‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 6 review: ‘The Woman Who Lived’

‘We all change…’ said The Doctor once upon a regeneration, ‘We’re all different people, all through our lives. And that’s okay…so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.’

Sound advice. Shame Ashildr’s forgotten who she was. Now she thinks she’s The Shadow from Blackadder. Hide your (clockwork) squirrel, Doctor!

But that’s the problem with an infinite life and a finite human brain. The Girl Who Died now sheds memories like we shed underpants (often and with disgust, right?). Ashildr’s grown up into Lady Me.

No, not grown up…’up’ is a word that has a purpose about it. She’s grown all over the place. She’s experienced so much, been so many people, but there’s no sense it’s progressing toward anything. She’s a rebellious wanderer.

A bit like the man who made her into that then?

Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived  Peter Capaldi guitar Twelfth

It’s never mentioned (probably because the story wouldn’t be written for over 170 years) but there’s something Frankensteinian about The Doctor and Lady Me. He’s the creator trying to control his creation while at the same time being terrified of the damage it could cause to them and others.

It’s The Doctor’s Daughter all over again, only with less acrobatics. There’s the sense that The Doctor is trying to correct a mistake. It might be easier if Clara were there to help him reign in a rebellious teen. Her presence was missed this week.

The naïve and scared storyteller has become a cocksure and coquettish rogue, now confined to telling a single epic story by writing her biography in hundreds of diaries. Take that, Pepys, you slacker.

Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived Ashildr Maisie williams

Maisie Williams really does a terrific job of making the character feel like she’s lived lifetimes since we last saw her. Several hundred years of loss in just one week. It’s an even better, and inevitably more mature, performance than last Saturday.

But not so mature that she can’t make a mistake in trusting space-Simba Leandro with the shiny MacGuffin she’s nicked. And despite his plan, and the fact he’s a TALKING FIRE-BREATHING LION, the villain doesn’t really make much of an impact.

Like last week’s The Mire he’s an impressive bit of make-up and costume that feels wholly underused and under-explored within the plot.

Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived Ashildr Maisie williams

Without a commanding villain it’s hard to shake the sensation this is a sequel that didn’t need to happen. As ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ did, ‘The Girl Who Died’ could have left us and our imaginations and comments sections to consider when we might see another impossible woman in the Doctor’s timeline again. To that extent Catherine Tregenna (Torchwood) has been given a difficult task.

You do wonder if it could have been better had it stuck to the dramatic rather than turning into Carry On Dick. The drama is brilliant, the comedy might appeal to some, kids especially, but just as in Mathieson & Moffat’s story last week, they just don’t bring out the best in one another when put together.

After 20 minutes of thoughtful, if drastically under-lit (seriously, buy another candle) arguments about the scar that an immortal life leaves on you, daylight brings an unexpected levity as highwayman Sam Swift drops in with all the subtly of a clown dropped in a millpond. Rufus Hound nails it as the swaggering buffoonish rogue – a homeopathically-diluted Lord Flashheart – but the character itself feels idiosyncratic right up to the end.

Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived Rufus Round Sam Swift

Stand-up saves Sam from the hangman, but it doesn’t save the episode. As much as it plays to the crowd round the gallows it falls deaf to the audience round the TV. The comedy works against the drama rather than complementing it. It’s something the episode never regains its balance after, even when we switch back to a final serious conversation.

But it’s not good to end on a downer. If there are two upsides to this episode, it’s the possibility that we’ll see Maisie Williams again at some point and, more importantly, hear Catherine Tregenna’s words come out of The Doctor’s mouth in the (near!) future.

Aired at 8.20pm on Saturday 24 October 2015 on BBC One.

> Buy Season 9 on DVD on Amazon.

> Buy Season 9 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

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

> Follow Rob Smedley on Twitter.

  • I enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t as good as the story preceding it it is still a worthy sequel. While in my opinion it only manages to claim fourth place in the run so far (TMA/TWF > TGWD > LC > TWWL > UTL/BTF) it’s still a well-earned 9/10 which only serves to emphasise the near-perfect run series nine has given us so far.

    Next please, bring on UNIT vs the Zygons!

    • fatikis

      Much better than the last episode for sure. A little predictable.

  • Trevor Anthony Thornicroft

    The reviewer focused too much on the bad guys in the 2 parter. It was never about them. It was about Maisie’s character. That’s what was important. I read 3 or 4 reviews before this one. This review misses the point completely.

  • bar

    Some good bits, but too much crammed in. I’d have prefered it as a pure historical, with no monster/alien, and just the highwayman plot, the precariousness and preciousness of life, the different ways of dealing with immortality (loved the line about Jack!), and ‘Lady Me’ as a dark, distorted mirror of The Doctor.
    As ever PC was great, Rufus H good fun – worthy successor to Richard Mace – and even Maise W was better than last week, though she still doesn’t convince me – I’m willing to wait…
    ‘Lady Me’ is the perfect name for someone so entirely self-absorbed – her rant that, because the Doctor made her, everything she does is his fault sounds like those who blame God for everything bad they do but still want freewill and praise for anything good they do!
    I’ll give it another look and see what else strikes me, but on one viewing, I found it hard to care. focussing so much on just the two leads made other characters too insubstantial to notice – was that intentional meta stuff so you know how Ashildr feels?

    • I agree. Pure Historicals haven’t been done since Troughton besides one for Davison. This was a wasted opportunity.

      • We’ve technically had a pure historical this very season in the minisode prequel The Doctor’s Meditation.
        but I get your point. Give us something like The Aztecs or The Romans. This is one of the areas where Big Finish has outdone the TV series.

  • Intothevervoid

    I thought that was a wonderful character piece of the kind in which Peter’s doctor really excels. He’s a much more profound and introspective doctor than his gadfly and hyperactive previous versions and prone to think rather than act rashly. Some of the best dialogue the show has had in ages and I think a real highlight of what has already been the most consistently great and ambitious series the show has ever attempted. I am certain Maisie Williams will return – how could they not use such a brilliant new character – and I hope we may see her a few more times. I really have no idea where they are heading this year which is such a lovely place to be as it’s fun to discover each episode – a real box of chocolates – all delicious but different and fun to try and enjoy each one.
    Not a single episode this series less than 9/10 for me. Golden Age for the show well and truly. Peter’s doctor nudges ever closer to Tom’s as the definitive version.

  • John McJohnson

    Another cracking episode! Not the best of the run so far but that’s by default. Can we get Catherine Tregenna back sometime?

  • How is Clara leaving? I’ve seen a lot of foreshadowing this season but this week most of all. It’s a shame she was barely in this story since we’ve got so little time left with Jenna Coleman we shouldn’t be doing entire stories where all she gets is a glorified cameo. Still a good story, that’s 7 for 7, but let’s not waste our little remaining time with our impossible girl.

    • ThePurpleFrockCoat

      I think they are overdoing it with the foreshadowing to be honest and its bugging me a bit. Yes we the audience know Jenna is leaving but methinks Moffat is going to make her exit terribly painful at least to the fans that love the character and I am feeling it even before it happens. Damn you Moffat! *shakes fists*

  • A bit too silly for my liking. Good bits in there but nothing to make it a highlight of the season. Hard to care whether or not Ashildr/Me returns and those Thunder Lions were just daft.

    In spite of that: Good overall.

    • fatikis

      I agree with the Thunder Lions part for sure. It had the potential to be much better for sure. They did way too much silly teenage angst and not enough dark.

  • Doct-Her Who

    IT WAS UTTER CRAP MOFFAG CANT RUN A SHOW TO DAVE HIS LUGE HE NEEDS TK GI CAPLADI CANT AXR AND IS A CARP DOOCTOR WE NEED TO BACS TENNANT RETYRN LR MAKE DOCCOR A WOMAN TL DAVE THE SHOE

    • R K

      Off your meds again, are you?

      • Martin Pollard

        Not even Google Translate could make sense of that gibberish.

        • Kaet

          I don’t know – “To Dave his luge” surely deserves a place in everyday speech. Is it the same Dave that requires his shoe I wonder?

          • Dave the Shoe

            Let’s say it is.

          • Martin Pollard

            Maybe. It could also be Dave the Minion for all we know.

    • Jesse Taylor

      My Babel fish in in nice and tight, I got this…

      Ahem…

      “It was utter crap, moffet can’t run a show to save his fide.. He need to go.. And Capaldi can’t act..And is a crap doctor.. We need to back Tenants return or make the doctor a woman to save the show”

      You’re welcome…

      • Jesse Taylor

        Save his life… Sorry..

        • There are so many things wrong with Doct-Her Who’s statement (assuming you’ve translated it right) that I don’t know where to start!

          • Hedwiga

            Further proof is needed that obsessive Tennant worship does drive you crazy!

          • He has his fans – Why shouldn’t he? – but ones like docherwho, or whatever s/he’s called now, make the rest look bad.

          • bar

            I try to ignore them and am thankful for all those who show fans as they should be, appreciating one another and listening to opinions that differ from their own.
            Happy Birthday Moo!

          • Close, Saturday. But thanks!

          • bar

            halloween itself? ooo – I think you’re in for a treat.
            with UNIT, serious politics, and kidnapped assistants I’m getting a Pertwee 1st season vibe.

          • Sure looks like it doesn’t it? It’s the story I was least looking forward to (because Mr EggMoon is writing) but it looks amazing. I’m getting the early Pertwee vibe from it too, and that’s no bad thing.

          • Tony Gaskin

            God help us, the guy who wrote eggmoon has been asked back instead of being locked up? Perhaps he will do a Q&A after to explain how hatching eggs suddently acquire 4 times the mass they had before.

  • Mrs F

    It was good. Let’s have more like that. Series nine is now the best season ever and the next six episodes will have to be worse than series two to lose that title.

  • Helles

    Kind of loved that. Very different but very effective. Some quite strong meat too – the death of her children, for example. Only negative was intrusive music but otherwise a perfect little gem of an episode that I suspect will become very important as this series continues. Make that six out of six great episodes now in this series. Capaldi was amazing plus we got bonus guitar. Terrific debut from a new writer as well.

  • ThePurpleFrockCoat

    It was a good episode not really the best. Love the banter between The Doctor and Ashildr/Lady Me. Her telling him what she thinks of him wasn’t so positive but she didn’t seem to resent him much either. That selfie appearance was chilling keeping her word she would watch out for his “leftovers.” Ashildr/Lady Me could be a friend or foe. Lenny The Lion subplot was a little weak though. Great performances from the cast overall. My only quibble is the emphasis of the foreshadowing of Clara’s exit this series so far. It was hammered down here with Ashildr’s warning about friends which is in synch with Missy’s parting words in TWF and and her asking how many Clara’s he had lost. I wish they eased up on that a bit! I’d give this episode an 8/10.

  • Misty Corrales

    I enjoyed it…and while the villain was a bit understated, his presence was not for the village, but for Lady Me. He was there to help HER regain her own humanity.

    The Doctor, until their final conversation, could not articulate why traveling with her would not be “good”, leaving her to feel rejected by her only hope at an existence which is hell for a human.

    Last week’s episode ended with a brilliant piece of acting by Maisie — all without a single word. The camera span showing time’s passage also afforded her a chance to act. Without changing a word, she exuded happiness, bliss, comfort, confidence, sorrow, pain, anger, and a promise of retribution. That sequence shows what a force Maisie is.

    This week’s episode shows a strong character, burdened by incredible loss and sorrow, who must forget to survive — yet she always held onto that little piece of hope: the Doctor.

    So yes, the lion was a bit of a prop, but that’s what his purpose was. This week’s villain was not the lion…. it was Lady Me, the tidal wave created by the Doctor, no longer entirely human, tired of her existence and wanting a way out.

    Her intention was not to harm the village, but to escape. His purpose was to help her recognize that she DID care, not to actively be a threat the Doctor had to contain.

    • gaylep

      Excellent articulation of why this episode was so poignant. I’m afraid I’m having a memory blank. What was the Doctor’s final reason for not taking her?

      • DemosCat

        The Doctor doesn’t want a near-immortal as a companion. Mayflies are good for you. They give you a grounding in the joy of life.

        • gaylep

          Ok, now I remember–thank you!

  • Edu Osieta

    The storyline seemed too busy so the episode kind of peters out into some sort of farce, but it wasn’t a total waste.

    It
    has become a disturbing staple Who writing trope that the Doctor gets
    blamed for the actions of those he has encountered before. The whole
    “you turned me into this” or “you did this” is a bit wearing – and this by a supposedly hormonal 800 year old “teenager” – but for
    once the dialogue was kind to the Doctor in giving him a metaphysical
    “airing”.

    The lion was almost laughable and the storyline didn’t
    go to too many lengths to recreate a dark, medieval atmosphere, hence
    the Blackadderish tone at the hanging, which was hard to watch with much credulity.

    • bar

      I think the offputting teen rant stuff was intentional – she will appear again, older and either wiser or more cynical/evil later. Girl, teenWoman, Minister of War?

    • David Shears

      Why should the storyline go to ANY lengths to “recreate a dark, medieval atmosphere”? The medieval period had ended some 150 years before the period setting of the episode.

      • Edu Osieta

        So why water down the plot for comedic effect, with a mini stand-up routine to boot, and in the backdrop of a fire breathing lion? What would be more believable?

        It’s called setting an atmosphere and I picked up something I had missed in the article when I first read it – “The comedy works against the drama rather than complementing it. It’s something the episode never regains its balance after, even when we switch back to a final serious conversation.”

        It wasn’t only me who felt the juxtaposition was off-key.

  • David Gomm

    So wrong, this review. This was the best Capaldi episode so far. It had me thinking: Clara bye bye and good riddance.

  • samwise

    “[Clara’s] presence was missed this week.”
    No, it really wasn’t. the episode functioned brilliantly without her, and was a welcome change of pace.

  • This is the first Capaldi episode that made me laugh and brought a tear or two my eye. The character development was superb and the dialogue gave depth to the characters that I had not seen in a 12 episode before. Sorry it wasn’t, oh,out of the TARDIS, where are we, oh there is a monster, oh we have to do battle with the monster, OK, everyone back into the TARDIS. So predictably dull. But even the foreshadowing of Clara’s demise made me feel like we had a Darillium moment. For one episode, they made me care about them. Much better than a Fisher King rag and rubber monster.

  • DemosCat

    Buy another candle? It’s 1651. You don’t buy candles, you make candles. Unless there’s a party, no one in 1651 is going to waste candles trying to light up a room the way we do it today. Running lights all over the house in unoccupied rooms is a modern day conceit. In 1651 it’s a fire hazard to leave candles burning where no one’s about.

    I thought lack of lighting was accurate to the period.

    • gaylep

      I have a hunch that the writer thought it too dark to see what was going on in the episode.

      • DemosCat

        OTOH, being dark makes it easy to understand why people believed in ghosts, and might jump at shadows. Shadows move in flickering candlelight!

        Looking back at the scene in the room with the fellow on the sofa, he had a candelabra with 5 lit candles burning while sleeping. That would have been considered plenty of light at the time, and the room was well lit from moonlight too.

        Reminds me of an old superstition. People used to believe sleeping with moonlight shining on you could make you a lunatic.