Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived Review (or “Keep Your Main Course Separate From Your Dessert”)

As you know, my policy is to only review two-part stories at the end of the second episode.

But I’ve made a bit of an error there because despite thinking that The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived was indeed a two-parter, it actually wasn’t. Instead it was just two linked but separate stories written by different people.

I wish I’d known that last week.

But hey, it is what it is, and so I’ll just review them both now.

Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived Reviews: What Were They About?

A Viking Dad’s Army and a Dick Turpin-esque affair that managed to show that sometimes comedy, serious human drama and alien invasions work and sometimes they don’t.

But it mainly shows that they should be kept apart.

Thoughts – Keep Your Main Course Separate From Your Dessert

Here we have two episodes that could and should have had markedly different tones, but unfortunately everything was mixed in together and it didn’t work.

The Woman Who Lived would have been infinitely better if this guy was played by Ken Dodd

The Woman Who Lived would have been infinitely better if this guy was played by Ken Dodd

Think of it like going for a meal; you have your savoury main course and your sweet dessert. Individually they work, but if you put them on the same plate, it’s far from ideal.

That’s what’s happened in these two episodes.

To begin with we have the comedy romp that is The Girl Who Died. The Doctor is faced with training up a bunch of rag-tag Vikings, without a warrior among them, to face off against one of the most fearsome alien races in the galaxy. It’s light, it’s amusing and it never takes itself too seriously.

And that’s great; that worked. I thought the stuff with the nicknames, the guy who had a phobia of seeing blood (which upgraded to passing out at the mention of blood) and the way the Mire were vanquished was all entertaining enough. I found it amusing and it all seemed to wrap up well.

On that basis, this could have been an episode from any David Tennant or Matt Smith season and would be one that people would think was decent enough and be mostly happy with. Nothing spectacular, but nothing bad.

But then all of a sudden with 10 minutes to go it got all serious with Ashildr dying, the Doctor flashing back to his past (which I’ll get to) and then turning her into an immortal. It was a mix that led people last week to consider that it was a single episode in two parts of its own.

Fast forward a week and we have The Woman Who Lived start off as – and should have stayed as – an episode about the fallout from the Doctor’s decision to save her. Now, hundreds of years and several lifetimes later, Ashildr is an embittered, isolated woman who has forgotten most of her past and lives alone.

But then all of a sudden there’s an alien involved and it turns into an absurd comedy with played-for-laughs policeman and Rufus Hound as a Carry-On style highwayman.

It didn’t work at all.

What should have happened here was that one episode stuck to comedy and the other one was entirely serious.

By blending it all together, neither episode was as good as it should have been, especially The Women Who Lived, which was just a mess.

The slow pondering nature of the Doctor’s examination into Ashildr was totally juxtaposed against the silly comedy, and there was no reason for the alien lion thing other than this belief that Dr Who needs one to fill some kind of quota. It added nothing to the story and only served to annoy me.

Is Doctor Who Becoming Too Insular?

The great success of Doctor Who’s return in 2005 was that it was written to appeal to everyone, and that’s exactly what it did.

"Mummy, Mummy, who's that? " "I'm not sure; I've tried this show for the first time and am utterly lost"

“Mummy, Mummy, who’s that? ” “I’m not sure; I’ve tried this show for the first time and am utterly lost”

Now though, I wonder.

If I had never seen Doctor Who before this season, I imagine I’d struggle to understand what’s going on. I think I’d feel like I was missing something and that too much foreknowledge was expected of me.

While it can be cheap, there’s nothing much wrong with the occasional nod to the past, such as last night’s mention of the Terileptils in relation to The Great Fire of London. But when foreknowledge is almost essential to understanding the point of an episode (like the first two episodes of the season where knowledge of Davros, the Daleks, UNIT and even the Master was important to the flow of the narrative) then it becomes a problem.

In The Girl Who Died, I don’t think it was necessary to flash back to The Fires of Pompeii. The Doctor could quite easily have decided on a course of action to save Ashildr that didn’t involve remembering that his 10th incarnation saved the life of a guy who looked like he does now. Why could they not just ignore the fact that they cast Peter Capaldi twice? I’ve said it before, but if that’s important why did the Doctor not wonder why he kept seeing Michael Sheard or Philip Madoc throughout history considering the amount of times they were recast?

No, that was just pointless. It probably appealed to 0.2% of the viewers, with everyone else either thinking it wasn’t needed or not having a clue what was going on.

Meanwhile, next week’s episode appears to require knowledge of The Day of the Doctor.

There’s no doubt that the Doctor Who production team should be mindful of the show’s past when writing new episodes, but history shows that living in the past can have a detrimental effect on the quality of episodes. You’ve only got to look at the JNT era to see that.

Clara – Marking Time Until She Leaves

I’ve mentioned it already this season but Clara seems to have lost her identity and her purpose. Now it’s like they know she’s leaving so why bother developing her character any further?

"Hiya, I'm just popping in for a minute to fulfil some contractual obligations before I leave"

“Hiya, I’m just popping in for a minute to fulfil some contractual obligations before I leave”

The strides she made last season are gone, and have been replaced by a rather smug shallow companion who was has become so incidental that she was only in The Women Who Lived for a couple of minutes at the end, presumably to fulfil contractual obligations.

Remember how she was originally expected to be written out in Last Christmas? That would have been better.

Random Observations

  • Originally Brian Blessed was lined up to play the leader of The Mire. That would have been so much better.
  • I suppose if Ken Dodd played Lady Me’s butler that would have been amazing too, but sadly it was not to be.
  • I’m not entirely sure how or why Ashildr died. I even watched The Girl Who Died a second time and it’s not mentioned. Have I missed something?
  • For all the talk of the second dose of that immortality stuff, for it to be wasted on Sam Swift was a very poor way to go. Personally I’d have either given Ashildr a happier ending or saved it for a subsequent story, because let’s face it, she’s coming back at some point.
  • Another aspect of The Woman Who Lived that I didn’t get was the way Ashildr knew so much about The Doctor. Before you say that it was explained by her saying that she’d spoken to people the Doctor had met in the past,  I don’t think it was. Sure, people may have known the Doctor but it’s not as if he tells everyone his life story, and it doesn’t explain why she’s so keen to travel away from Earth or into future times. Ultimately, in spite of the wisdom she’s accrued over her 800 years or whatever it was, she’s still someone who has lived her entire life in primitive times. I think that’s sloppy, but you might think I’m being picky.
  • Also, while I get the whole 10,000 hours to master a skill stuff, I really don’t understand how she was able to put on a completely different man’s voice.
  • Other than to give Clara the line about how she’s wearing a spacesuit, what exactly was the point of the beginning of The Girl Who Died?
  • To give the story a little bit of credit, the Doctor at least trying to explain the ripples/tidal waves rules was interesting.
  • I feel I need to reiterate just how pointless that alien lion/tiger thing was in The Women Who Lived. It’ll go down as one of the most nondescript aliens in the show’s history.
  • Done well, these two episodes could have worked like The Ark, with the Doctor and Clara immediately landing in the same place hundreds of years later to find Ashildr has turned into a properly evil despot who needed to be stopped. Alas, it was not to be.
  • It also would have worked better if both episodes were written by the same person.

Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived: Final Thoughts

Ok, so it was an interesting idea for a two-part story, but that’s not how it turned out.

Had The Girl Who Died stuck to light comedy and The Woman Who Lived remained exclusively serious, then it would have worked so much better.

Unfortunately by trying to accommodate comedy and drama in both episodes, and also giving the second episode an unnecessary token alien invasion, neither episode was as good as it could have been.

And that’s a shame because in theory it could have been top notch.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 

 

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One Response to Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived Review (or “Keep Your Main Course Separate From Your Dessert”)

  1. Mad Zaroff says:

    ‘I’m not entirely sure how or why Ashildr died. I even watched The Girl Who Died a second time and it’s not mentioned. Have I missed something?’

    They explained her death with these two lines of dialog.

    CLARA: Heart failure, yeah?
    DOCTOR: Yeah. I plugged her into the machine. Used her up like a battery. I’m so sick of losing

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