Fun but with a dark side. Want to see more of the Mire sometime because we saw too little of them but that’s my only complaint.

  • Edward Delingford

    Ratings just in and as anticipated for the second week in a row’ they are on the way up – 4.65m! Great share as well – 22%. It just shows that with proper promotion, the show will bounce back to usual ratings. It helped that it was a great episode as well and next week should be even better. This will pull in the usual 2+m on rewatch, so could end up being the most popular of the series. My favourite episode of this run to date. The final 10 minutes were beautiful, poignant, thrilling and foreboding. There is just something completely unique about last night’s episode. On rewatch, I loved it even more. I thought originally that Toby Whithouse was Moffat’s natural successor as he always delivers good solid Who but Jamie Mathieson is now the obvious choice. He possesses the high level of wonder and imagination that makes Moffat’s era so fresh and inspiring. And Peter Capaldi must absolutely remain in the part for as long as we can have him.

  • bar

    Laughed a LOT last night, in cool light of day am pondering…
    distinclty heard a cheer as the sonics broke – they don’t bother me as they’re cheaply copyable, but I know others hate them.
    Given this season’s obvious note of the importance of story-telling* I was annoyed at the crass info-dump about Ashildir – surely they could have written those character notes/biography into other character’s reactions/dialogue. As a contrast Clara’s info dump about how the rehearsal went and what caused the fire, that was plain hilarious and sold by ‘Heidi’ passing out. Again.

    *That lingering doom from last week’s ‘we all have to face death eventually’ is clearly not going away. on UTL/BTF Facing death. Not them; US facing the death of maybe just Clara, maybe this version of the Doctor too. Bear with me:
    Telling you about the bootstrap before showing us is all part of showing us how stories work, how writing works. Moran and Prentice ghosts
    didn’t kill the D and C at first for the same reason as they later left Lunn.
    So it made sense to us when we heard it spelled out later.
    ‘It should be the pilot in there – so why do I think it isn’t? – this was put in specifically to give us the idea, it explains why it wasn’t a surprise to anyone at the end of BTF.
    As the Doctor explains about the signs ‘it’s like we already knew somehow, like the words were already in us.’ Yeah, put there by the writers. Storytelling matters.
    The names – the order is NOT the chronological order they died (Prentice, O’Donnell, Moran, Pritchard), it was the story order. Clara and
    the Doctor come next.
    Goes with tonight’s saga – Pratchett’s ‘homo narrativiens’, the story-telling ape. The story we tell matters. This all looks like Moffat story arc to me.
    I HOPE Clara’s ‘die with whoever comes after me’ isn’t the same thing… but the writing’s on the wall.

  • were we watching the same show? Cause I thought Williams was the worst part of the episode. It’s very clear that she was brought in for the GOT demographic and she couldn’t emote to save her life (ironic choice of words I know). I really hope she isn’t going to be a re-occurring character through Capaldi’s time as the Doctor because it would get me goat.
    However I did enjoy the flashback. It’s amazing how this show can out of nowhere hit you right in the feels (and the strange thing is does it totally by accident. The stuff they want you to get all emotional over you shrug off and it ends up being the stranger stuff grabbing you by the heartstrings).

    • bar

      I’ve never seen GoT nor MW in anything, so maybe the effect she has on others depends on her previous work. But for the record, she didn’t grab me either. I prefered the blacksmith dad, ‘Lofty.’
      we’ll see how she does next week.

    • Tazmon L’vis Sims

      Same thing was said, about the River Song and Donna Noble characters…..

  • Donna Deal

    Loved it. Too often the good Doctor, as a series, takes itself too seriously. This was good, old fashioned, fab, fun.

  • Raven Wolf

    It was more like a live action Hagar the Horrible cartoon than anything remotely Viking-era. For a show that started out to bring history and science to children, it was a travesty of catastrophic research fails.

    The last 10 minutes were good.

    • Mayra Plum

      I agree totally. Plus, I don’t know what’s the fuzz with Maisie. She can be totally replaced by any other actress and it would still work and her death was totally predictable, so it was no shock.