The Doctor arrives in England in 1651, where a mysterious highwayman known only as the Knightmare is hunting for an alien artefact. But how does the Knightmare know the Doctor?
In The Woman Who Lived, we’re revisiting the idea of the Doctor being made to see the consequences of his actions here. Whilst the stakes are nowhere near as high as they are in an episode like Bad Wolf, they are incredibly personal. Ashildr, so affected by the trauma of having to have lived whilst everyone she loved has died around her, and her immortality is directly the result of the Doctor’s actions.
The first thing to say is that this is the first script written for a female writer since 2008, which is really rather mind-boggling, that the show managed to get through an entire Doctor’s era with no woman writing for the show. One of the criticisms of the Steven Moffat era is the lack of diversity in the writers who wrote in his era, something which the Chris Chibnall era did go some way to rectify.
I enjoyed The Woman Who Lived more than I remembered, although I think there are two conflicting tones that struggle for balance and the overall episode struggles as a result. On the one hand, we have the accounts of what has happened to Ashildr since The Girl Who Died, causing her transition using the name Me instead, because the name has ceased to have any meaning, and on the other, we have the attempt to bring the jaunty tone over from the previous episode, trying to make this seem like a romp. There are some serious themes here, of loss and the cost of being an immortal left to take what the show has previously referred to as the slow path. Tregenna writes a decent script, and the discussions between the Doctor and Me are some of the highlights of the episode. I do wonder whether the return of Maisie Williams would have worked better if there had been a longer gap between The Girl Who Died and this episode, as it is a little bit strange immediately coming across Me in this episode. With the introduction of Rufus Hound’s Sam Swift, however, the story obtains levity, which is not entirely unwelcome but does feel out of place, which is nothing against Hound’s performance. He does exactly what the script requires him to do, being a slightly less competent rival to Lady Me’s alter-ego, the Knightmare. It’s a shift the story fails to recover from though, and the second half of the episode is not as good as the first, trying to also cram in the alien invasion of Leandro’s species of the Earth, the introduction and conclusion of which both feel rushed. This is a character-driven story, with an alien invasion sub-plot undeniably bolted on.
Ashildr has gone, and Me is here to stay. Having suffered through the Black Death, fought at Agincourt and been married to a prince, she has had to escape and form new identities each time to cover for her immortality. One of the ideas that I really like is the fact that she cannot remember everything that she has done since she has last seen the Doctor and so has to write down her adventures – the problem of having an immortal lifespan but only a human memory. The books have pages torn out, but the pages mentioning the deaths of her children have been left in to remind her not to have anymore is such an emotionally devastating idea for a family drama and is an emotional punch to the gut. I think that Maisie Williams captures the pain of someone who has lived for centuries, a feat that is all the more impressive considering how young she was when this episode was filmed. Me is a character determined to say that she no longer cares for anyone and wants Leandro’s plan to succeed in opening a portal to allow her to escape the Earth and travel the universe, something with the Doctor will not allow her.
Me is who I am now. No-one’s mother, daughter, wife. My own companion.Me
It’ll be no secret that I found Capaldi’s performance here pretty stellar. The Twelfth Doctor is one of my favourite incarnations and his acting here is good. As mentioned above, a lot of the first half of the episode is essentially a two-hander between the Doctor and Me and Capaldi does this well against Williams. The Doctor’s attitude towards the immortal Me is comparable to his attitude towards Jack Harkness, in the fact that he sees them as unsuitable people to travel in the TARDIS. We have, on occasion, been told that the Doctor should not travel alone, and have seen at least once the dangers of him doing so, and the importance of having a mortal companion is something that stops him from going off the rails completely. The brief coda we get at the end of the story with Clara shows the connection completely and the importance of long-lived or immortals having someone with them to appreciate the little things.
Verdict: The Woman Who Lived was better than I remembered it being, but it struggles massively with a tonal shift. Capaldi and Maisie Williams, along with Rufus Hound put in good performances here though. 6/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Maisie Williams (Me), Rufus Hound (Sam Swift), Gareth Berliner (Coachman), Elisabeth Hopper (Lucie Fanshawe), John Voce (Mr Fanshawe), Struan Rodger (Clayton), Gruffudd Glyn (Pikeman Lloyd Llewelyn), Reuben Johnson (Pikeman William Stout), Ariyon Bakare (Leandro), Daniel Fearn (Crowd 1), Karen Seacombe (Crowd 2), John Hales (Hangman) & Will Brown (Voice of the Nightmare).
Writer: Catherine Tregenna
Director: Ed Bazalgette
Producer: Derek Ritchie
Composer: Murray Gold
Original Broadcast Date: 24th October 2015
Behind the Scenes
- The first televised episode of Doctor Who to be written by a woman since The Poison Sky in 2008.
- The first televised story in the Twelfth Doctor era to only feature Clara Oswald in a minor role. The story is one of the ‘companion-lite’ stories that sees the Doctor travelling alone or on a break from their companion, like in Midnight or The Deadly Assassin.
- Rufus Hound plays a new incarnation of the Meddling Monk for Big Finish, a role he has played in Subterfuge, The Side of the Angels and The Outlaws, among other stories.
- John Voce has appeared in various Big Finish stories, including The Entropy Plague, Devil in the Mist and The Red Lady.
- Struan Rodger played the voice of the Face of Boe in New Earth and Gridlock and voiced the Kasaavin in Spyfall.
- Ariyon Bakare has also appeared in the Big Finish plays The Poison of Peladon and The Players.
- Karen Seacombe had previously played Sandra in The Lodger.
The conversations between Me and the Doctor about what she has been up to in the intervening years since the Doctor and Clara left Me in the previous episodes are a real highlight.
Why should I be responsible for you?
You made me immortal!
I saved your life. I didn’t know that your heart would rust because I kept it beating. I didn’t think your conscience would need renewing, that the well of human kindness would run dry. I just wanted to save a terrified young woman’s life.
You didn’t save my life, Doctor. You trapped me inside it.The Twelfth Doctor and Me
Previous Twelfth Doctor review: The Girl Who Died