Spoilers are straight ahead. But if you’re concerned about spoilers, you probably shouldn’t read an article with the word in the title.
I’m on a streak of being right about this show; we’ve got yet another 2-parter on our hands this week. Plus: vikings, warriors, puppets, eels, Maisie Williams, several snippets from the second trailer for this season, and return of the Doctor speaking baby. As Lofty’s kid would say “Ah goo bah mamamama WAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!”
I thought the cold open was a little clunky. I’m not a fan of this type of opening, being dropped into the middle of something exciting that we’ll never get to see a piece of. I want to have the chance to see what’s going on and not feel cheated of that story. Maybe one of the Big Finish audiobooks will pick up on it later down the road, but my point is more that if it’s going to be on the show, show it. We did at least get some good jokes out of it and this is the way the writers chose to get into the “ripples, not tidal waves” theme of the episode, so I guess I’ll get over it and move on.
The main plot of the episode focuses on the Doctor helping a village full of Viking farmers and fishermen defeat a troop of one of the deadliest race of warriors in the galaxy. No TARDIS, no sonic, if that doesn’t sound right up the Doctor’s street, I don’t know what does. Uncharacteristically, though, he advises them to run and when that fails, makes a comical attempt to train them into warriors overnight. Like Clara, we know “He hasn’t got a plan yet. But he will, and it’ll be spectacular.” It was maybe a little annoying to have Clara have to figure this out for him, but given where the show went from here, I can forgive it.
The rest of the plot finishes out in classic Doctor Who style. The Doctor has a revelation, comes up with a brilliant plan, and uses the true strengths and resources of the village full of good people to defeat an army full of bad guys. The setup and payoff of the final battle give some great comedy, including the use of my favorite comedic music cue, The Benny Hill Show theme, and “reversing the polarity of the neutron flow,” which is technobabble shorthand used as early as the third Doctor for “a wizard did it.”
The strength of this episode, however, are in its quiet moments. With Clara and the Doctor, we get a little more of the Doctor’s logic on why maybe he shouldn’t fight a fight that seems perfect for him, lest he open up the Earth to more fights they’re not yet ready to fight. In the Doctor’s scene with Ashildr (Maisie Williams), her speech is the reason she got the job and it gave me chills. After the battle, there’s a glimpse of who the Doctor thinks he is: an incredibly powerful man who can do anything, except no matter what, he still loses people and it kills him. And then at last we get the Doctor’s incredibly satisfying revelation about his face. For a season and a half, it’s been rattling around in the back of my brain: why does this Doctor look like Caecilius from The Fires of Pompeii (S04E03)? Through a combination of flashbacks to Ten and Donna Noble and some classic Capaldi speechifying, we arrive at “I’m the Doctor and I save people.” Put it on a bumper sticker, print it on a t-shirt. If a non-Whovian ever asks you what this show is all about, just show them this moment.
This series has been handling some age-old science fiction concepts with extreme care and brilliance and has given us some truly deep impressions of the loneliness and loss of immortality and the myriad moral implications of time travel. Combine it with Capaldi absolutely KILLING IT as the Doctor and you can start to see why this is one of my favorite seasons of Doctor Who ever.
My only complaint is all the 2-parters. Moffat is obsessed and he must be stopped. This could have been a perfectly fine one-off, a great, singularly contained classic Doctor Who story with the added bonus the Doctor’s revelation. Come back to visit Ashildr two seasons from now and the fanbase would go bananas. But no, we will be back again with her next week. Which isn’t to say I don’t like her or where this story has led us. And this series has been spot on with killer part-twos so far. I just think that this is getting tiresome and what’s more, I don’t really buy that this story is being continued. It’s a new story. It’s only to be continued in the way that each new episode is a continuation of the story as a whole, in which case every episode is technically “to be continued.” But let’s just assume we’re all smart enough to know that and knock it off with this already. At any rate, I don’t get a say in the matter, so let’s all hope for the best with The Woman Who Lived. See you all again next week!