‘The Girl Who Died’
Even with all my dislike at this season I found myself excited about this episode for one reason, Maisie Williams. Her portrayal of Arya on Game of Thrones has seen her grow into a fierce, conflicted individual and I hoped to see a similar multi-faceted character emerge here. Unfortunately Williams’ character is so far quite hollow, she’s a Viking girl with a tough attitude who likes making wooden puppets but, as with many of the secondary characters this season, fails to really create a connection. This is a big problem when the character is in fact the focal point of the storyline.
This week’s episode places The Doctor and Clara in a Viking village which is soon besieged by a false Odin, really an alien who wants to melt down Viking warriors to extract their testosterone. After the strongest warriors in the village are killed, and Maisie Williams’ Ashildr declares war on the attackers, The Doctor has only a few hours to train a bunch of farmers to fight off an alien army. A significant portion of the episode is devoted to the fruitless attempts to train the farmers before The Doctor comes up with a ridiculously improbable plan involving electric eels that saves the day.
The story walks a strange line of farce dressed up as drama, with ridiculous concepts being presented as if we should take them seriously. However the end result is an episode that is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. The alien plot resembles something from Red Dwarf, the Vikings have all the personality of a cardboard box and Maisie Williams struggles to make an impression.Despite these problems the episode does include quite a few good scenes for Peter Capaldi, who has felt much more at home in the role this season despite the dodgy storytelling. His poetic interpretation of a baby’s cries sound all the more poignant in his Scottish brogue. It’s his speech about the true nature of immortality that really hits home however. The notion that an immortal being has to watch everyone he loves die is hardly a fresh one but is made all the more effective due to the fact that it is clearly foreshadowing the death (or at least departure) of Clara. We have known that Jenna Coleman would be leaving the show since before the season started but hints throughout the last few episodes suggest her final episode will not be a happy one (well maybe for Clara haters).
You may be wondering why I keep calling out Maisie Williams in this review and the reasoning is simple. While it might not seem like it, this episode is inexplicably another two parter. The storyline involving the Vikings may be done but through The Doctor’s actions Ashildr is made immortal, which seems to be carrying on a strange season long plot thread about The Doctor playing about with his own laws about space and time. Last week The Doctor changed time by putting himself in that stasis pod, thus saving his life – I think, that episode still made no sense. And now he’s not only saved a girl that was dead, but given her the ability to live forever.
Next week’s episode will pick up with the consequences of The Doctor’s decision to save Ashildr, running into her again in 17th Century England. I only hope that the character will be more fleshed out upon her return, particularly as she does have the potential to be a recurring character on the show. Also I would hate for this episode to be a complete waste as for now it at least could be known as the episode that introduces her character.