Doctor Who episode 834: The Girl Who Died (17/10/2015)

‘Oh Clara Oswald, what have I made of you.’ The big selling point of this was Maisie Williams appearance as the titular Ashildr, at the height of enthusiasm for her performance as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. Hence, we get her playing another medieval character who’s impetuously brave, outspoken and cunning, rejecting the traditional female role in her society. It’s like JNT casting Ever Decreasing Circles’ Richard Briers as a rule-obsessed busybody. As stunt casting it makes some sense, as the audience is supposed to instantly like Ashildr as much as Clara and the Doctor do – and the script tries to make it clear from the moment the Doctor has a ‘premonition’ about her that she is something special and important, all in service of that final, uncharacteristic twist.

There’s a slight sense that the rest of the story is written around the wider role Moffat has in mind for Williams. Despite the brilliant joke of “Odin’s” first appearance, the Mire are generic baddies and there’s a conscious half-heartedness to the Doctor’s attempts to instil some military prowess in the survivors of the Viking village. Capaldi has to carry this middle stretch, prancing about eulogising eels (a scene a friend once uncharitably described to me as “the worst ever”) while Clara nags him to come up with a plan to save everyone. Coleman gets some slightly stronger material, but she’s very much second fiddle to Williams. The scenes of her adopting a Doctorish tone with the Mire fit with the series theme, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before: there’s a weary familiarity to them that I think is half deliberate. Same old, same old indeed.

The real story is in the last 10 minutes, when the Doctor suddenly decides he’s sick of losing people, has a flashback to The Fires of Pompeii and decides to confer immortality on Ashildr, declaring her a ‘hybrid’ and then abandoning her – another ‘girl who waited’. This will all become relevant in the finale, but I’m not sure it’s justified by the preceding 35 minutes – or by this series to date. To land the point cheaply, I’d have made Ashildr the talking baby’s mother, so the Doctor has an immediate emotional need to save her. Or made more of his grief at O’Donnell’s death in the previous episode. I don’t dislike this episode, but it seems to me to be the weakest of Jamie Mathieson’s contributions to date, perhaps because so much of it has to serve Moffat’s wider series plan.

Next Time: The Woman Who Lived


  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 833: Before the Flood (10/10/2015) | Next Time...

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