Sunday 18 October 2015

Reviews in Time & Space: The Girl Who Died

Doctor Who s09e05 - The Girl Who Died

Other than the promised return of Daleks and Zygons, The Girl Who Died (along with it's companion story The Woman Who Lived) has probably been the most talked about and anticipated story of this season of Doctor Who. As well as co-starring Game of Thrones superstar Maisie Williams, this is another one penned by Jamie Mathieson - the man behind previous season highlights Flatline and Mummy on the Orient Express. However there is also another interesting secret behind this episode. Co-written by Moffat himself, The Girl Who Died is the first of a two-part story which also features a different co-writer behind the next part. Intriguing and ambitious - two things I definitely want out of a Doctor Who episode.

The death of the Sonic Sunglasses?
And the fandom cheered

Following a brief little jaunt in space, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on Earth and captured by Vikings. The Doctor has a plan to get out of captivity by pretending to be the Viking God Odin, but it doesn't quite go according to plan when another man claiming to be Odin appears in the clouds. What follows is the town's strongest people being taken giant armoured beings, along with Clara and Ashildr - the daughter of one of the Vikings.

"Odin" and the armoured figures are quickly identified as the Mire, and when Ashildr declares war on the war-like species their leader gives the town 24 hours to prepare themselves for battle. Without a clear plan, it's up to the Doctor to prepare the remnants of the town - people that have never fought before in their lives, for a battle they may not have any chance of winning.

Ashildr and Clara
"Compared to the things I've seen in the Seven Kingdoms, you're nothing."

So this week is all about Vikings, and rather anachronistic ones at. While I'm sure that's likely to irritate some people, Doctor Who has never struck me as a show overly concerned with historical accuracy so I can't say it bothered me that much - especially in episodes such as this. Despite the heavier implications toward the end of the story, The Girl Who Died for the most part is a lighter story more akin to the rather divisive Robot of Sherwood from last year. The aliens are only there to get a story going, and the focus is squarely on the Doctor and Clara integrating amongst a ragtag bunch of "historical" figures.

Anyone who's seen Game of Thrones will know what a great actor Maisie Williams is, so having her turn up on Doctor Who (and in two episodes no less) is a fantastic treat. Even before the audience knows about Ashildr's fate the character has this brilliant presence in the episode where she doesn't quite fit, leading to wonder why and/or what's about the happen. As well as nicely delving into the concept of immortality through provoking dialogue ("Immortality is everyone else dying."), that final time-lapse sequence of Ashildr and her expression gradually changing is the most striking part of the entire episode. Games of Thrones filming schedule means we'll most likely never get Ashildr as a full-time companion, but at the very least this episode and next week's will give us a taste of what that could be like.

The Mire
Odin's hanging with a new crowd

As mentioned earlier, the Mire themselves are pretty unremarkable. "Odin"'s Teletubbies-esque debut is worth a chuckle, but the Judoon-like battle suits and alien makeup underneath don't feel like anything that the show hasn't done a billion times before. Ultimately this episode was all about ridiculing the race in the most humiliating way possible to them, so I can somewhat understand why making them really threatening wouldn't be a priority. And one for the Classic Who fans out there - did anyone immediately think of The Pirate Planet when they saw Odin?

But perhaps the most important element of this episode to a lot of people was the fact that it finally addressed the reason behind this incarnation of the Doctor taking on the face that he did, a face previously worn by Caecilius in the season four episode The Fires of Pompeii (and technically John Frobisher in Torchwood's Children of the Earth, but that's irrelevant here). An actor playing a minor role in Doctor Who before becoming something more isn't a new thing (the most important example being Colin Baker) but with the confirmation upon Capaldi's casting that this is something that would be addressed expectations were pretty high. And to give it credit, The Girl Who Died handles it brilliantly. It isn't some massive game-changing plot thread that'll change the course of Who forever, it's a reminder - a reminder of who the Doctor is and that he saves people. It feels more relevant than ever for this version of the character, and serves as a brilliant callback to one of season four's finest episodes.

Flashback to Caecilius
And suddenly it all makes sense

On the surface The Girl Who Died might seem like simply another harmless Doctor Who romp, but it's standing as the piece of a two-part story that's also not quite a two-partner has definitely got my attention. Both Capaldi and Coleman are on top form, and Maisie Williams proves to be just as good a guest star as everyone expected her to be - if not better. Another success for Mathieson? I think so.

No comments: