The Woman Who Lived
Review by Eddie McGuigan
So, half way, almost, through this season. Half way out of the dark.
It’s fair to say that this has been the most successful run of episodes in many a year. Sure, there’s the odd droopy drawers moaning about this than and the next thing, but on the whole, it’s been pretty positively received. Part Two of the season promises to be a little more experimental – especially episodes 9 and 11 – but more of that at another time.
If I can criticise s9 at all at the moment it’s for its lack of great enemies – the Fisher King and the Mire are intriguing creations, but not nearly fleshed out enough, meaning they come across, unfortunately, as the Monster Of The Week. With the exception of Davros and Missy there’ve been no stand outs. Yet.
Unfortunately, The Woman Who Lived is pretty much following on in the same vein. It’s a cross between a character piece and a historical romp with a fair bit of jolly old banter, which, despite his protestations, the Doctor does well. Capaldi continues his evolution to be Doctor Prime as he wanders around with a Curio Detector. He seems surprised that it detects curios.
Catherine Tregenna takes a darker tone than Moffat and Mathieson last week in the fate of Ashildr and Maisie Williams manages quite admirably to get a lot of age into her young eyes. She’s not the villain of the piece, but that in itself is pretty much a catch all, over designed Any Monster.
The joy in this episode is in the dialogue and the drive and very much in the chemistry between Capaldi and Williams – this episode is very much Clara lite – and how the two old souls interact. The Doctor’s reticence to take Ashildr with him is beautifully played in Capaldi’s eyes, as is her desperation to leave such a backwards planet. The Doctor’s footprint is not as light as he would like it to be, it seems.
Rufus Hound, himself a huge fan, turns up as part of the deus ex machina finale which you’ll all see a million miles away, and is all a little convenient, but he’s fun in the role of Sam Swift the Quick and again gives more gravitas to the performance than you’d think.
The setting – 17 century England – and the Highwayman conceit – is pretty much irrelevant to the piece, it could be set anywhere, and could have any kind of monster in place of the Tharil-a-like we have, but it’s all pretty inoffensive and does what it does well enough.
There are ramifications in the actions of this story, and it’s all a bit serious and worthy and you just know it’s going to creep up again – and it should, or it’ll be a loose thread of Jenny proportions. It’s a better episode than The Girl Who Died as it’s way less bitty and way more linear, and the performances are way more serious – director Bazalgette calmly and understatedly ushers the tale along – but it’s unlikely to win any awards, despite the hype. The echoes of this episode will ring more loudly than the episode itself probably deserves thanks to Maisie Williams and Ashildr but that’s fine – it’s a new thread, and, whilst it sort of echoes Captain Jack (Williams is way less sympathetic than Barrowman in Utopia) it won’t bother anyone enough to complain.