It goes without saying…
‘The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived’
Even more than the previous stories this season, this pair needs to be watched together. We were by what turns out to be good fortune prevented from watching Part 1 for an entire week, and were therefore able/forced to watch them one after the other. A good thing, as ‘Girl’ doesn’t really stand up well on its own.
It’s not a bad story, but silly in the vein of ‘Robot of Sherwood’ without being quite as much fun. The Vikings are entertaining, though I am baffled by a village which loses all of its soldiers and still manages to be about 80% male. The monsters look great but don’t do much. The threat of viral humiliation is timely, but I don’t feel quite a big enough threat for such a supposedly terrifying bad guy.
On the plus side, the thing I’ve dreaded and denied all season turned out great. Moffat hinted early on that he would explain the Doctor’s face; I desperately hoped he wouldn’t, as he’s terrible at explaining things and generally not as clever as he thinks he is. However, in this case the reveal was wonderful. It helps of course to invoke Ten and Donna; you don’t get a much better pair than that. And the relevant scene from ‘Deep Breath’ is one of the best that story has to offer. Having felt originally that it didn’t need doing, I ended up glad that it was done.
(Later commentary [DW: The Fan Show] mentioned Capaldi’s other Whoniverse appearance, as doomed civil servant Frobisher, pointing out the parallels between that family – killed by murder/suicide when the Doctor fails to help – and Caecilius’s family, saved at the last minute by the Doctor’s intervention.)
Also, Maisie Williams is a wonder and a delight. Even when her character makes stupid choices.
‘The Woman Who Lived’ stands much better on its own. Of course it requires part 1 to set it up, but other than that it’s a whole and complete story, with an intriguing mystery, great character stuff, comedy and drama in a healthy balance, and a startlingly refreshing absence of Clara. Again, Maisie Williams is spectacular, and she and Capaldi are wonderful together whether as teammates or opponents. Rufus Hound’s gallows humor is much more humorous than I expected. Williams’ character arc – from the girl who cared to the girl who didn’t and back again – is beautifully realized. I’m thrilled by Treganna’s first foray into the world of Doctor Who and I hope she’ll be back soon.
Williams, too, will be welcome when she returns in Episode 10, ‘Face the Raven’ by Sarah Dollard. (Thanks, imdb!)
Next week: the return of Osgood, Kate Stewart, and the Zygons!
With reference to ‘Girl’ above, it’s a common fault of Doctor Who to feature one strong female character against an entirely male background. Nancy (‘The Empty Child’) manages a tribe of mostly male children in an entirely male world; soldier De Maggio and executive Goddard (‘Dalek’) are token females in a masculine sea; Ashildr alone gets a name and more than two seconds of screen time in an entire village of Vikings that should have been at least sixty percent women. It gives them a kind of “magical girl” status – this one is worthwhile, and in being so is unusual among her kind – which ultimately works against women in the Doctor Who universe. The show has come a long way lately adding women behind the scenes, reducing the sexualization of companions, and working hard to give Clara some character beyond “impossible girl,” but as long as women remain invisible in the background, their stories aren’t quite being told in the way we’re being led to believe, regardless of what we see up front.
Bring on Kate and Osgood and the fantastic Jac.