Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived
Do you ever think or care what happens after you've flown away? I live in the world you leave behind...because you abandoned me to it.
The following part review/part recap/mostly ramblings contains spoilers.
I really loved Peter Capaldi's debut season as the Doctor. I had no doubts that I would. Change being a regular and major part of Doctor Who, I'm always receptive to the new guy even while mourning the last. I welcome him with open arms, and then he proves to be interesting and endearing in his own way, playing different aspects of and sides to the same character. In a Doctor's first season, we get acquainted with a new face, attitude and personality just as the Doctor is getting to know himself all over again, and the actor gets to imbue his own life into the well-established character. What a great experience that is.
As I have come to expect, there was no shortage of incredible imagination, emotion, or stories; episodes like "Listen" and the two-parter "Dark Water" and "Death in Heaven" being outstanding examples. Peter Capaldi's Doctor, though harsh and alien at the start, became more relatable as the season progressed and he absolutely embodied the character. He is equal parts odd and whimsical and funny and aloof and brilliant...and never forget poignant. And now season 9 has really hit the ground running and has already given season 8 a run for its money with three brilliant two-parters.
In "The Girl Who Died," the little Viking village the Doctor and Clara have landed in has a small problem with alien invaders posing as gods. In a culling of the warriors, Clara gets transported aboard their ship that no one ever comes back from, and the Doctor again thinks he's lost her. Poor guy. He's lost so many, but he gets Clara back. The villagers want to fight, particularly a brave girl named Ashildr (Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones). The Doctor wants to leave, knowing there's no way they can win and that everyone will be slaughtered. Clara convinces him this is who he is, and he comes up with one of his patented last minute, stroke of brilliance with a heaping of luck plans.
Then when the aliens have been sent packing with their tails between their legs that's when tragedy strikes. Ashildr's been drained like a battery after using her imagination to scare away the aliens with their own technology. This really gets the Doctor down. In a quiet moment, which this series does so well, he tells Clara that he's sick of losing people.
Look at you...with your eyes, your never giving up to anger, your kindness. And one day the memory of that will hurt so much I won't be able to breathe, and I'll do what I always do. I'll get in my box and I'll run and I'll run in case all the pain ever catches up. And every place I go, it will be there!
But that's when the Doctor remembers what has been eluding him from the first time he saw his face in "Deep Breath." When he hilariously asked a homeless man in an alley, "Who frowned me this face?" and went on about his "attack eyebrows," all while still dressed in a nightshirt. Since he brought it up, fans knew it had to be more significant than just an actor who was also a fan getting his dream job. The payoff was a while in coming but saved for just the right moment.
I know where I got this face and I know what it's for!
Okay, what's it for?
To remind me. To hold me to the mark. I'm the Doctor, and I save people. And if anybody happens to be listening, and you've got any kind of a problem with that, to Hell with you!
In a montage from the David Tennant episode that Peter Capaldi was in, "The Fires of Pompeii," we get to relive the moment we (or at least I) fell in love with our long gone Donna Noble begging the Doctor to save just one person. Donna made him realize he could save someone even if he couldn't save them all. He saved a family and chose the face of the father, Caecilius, as a reminder. And that, kids, is how a guest star on a sci-fi series can years down the line become the star of that series, even though he's playing a different character. And it's awesome.
But things don't always go the way the Doctor hopes. The final scene of "The Girl Who Lived" starts with a happy Ashildr getting another chance at life. Sadly, though, she's the only one of her kind and the Doctor has left her behind. As the years pass and the centuries turn, signified by innumerable sunsets as she remains the same age, her face turns from happy to be alive to grim with the understanding she will always lose those she loves and forever be alone. A very dark end to that wonderful realization of the Doctor's.
Following that we have "The Woman Who Lived." Unlike the Doctor, Ashildr had no worlds to save, no companion to keep her sane and caring, no way to escape her pain except to lock it away. The Doctor runs, but the pain is always there. This scene is another affecting testament to the brilliance of this season.
I didn't know that your heart would rust because I kept it beating. I didn't think that 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 Doctor saying he didn't know Ashildr's heart would rust will likely be my favorite line of the season. It reminds me of a line from The Blacklist: "Beneath the iron and rust beats the heart of a man swimming in immeasurable grief." It elegantly describes what could happen to someone if their life was so long, and the lives of their loved ones so fleeting, that the mountain of loss was too much to bear.
It was a memorable moment in an unforgettable episode. The torment in Ashildr's words and what the Doctor felt for her was beautifully portrayed by Maisie and Peter. Earlier, the Doctor had insisted he knew Ashildr wasn't as cold and uncaring as she was pretending to be, and here he seemed stunned to find out he had done so much damage by saving her. He's sitting there tied up, listening to what became of her, trying to think of a way out, something to say to change her mind. In a nice touch, he kept glancing away from her eyes, presumably looking at her chest, hoping he could reach the heart that used to be there.
It's great storytelling when they include those moments that remind the Doctor that he can do as much harm as good, that choices to help can also hurt. It sure isn't an easy life being an immortal time traveler, going wherever you want because you crave new experiences, getting involved in the affairs of others because they are a problem to solve and then getting involved emotionally. Luckily for the Doctor, he usually has someone that reminds him who he is and who he needs to be.
And, oh, that last scene between Ashildr and the Doctor.
So are we enemies now?
Of course not. Enemies are never a problem. It's your friends you have to watch out for. And, my friend, I'll be watching out for you.
Ashildr, I think I'm very glad I saved you.
Oh, I think everyone will be.
It the kind of scene that makes you smile, maybe brings tear, and gives you chills at the same time.
And then there was the hug at the very end. I know it's wishful thinking, but if only every episode could end like this...
If you missed these episodes or want to watch them again (Who wouldn't?), here are a few ways to do just that.
The Girl Who Died is also available on AMC.com for the next 8 days and The Woman Who Lived will be up for 2 more weeks. Episodes are also on iTunes and on your BBC America On Demand channel if available. And don't forget to watch on Saturdays at 9 PM Eastern on BBC America.
Alrighty, time to get ready and excited for a new episode tonight. I can't believe the season is half over already.
All images copyright BBC.