Sunday, 18 October 2015

Review: Doctor Who - The Girl Who Died

The title might suggest a gloomy tale but there is a surprising amount of fun to be had in 'The Girl Who Died'...

'Immortality isn’t living for ever. That isn’t what it feels like. Immortality is everyone else dying.'

Titles are a funny business. A few weeks ago we had the head-scratching 'The Magician's Apprentice' - I'm not complaining, I think it cleverly evoked the story's themes about friends and enemies, but a far more blood-pumping title might have been, say, 'Dad of the Daleks' - yet now we have an episode name which would make Professor Song cry a river. You can imagine that if Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat had titled The Sixth Sense it would have been Bruce Willis is a Ghost. Or perhaps they might have given Planet of the Apes the subtitle It's Actually Earth. That's how massive a spoiler this week's title is.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For most of its length, 'The Girl Who Died' is a larkabout tale that seems very keen on being this year's 'Robot of Sherwood', what with its light-hearted atmosphere and medieval setting. Yet it will probably win more fans over than that (I would say, unfairly) disliked episode as it also deals with serious themes, of the nature of the Doctor's interference with history and his identity. The Mire may not be from the top draw of Doctor Who monsters (how many different 'deadliest warrior race in the galaxy' have we had now? Just once, it would interesting to have the Doctor face some aliens who were only the middling deadliest) but they weren't what this episode was about.

Yes, sorry Mire, but there are two much bigger talking points this week. Number one: the surprise revelation of where the Doctor got his face from! That moment of realisation is brilliantly played; it has to be said that Peter Capaldi somehow grows more in command of the role of the Doctor with each passing episode. Was it entirely necessary to explain why an actor appeared in the same show in a different, much smaller, role seven years ago? Maybe not. But it's always nice to see David Tennant.

And then there is the much-anticipated Ashildr. Did she live up to the hype? Well, having not seen Maisie Williams in anything (oh dear, I've just outed myself as a Game of Thrones virgin), I will say that she gives a gutsy performance here though I look forward to seeing her stretch her abilities next week as a presumably much-older Ashildr. In terms of her character, it's funny that after all the months of theorising about whether she would be this returning character of that familiar face, we only needed to look at the episode titles to work out her story. It's just your simple tale of a Viking girl turned immortal. Or is it? The Doctor's spooky premonition has yet to be explained...

On the whole, this was a welcome lighter episode, in both tone and plot - having a story wrapped up within the 45 minutes is a novelty this series. This week, rather than a cliffhanger of 'will the Doctor/Clara survive?' as previously we have a more philosophical question to ponder; how will Ashildr deal with immortality? An episode that transitions from outer-space hi-jinks to comedy Vikings to existential discussion is certainly one to be commended. Whatever title you give it.

That baby from the Teletubbies really hasn't aged very well...
Next week: The Doctor comes face to face with deadly Highwayman 'The Knightmare', a fire-breathing leonine creature and, most importantly, 'The Woman Who Lived.' Saturday 25th September, 8.20PM. BBC One.

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