Doctor Who – The Woman Who Lived (S09E06)

Really sorry for being so far behind in my Doctor Who reviews but will do my best to catch up quickly!  A continuation to the Girl Who Died, we find out quickly that Ashildr is no longer the innocent girl we left in the Viking village.  Much like that episode, though, the story here plays second fiddle to the characters and their interaction.

While we’ve obviously seen the effect traveling with the Time Lord has on Clara, this is more about the unforeseen effects of his actions, however, good intentioned they may be, specifically on Ashildr, or as she prefers to be called here, “Me”.  We also explore here the question of immortality as Ashildr is unable to maintain the memories from all of her time on Earth except by means of a massive library which contains all of her diaries.

While the Doctor with his Timelord physiology is able to retain and remember everything, Ashildr as a simple human, does not have this same gift and her journals take the Doctor through the moments in her life that systematically stripped her of her empathy and emotional connections with those around her, by watching those she loved die of old age, sickness and more.

We don’t often see what happens after the Doctor leaves, and what he leaves behind when he goes. A few stories have given us glimpses that it isn’t always the happy ending at the end of the stories, but only a few.  This episode definitely falls into that group  however and lets us see – perhaps somewhat painfully – how much the Doctor really needs the “Mayflies” in his life.  Without the Amy’s, Donna’s & Clara’s he loses his objectivity and becomes a bit too arbitrary without any consideration for humanity.  Ashildr too has this same failing &, in fact, becomes somewhat of a thrill seeker herself as the bandit Nightmare.

That, of course, matters because of what Clara seems to be becoming. As the Doctor watches his friend become far too much like the person he likes the least – himself – he is also always aware of how fast human lives go by in comparison to his own. To see that awareness echoed back at him in the almost inhuman Lady Me, and to see what he had hoped would be a gift become a prison hits all to close to home. Ashildr’s smacking the Doctor in the face with the fact that Clara – no matter what she may or may not be becoming – is one of the Mayflies, just adds to the Doctor’s growing horror over what that “gift” has wrought.

And this all in the character moments. Like so much of this season so far, the magic has been in the dialogue and the interaction, often very quiet, between two people. The Doctor and Davros, Missy and Clara, and here between the Doctor and Ashildr. In all these cases, while enmities may remain, an odd kind of understanding has resulted, and we’ve seen deeper into the heroes and villains ofDoctor Who, in a way we haven’t before.

With the return of Ashildr, the story on the screen perhaps takes second fiddle to the story about her.  Her growth and changes and eventual salvation by Rufus Hound’s – Sam Swift.  The second best highwayman behind Ashildr’s Nightmare. The – literal – gallows humor bit was actually funny.

Sam Swift, ribald though he be, is meant to show the lust for life of the Mayflies to Ashildr, and one suspects that at least for a time, Lady Me may have a companion of her own. Maybe longer, given the Doctor’s track record with guessing the effects of the medical chips.

The discussion in the pub, and “Are we enemies now?”: The Doctor has pulled back the mask and shown his sadness before, and the sometimes crushing loneliness of outliving everyone you care about, but here he explains why a TARDIS full of Immortals could be a bad thing indeed.  That someone who lives – functionally – forever has a duty to try and save those lives… when he, or she, can. And isn’t that what makes the Doctor the Doctor?

Of course we’re left with an interesting, and fairly ominous to be honest, image at the end of the episode, contrasted with one of friendship tinged with sadness. Ashildr, in the background of Clara’s life, on a mission to “clean up” after the Time Lord. Someone who is aware enough, somehow, to know that the Doctor will see the photo and her place in it.

It is, of course, that final look on the Doctor’s face that we go out on, both here and in the episode. The Man Who Runs Away, watching the Impossible Girl with the pain of knowing their time is coming to an end, no matter what happens or what he does. Peter Capaldi, in one look, laying bare the lonely man within the Lonely God.

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