Doctor Who: 9.06 The Woman Who Lived
With that tease of Maisie Williams' character at the end of the last big Doctor Who trailer for series nine, the internet went wild with speculation over who she could be. The Doctor's daughter Jenny. Susan's mother? Susan? Romana? There has been a lot of rumour and there is bound to be a bit of disappointment after the last two weeks when fans realise she is just a Viking girl who was resurrected with alien technology and made immortal.
But at the same time, we ended her two-part adventure with The Woman Who Lived with still a number of big questions. Is she the hybrid Time Lord legend Davros referred to in The Witch's Familiar? Why is she watching Clara in the present day Coal Hill School? And perhaps, is she Missy's daughter? After all we never really learned about her mother or why she felt so different in The Girl Who Died.
I kind of felt like The Woman Who Lived was just the next step in Ashildr's journey. The placing of the episode might have worked better had it been placed after the up-coming Zygon two-parter, because it just happens to be two separate stories featuring the Doctor and the immortal Viking girl. Here its placement feels like it just wanted to rush into the next step in their story and given the ending, I would be flabbergasted if she wasn't in the finale in some shape or form. Will she turn out to be the series nine big bad? Will she be responsible for the increasingly likely demise of Clara Oswald? Or is she actually going to become the next companion? Perhaps all those rumours about a split tenth series is actually all to make room for her busy Game Of Thrones schedule.
Either way there is a lot to ponder here. Half way through the excellent ninth series and not a dud episode in sight it does feel as if there are a lot of answers we'll need come the finale on the fifth of December. But while this week's episode could have just served as a holding episode for bigger things to come it does tell a cohesive story in much the same manner as the Vikings versus the Mire last week. Dashing highwaymen, a fire-breathing lion man, an invasion on 16th Century rural England from another dimension, there was a great tale here even without the increasing mystery surrounding Ashildir but writer Catherine Tregenna carefully blended both tales into a cohesive episode without either threads feeling short changed.
Here we saw Ashildir playing noble woman by day and highwayman by night, teaming up with a mysterious lion man Leandro to find an artefact that will open up a portal to another galaxy. Into all this the Doctor stumbles, looking for the same artefact - an amulet belonging to another local noble woman. That opening scene with the Doctor interrupting Ashildir's robbery was comic gold. "Don't mind me, I'm just passing through." he mumbles as he clambers through the carriage, startling both the people being robbed and the robber holding them at gunpoint and then gets into an argument with the highwayman, both of them losing their target as the carriage rolls off.
Once Ashildir reveals herself the Doctor and her team up for a thrilling robbery in a manor house with plenty more laughs in store, particularly the wonderful scene where they are confronted by dashing rival highwayman Sam Swift (Rufus Hound) and the Doctor is referred to as Ashildir's 'dad'. And her alien cohort Lenadro is another great creation, breathing fire and deceiving her into opening the portal not to travel with her across the stars but to lead an invading alien invasion upon Earth. The lion-man is sure to be a fan favourite, particularly with the kids, while Hound's Swift feels a little wasted with his limited screen time, even though he does get a great scene where he is executed before a lively crowd of villagers only to be resurrected by the second Mire tablet the Doctor gave Ashildir last week and -potentially - made into another hybrid immortal.
The amulet itself is a rather nasty plot device; it needs the blood of someone living to activate and the twist of Lenadro's invading army makes for a thrilling conclusion to the episode's central tale. But really the meat of the episode is not the plot to steal the amulet but the interplay between Ashildir and the Doctor and the effects 800 years of immortality has had on her.
No longer is she the innocent, awkward girl in the Viking village. This is an Ashildir that has been broken down one too many times. She abandoned her village and only returned home to see her father die. She found herself isolated and alone, losing everyone she loved or cared about and, in one very harrowing flashback, lost her children to the plague. This is the reason the show picked someone as good as Maisie Williams for the part; that bitterness, the broken soul we saw in Game Of Thrones' Arya Stark is present here in this 'woman who lived' too. She journals her many lives without really caring for those around her; they are just ships that pass in the long night. She destroys the journal entries of all the terrible things she has endured but keeps the death of her children recorded just to remind her not to have any more.
And of course one of the biggest tragedies is that she forgets so much of what she has done or who she was. She barely remembers the name Ashildir or the Viking village until the Doctor reminds her of it. And with that her innocence and morality seems to have vanished too - another thing she shares with Arya. It is something used to great effect in this episode; she seems to welcome the Doctor and then resents him for not taking him with her. And she is all too willing to let someone die to activate the amulet and take her off-world, even suggesting that she will murder her manservant Clayton to achieve her goals. Fortunately there is some good still there - she chooses instead to use someone condemned to die for his crimes over the blood of someone who is really innocent.
And there is surely more to come. Clara is mostly absent from this episode, allowing for audiences to fully immerse themselves in the relationship between the Doctor and Ashildir. But when she does turn up at the end the Doctor spies Ashildir watching Clara from the gates of Coal Hill school in the present day. Is she there there to watch over the Doctor's friends as she promised or is it something far more insidious? And on a slight side-note, did you spot the Doctor's reference to other immortal Captain Jack Harkness. Is he really coming back? I certainly hope so. Either way, it seems like the best is still to come.