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

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‘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.

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