Saturday, 17 October 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.5: The Girl Who Died

We've just rolled upon the hundredth NuWho story - the new series having accomplished in ten years what took the Classic Series sixteen. Not bearing in mind this particular anniversary, we're presented with a welcome return this week of the pseudo-historical, and to Jamie Matheson, whose two scripts for the last season helped Doctor Who to make a triumphant return to form after the horrendous Kill The Moon. The Girl Who Died's publicity ran along two stands - the ridiculous name which brings back memories from Moffat's more arsey period, and the fact that the titular girl is played by Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame. Despite the latter being the main thing I was looking forward to, the writing actually held itself up on its own - albeit in the strange, barely recognisable way that only Capaldi's Doctor Who can. Spoilers will follow.
They don't use these swords, btw. It's just to look cool.
     After the ending of some other adventure, The Doctor and Clara end up landing in medieval Scandinavia, and come across a group of warriors calling themselves Vikings. Upon reaching their village, an alien voice appears in the sky, and warriors come down to pick-and-choose the most war-worthy among them. Clara and a girl, Ashildr (Maisie Williams) are accidentally sent up with them, and get to see the blokes mushed into adrenaline for an alien warlord to drink. When Ashildr declares war on the Mire, The Doctor is the only one who can help the town get into shape, with the aliens declaring that they will return in a day's time to kill everyone in the town. After a lot of thought, the Doctor eventually discovers the town's electric eels, and use's them in combination with the Mire's own technology to humiliate the warlord. In the process of saving the town, Ashildr dies, but using Mire technology The Doctor brings her back to life. There's one snag, though - she's now immortal.
     Moffat said that this episode would stretch the definition of a two-parter, and I can see why - next week's episode is written by someone completely different, and seems to be set in Revolutionary France. To be fair, that assessment has been true of a lot of this season, although I get the feeling that the first two two-part stories did so for much more unintentional reasons. Given that Maisie Williams is the only thing holding these two episodes together, I would have thought that she would have been... more impressive? I don't know whether it was her or just certain odd lines given to her, but I never really got any special vibes from her performance beyond the fact that she's a guest star. The fact she ended up being the main focus of the episode's recurring philosophical debate on the nature of Time Travel came with a bit of a whimper.
     The Vikings in the story were fairly anachronistic, although the episode tried to avoid that by getting rid of the horny-helmeted warriors in the first act and focusing on the Norse people as farmers and craftsmen. You could argue, if you're being generous, that this story is a Base-Under-Siege story, but if that's true then the character archetypes weren't all that deep. The main characterisations that we got to see this week were the main duo, and right now I'm really noticing that difference - Classic Who develops the guests of the week, NuWho develops the mains. That unfortunately means that we're not really inclined to care about anyone else than The Doctor and Clara, and if you don't care about them there's not much left to care about. #
      One of these moments included the beginning/conclusion/mention of a point which Moffat has been bandying about for ages, which is attempting to give an in-plot reference to the reason why Peter Capaldi has played characters in the Doctor Who Universe before. While I was glad that this explanation wasn't given ages of runtime, the explanation here was given very suddenly and quite underwhelmingly - that he picked this face to remind himself of the events of The Fires of Pompeii, that he can always save someone, to make him go and save Ashildr. While it was nice seeing actual continuity with the RTD era, I had perhaps expected something a little more interesting done with it than a retread of "Time Lord Victorious" thinking - especially with the whole "hybrid" arc rearing its head like yesterday's gone-off porridge. 
      Matheson knows what he's doing with these characters, and I enjoyed Twelve and Clara's dynamic this week a lot more than I have the past four weeks. He makes it feel like they're Doctor and companion going on adventures all the time, and they trust each other, and care about each other, like normal. One thing that Matheson is particularly good at is balancing ongoing arcs with his own stories, and developing The Doctor and Clara in a way which is new and fun, but which doesn't make me want to smash the screen. The Girl Who Died did all of that to the tee, and I really enjoyed it - but the fact that it's a two-parter and there are hints that Moffat is planning to drop yet another retcon bomb in the near future is putting me a little on edge. Just a little.


NEXT WEEK: No, Blackadder, I am the Scarlett Pimpernel! We fast forward seven hundred years to look at The Woman Who Lived.

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