“The Woman Who Lived” is much more of a philosophical piece than its immediate predecessor but the richness of the metaphysical musings can’t cover for the paucity of the rest of the episode. It starts promisingly enough. On my first watch, I missed the throwaway comment about her ‘teaching the year 7s judo’ but it was still some considerable way into the episode before I wondered or cared where Clara was. The main focus of the episode, the full tragedy of Ashildr’s situation, is laid out in the first few minutes and the Doctor’s perusing of her journals is suitably poignant – especially her one dalliance with motherhood. After that, though, the rest of the episode just kind of wanders aimlessly around, struggling to find a real point to bringing Ashildr back.
In search of an anachronistic alien artefact (which looks and acts a lot like a Marvel Infinity Stone), the Doctor is surprised to come face to face with Ashildr, the immortal Viking woman from “The Girl Who Died”. Currently living a double life as the lady of the manor and dashing highwayman The Nightmare, she agrees to help the Doctor track down the mysterious artefact. But is she aiding the Doctor or her mysterious glowing eyed companion?
The monster of the week is, again, inconsequential. This time it’s an alien called Leandro, a Leonian from Delta Leonis (we get it, he looks like a Lion) whose chief moment of interest is the possibility when we first get a glimpse and think he might be a Tharil. The make-up is impressive enough but he ultimately looks like a die-hard Thundercats cosplayer forced to attend a Renaissance Fair, His motivations and ultimate plan are hazy at best and the fire breath gimmick seems not only biologically improbable but impractical too. An enemy whose chief threat is weaponised halitosis? That’s only one step up from farting Raxacoricofallapatorians.
Too much of the rest of the episode is wasted on the shenanigans concerning Sam Swift (Rufus Hound), especially the excruciating ‘gallows humour’ scenes. The script, especially in the second half, is woefully clunky, forcing the poor Doctor to deliver lines like ‘Purple! The colour of death!’ and ‘The light of immortality!’…
It’s particularly insulting that an episode that has featured the Doctor horrified at the effects immortality has had on a human has him blithely make someone else ageless at the end because it’s convenient; an immortal Rufus Hound is not an outcome to be taken lightly. The denouement where the Doctor declines to take Ashildr with him is also a disappointment. Warning her about Jack Harkness is all very well (and sensible) but her decision to become a constant companion to the Doctor’s discarded companions feels a lot like a cover version of Clara’s ‘Impossible Girl’ gig.
More of a sequel than the conclusion of a two-parter, it could have come later in the season and perhaps should have done. Coming straight after “The Girl Who Died” robs it of any novelty and lessens the impact of Ashildr’s isolation and creation of her ‘Me’ shield persona. Given the glimpses of her past adventures, triumphs and tragedies since she last encountered the Doctor, why on Earth did they settle for the Lion, the snitch and the space probe? The episode’s claim to fame is, of course, its high profile guest star but Maisie Williams’ reappearance alone so soon after her last episode isn’t enough to hang a story on and celebrated guest star or not, this is one of the weakest episodes of “Doctor Who” since the 2005 revival. Series 9 has been so good so far that I’m willing to let this one slide so let’s all just agree to move on and start looking forward to next week’s Zygonpalooza. Oh wait, one last thing: stop teasing me with mentions of the Terrileptils. Either bring them back or stop talking about them.