25 October 2015

Doctor Who S9E6 "The Woman Who Lived" review

Damn it. I thought we'd seen the last of those Sonic Sunglasses.

Picking up from the semi-cliffhanger ending of last weeks "The Girl Who Died", "The Woman Who Lived" has The Doctor (noticeably Clara-less) running into Ashildr (now going by the name of Me) around 800 years after he last saw her in 17th Century England. Both she and The Doctor are looking for the same item - her believing it to be a valuable gem (having taken up robbing people in the last 800 years or so in order to stave off boredom), and him on the hunt for alien artefacts on Earth.

My first thought upon seeing Ashildr in "The Woman Who Lived" was that Doctor Who should have put a few episodes between this and "The Girl Who Died". The Doctor seems to have been on at least a few adventures (probably hundreds of times more) in-between the two episodes and I would have liked to have seen one or two of those adventures before going back - as it stands, coming immediately after "The Girl Who Died" makes these two episodes feel like a poorly linked two-parter rather than the related but firmly singular episodes that they should be seen as.

Incredibly minor issue that doesn't even have anything to so with the episode itself aside, there isn't much wrong with "The Woman Who Lived" at all. I said last week that my main concern about "The Woman Who Lived" is that it looked like it might be dealing with issues that we have already seen Doctor Who tackle, and I'm glad to say that isn't true - "The Woman Who Lived" uses Ashildr to look at the way that the immortal Doctor views his mortal companions, which I don't think is a topic we've seen before (and even if we have, it probably wasn't done as well as it is here).

Having The Doctor see the way in which eternal life has affected Ashildr is a surprisingly effective way of answering why he needs companions around him, as well as explaining why he wouldn't want to bring Ashildr with him on his journeys. People (myself included) have complained about Clara in the past, finding her boring and maybe a little annoying, but the way that "The Woman Who Lived" re-contextualises their relationship is interesting and goes a long way towards making me like her more - without her actually making an appearance in the story of the episode, oddly enough. I also enjoyed the Captain Jack Harkness name-drop way more than I probably should have - is that the first mention of any Russell T Davis created characters since Stephen Moffat took over?

The only other complaint I actually have about "The Woman Who Lived" is that the actual story itself (i.e. the appearance of the alien artefact on Earth and the "alien of the week") are very forgettable and are clearly secondary to what writer Catherine Tregenna actually wanted to do with the episode. Leandro (or Lenny the Lion, according to The Doctor) has no purpose in the episode beyond "alien bad guy", no motivation for doing whatever it is he is trying to do, and ends up taking more away from the episode than he adds. The very best episodes of Doctor Who manage to balance the kid-friendly light science fiction/fantasy elements with the somewhat more philosophical discussion, but "The Woman Who Lived" fails in that regard.

Overall though, "The Woman Who Lived" is about as good an episode as "The Girl Who Died" was, albeit a less consistent one. It's fairly well paced, offers some interesting thoughts on the nature of The Doctor and fills it's 45-ish minute long run time with a couple of entertaining sequences, even if they are maybe a little too slapstick-y for my liking. As with last week, it's good enough to keep me watching in the future, and that's all a show like Doctor Who really needs to be able to do.

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