‘The Woman Who Lived’
Last week’s episode introduced us to Viking girl Ashildr who through the Doctor’s actions was made immortal. This week we pick up with the character now in Victorian England going simply by Me while masquerading as a highwayman for the hell of it. The Doctor runs into the girl formally known as Ashildr while searching for a dangerous alien artifact, finding her changed into a cold woman. Can The Doctor restore the humanity within her?
Despite reintroducing Ashildr, this episode doesn’t feel too strongly connected to last week’s outing and in fact confirms what I suspected last week: that Maisie Williams will most likely become a recurring character on the show. Williams unfortunately doesn’t get much of a chance to endear us to her character, displaying very little range as Me. However, the recounting of her backstory through the character’s journals helps to explain her now cold exterior, the loss of her children being a particularly tragic moment.While Williams is able to portray a conflicted individual, the main villain of the story is far less subtle. Leandro, a fire breathing lion-man, manipulates Ashildr into stealing the MacGuffin of the episode, a crystal that can open a portal to another dimension. Ashildr believes Leandro when he tells her that he will take her with him on an adventure, allowing her to escape the mundanity of life, but not surprisingly this is all a ruse. After realising that her plans could lead to many deaths, Ashildr regains her kindness, which thankfully allows Williams to show a bit more range though it comes a little too late in the story.
While the coldness of Ashildr for much of this episode limits the potential of Maisie Williams, she is able to leave more of an impression here than last week. Ashildr represents the reason why The Doctor shouldn’t travel alone, as he needs his companions to hold on to his humanity. Ashildr is still determined that she would rather exist independently, I only hope that The Doctor will not have to bring back her kindness again the next time she appears.This week also features Rufus Hound as fellow highwayman Sam Swift, an incompetent thief and Ashildr’s rival. For the artifact to work, a life must be sacrificed and Ashildr chooses the already sentenced to hang Swift as her tribute. This leads to an incredibly trite scene in which Hound performances stand up for the village while awaiting the noose. It’s a scene that started out painfully unfunny and got worse as The Doctor got involved, feeding Swift setups to delay his death. Matters aren’t much helped by the fact that the village can’t seem to decide whether they enjoy Swift’s humour or wish him to die.
Ashildr effectively brings into question the nature of The Doctor’s adventures. He saves lives and fixes problems but then just leaves, never having to deal with the fallout. This week he’s forced to deal with the consequences of his actions, granting Ashildr eternal life when he knows the pain of immortality. Her final scene with The Doctor is an intriguing one, questioning in which form she will appear next, as friend or foe.