‘The Woman Who Lived’ sees the return of Maisie William’s Ashildr, whom the Doctor inadvertently made immortal last episode. This episode picks up quite some time later, and is the first this season to have the Doctor mostly companionless for his weekly adventure.
England, 1861. In the middle of the night, a carriage is held up at gunpoint by a masked figure. Known as The Nightmare, this thief has been assaulting Nobles passing by in the area.
The robbery is going fairly by the numbers, that is, until The Doctor pops his head up from the carriage. Even with a gun pointed at him, he’s more interested in what his new beeping contraption is telling him, and it’s leading him straight to a chest at the back of the carriage.
The Nightmare is, of course, not pleased at his interference, or the fact that the Doctor is barely paying him any attention, and within these distracted moments, the carriage flies off to safety. The two stand there, each annoyed at the other for losing their prize.
The Doctor is ready to move on when The Nightmare refers to him by name. How? He removes his mask to reveal…it’s Ashildr. Or at least was Ashildr, now apparently a few centuries older and having long forgotten her Viking past. She now refers to herself as simply ‘Me’. She’s been waiting for the Doctor to find her again, although she’s a bit upset when she discovers that their meeting here is purely coincidental.
Back at Ashildr’s mansion, the two find that they might both be after an amulet, although the Doctor doesn’t want her help. She decides to fill him in on what she’s been up to over the years and we get some quick flashbacks, including a look at her becoming a seasoned warrior in multiple battles, being a Medieval Queen, and even being drowned for being a witch.
But Ashildr is tired and rather bored of her existence on Earth and looks to the stars for a new adventure, pleading for the Doctor to take her with him. Yet, it’s not an idea that the Doctor seems too keen on and while Ashildr goes for a walk to meet up with a glowing-eyed creature in the darkness, he decides to read through the various diaries she has kept throughout the years.
What he finds is a life of pain, having lost those she’s loved, and even the death of her children to the plague. The pain was so much that she sometimes rips out the pages, just to destroy the memory. There are some obvious parallels to the Doctor’s own life.
Turning back to finding the amulet, the two sneak in to the Manor of the Nobles held up earlier and, after some quick sleuthing, find it mostly unprotected in a chest of draws. The amulet shines with an otherworldly purple glow – ‘The Eyes of Hades’, and the two hastily make their way out, although not without alerting the Nobles to their presence. There’s a nice moment here where Ashildr is quick to want to dispose of them, rather than the Doctor’s first instinct, which is to hide.
Ashildr appears to have developed little care for the lives of others, seeing that the average life at this time lasts around thirty-five years. She makes a point about how many Claras there have been who have now turned to dust and faded away. Yet, it’s obvious that this is something the Doctor has regularly dealt with throughout his existence, and it’s made clear when some local thugs attack them and the Doctor outlines that killing them would make her his enemy.
The Doctor tries to remind her of the value of life, but Ashildr’s only response is to tell him “You’re not my Dad”, clearly indicating that she’s still in her teenage years of immortality.
Back at the Manor, Ashildr pleads one last time for the Doctor to take her with him, but again he refuses because it “wouldn’t be good”. With that, the glowing-eyed creature from earlier bursts through the door, calling himself Leonard and explaining that he is looking for the amulet as a way home. Ashildr plans to catch a ride with him, but to do so requires for someone to die, and she has plans to use the ailing butler she’s been keeping around.
That is, until two soldiers turn up informing them that Sam Swift, one of the local thugs from earlier, is going to be hanged. Leonard and Ashildr decide this is a better opportunity, for some reason, and head to where the execution will take place, leaving the Doctor tied up behind.
Of course, the Doctor immediately gets free and follows behind, only barely making it before Sam Swift is executed, and the two engage the crowd in a free comedy routine to buy some time before the Doctor can save him.
But Ashildr still needs someone to die, and while the crowd suddenly calls for the Doctor’s death for the sole purpose of being entertained, she sticks the amulet onto Sam Swift, opening the portal in the sky above as it drains his life force.
Except, Leonard was lying: he was not the last of his kind looking for a way home. Instead, the amulet allows the ships of his people to begin firing rapidly on the town through the portal.
It’s in these moments, seeing the destruction she has caused and the pain she has brought on, that Ashildr finally seems to snap out of the cold and remorseless cloud her mind has been trapped in. She whips out the extra repair kit that the Doctor has left for her, and implants it in Sam Swift, thus closing the portal and apparently causing Leonard to get zapped to dust by his disappointed people.
In the aftermath, the Doctor and Ashildr discuss whether or not Sam Swift will be immortal now, and the answer seems likely, although the portal may have zapped some of the energy of the repair kit. Ashildr decides that her new focus will be to watch over those that the Doctor leaves behind as he saves the Earth. They pat as friends, but there’s a distinct feeling that the two will butt heads again one day.
Back in the TARDIS, Clara turns up for the first time this episode, with a selfie from a student the Doctor helped. But as the Doctor zooms in, he finds Ashildr lurking in the background of the photo, indicating that she’s still around in modern London.
The Doctor gets sentimental for a moment, telling Clara that he missed her, but the episode ends on an even somber note, with him contemplating what Ashildr had said earlier: one day Clara will be gone.
- I’m well aware that Maisie Williams turned 18 this year, and even if she was younger it still would have been acceptable to have kids at the time, but thanks to Game of Thrones, it’s impossible not to still think of her as being a kid. Still she knocked all of her emotional scenes out of the park, and thankfully had a lot more to do this time round.
- Loved the quip from the Doctor to Clara about how she’s always threatening to stop travelling with him because of something he’s said. Cheeky!
- Leonard was a bit of a waste as a villain. I’m not really sure why he was wearing what he was if he had just crashed landed and was hiding out in the garden. Also, fire-breathing? Plus, the ending with him essentially going up in a puff of smoke was a bit of a cop-out and fairly convenient.
- This second part-type episode was kind of the opposite of the first half. While ‘The Girl Who Died’ focused more on plot and less on the characters, ‘The Woman Who Lived’ was very much more character-focused and paid little attention to plot. I’m still confused as to why it was necessary to use Sam Swift at all, when all it did for Ashildr and Leonard’s plan was take more time and make it even more risky to follow through.
- So by now so much attention has been paid to losing Clara that it’s almost inevitable that she won’t go out in an overly heartbreaking way.
- The Sam Swift character was pretty ordinary when he was trying to rob Ashildr, but by the end he had won me over. I hope that they are still working together in the present! I can see some fun banter in the near future (even if the Doctor doesn’t like it!).