Doctor Who: 9.6 The Woman Who Lived Review

When bloody Prince John from Disney’s Robin Hood showed up, the entire thing derailed.

When I come to, I see that Doctor Who has relocated us to under some lovely bridge.

“What are you doing?” I ask them groggily.

“See, I found this really lovely…beer bottle,” says Doctor Who, holding it up. It is a nice beer bottle, to be fair. “And I found all this dirt. I’m going to put the bottle in the dirt as a metaphor for this episode.”

“So you’re going to bury something really good in a lot of stuff that’s completely unnecessary, and maybe even a little detrimental, to the nature and purpose of the said object?”

“Yes, exactly!”

“Right…” I say as Doctor Who gets to work. “Mind if I go back to sleep?”

“Not at all.”

“Cheers.” I murmur, and I’m out cold again before my head hits the concrete.

 

Whether or not you want to argue the technicalities of two-parter episodes (recent cases have resulted in me throwing chairs out of windows and screaming) this episode carried directly over from the last in what is undeniably the third continuing plot arc in a row of this season. URGH. But as the titles rolled by I let it go with some difficulty, and thought: Fine. What I’ll look for in this episode is whether or not it explores and closes Ashildr’s story in a way that meant it was worth another episode.

The experiment is done, the results are in, and I can tell you…that it absolutely did not. To no surprise, really. In fact it says on this bit of paper here that the official conclusion is: why do you keep expecting anything from this show, you know it’s going to disappoint you. And in small print, it says: why expect anything from anyone really. The computer was having an off day, but the results are conclusive. This story was not worth another episode that came directly after its introduction. Would it have been better if it had appeared later on? Absolutely. I don’t know by how much, but I’d bet on a noticeable margin. As it was, what should have been the golden core of this episode was smothered by forty five meaningless minutes of mucking about. Hence the beer-bottle-buried-in-dirt-analogy.

So the Doctor turns up in Edwardian England looking for a bit of alien tech that shouldn’t be on the planet, minus Clara (because this episode didn’t have room for two women who’s entire existence is centred around him) and conveniently runs into the now immortal Ashildr – no, sorry, Arya – SORRY, “Me” – who has turned highwayman for a laugh and something to do. She doesn’t remember her real name, has trouble remembering her village, and in the centuries that she has spent on her own she’s become a product of the moment, with only her journals to remind her of the events of her prolonged life. Some memories have been torn out, but she keeps in the entries of the children she lost during the Black Death. “To remind me not to have any more babies,” she said dismissively. “Good,” I whispered gleefully, leaning forward.  “Give me the consequences to the Doctor playing God. Give me a bitter human gotten bored with the novelty of living forever.”

Then bloody Prince John from Disney’s Robin Hood showed up, and the entire thing derailed.

In typical Doctor Who style, the show ducked out of committing to something important and ran off to do something else. I’ll grant it that, out of all the times it’s pulled this stunt, this episode was the one that talked about it frequently and made allusions back to it whenever Me got a bit too reckless with other people’s lives for the Doctor’s liking, but it was still way off the mark. I complain about the pacing of these episodes each week without fail, but it was so off in this episode that it wasn’t so much off the beaten track as it was deep within the forest and starving to death. The authenticity that I was hoping for Ashildr/Me and her character development was lost. I get what this episode was aiming for, but it missed and hit me in the face instead.

What I was looking for in this episode did come back at the end though, shamefacedly, after a lot of screaming and running around. And because I’d made such a fuss about wanting it, I stuck around to listen. And it was good. The dynamic of friend-or-foe-because-I’ve-handed-them-too-much-power is really great, and I could sense it was there, but it didn’t hit home. This episode felt clumsy, going for the big themes because it had some big names behind it but falling too short. Or maybe my expectations were high. I like complicated and dramatic, and I’ve had it from Doctor Who before. So why not now? Did I grow too old and sour to enjoy the simple things? Am I needlessly seeking something greater from the show that I loved, expecting wrongly that it had grown up with me? What if things never change? What if we always stay the same and –

 

“Look!”

I turn around. I don’t remember waking up, but here I am, having apparently been conducting a monologue at a wall. In the meantime, Doctor Who has collected all the dirt it could find and made a really big pile.

“Is that what you’ve been doing this whole time?”

“Yeah, but you said yourself that you didn’t expect much else. And look at how big it is!” Doctor Who says happily, patting more dirt down.

“I did, didn’t I?” I say quietly. I have to admit, it is a very impressive pile of dirt. It would appear that Doctor Who has done its very best out of what it had. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so harsh.

“Do you need a hand?”

“No, I’m fine! We should probably get a move on, anyway. Next week I’m using some recycled characters and plots.”

I bite my retort back. “Great.” I say, with as much faux enthusiasm I can muster. “Great.”

Categories
Television
Nicola Peard

Nicola is a creative writing student based in London. When she’s not very hard at work on all the writing business, she’s playing video games, reading about video games, writing about video games and making videos about video games with her pals at Clever Girl Gaming. She also procrastinates on an Olympic level, and is sure you’ve got something you should be doing too.

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