The Girl Who Died feels like a return to the slightly less experimental ways of series eight, and as such it's no surprise that it's splintered the fandom even more than usual, as that series did so frequently. It's a solid episode with a fun premise, but it does take a few egregious shortcuts to arrive at that premise in a pretty bumpy and tonally inconsistent first act that segues from a comedy projection of 'Odin' in the sky to the vaguely horrific idea of Odin harvesting testosterone from Vikings, creating a fair bit of tonal whiplash. After that, however, the episode settles into a groove, delivering great comedy and genuinely heartfelt, meaningful drama in equal measure - there's some superb character material regarding the Doctor, including the revelation of what his face was for. It might have disappointed some fans, but it felt like a really fitting and satisfying way to resolve the plot without devolving into a plotline that would have been incomprehensible to any casual viewer. And finally, there's the hugely intriguing conclusion that opens up a whole bunch of questions, while challenging the notion of what a two-parter actually is. With a beautiful, evocative final scene, The Girl Who Died starts slowly but finishes on a high.
Ben (Assistant Editor)
Firstly, how brilliant was Maisie Williams as Ashildr! A well written, very innocent and likeable character that stands out amongst the rest of her fellow Vikings as one of my favourite characters of series 9. The episode itself is a good mix of heavy drama and great comedy moments, with scenes like the Doctor naming the Vikings - Noggin the Nog still cracks me up - working well against the contrasting scene with the Doctor translating the baby’s fears. The aliens are, in true Series 9 fashion, underused and pretty poorly executed, with the cumbersome Mire barely making an impact in their brief appearances led by Odin, who appears to be a bit of a pantomime villain but with more threat than the Mire themselves. The long awaited explanation for the Doctor’s face satisfied me. The idea that the Doctor chose the face as a reminder to himself is fitting with this Doctor’s persona and is a more meaningful reason that fits suitably in this episode. Overall, the episode continues Series 9’s strong run and I am excited to see how Ashildr’s character will develop in The Woman Who Lived.
Owen (Instagram & News)
Eccentrically funny, with a touch of sweet historical originality and an absolutely spellbinding conclusion, The Girl Who Died brought back the fun, freedom and elegance of a historical piece (no more Robots Of Sherwood nonsense, this is real drama). However, whilst that last 15 minutes moaned rich storytelling, some silliness crept in, and the Mire felt a little pathetic as the subsequently subtle and weak villain, lacking any intrigue or even terror - the only thing I got from them was a slight reminder of the vampire/alien things from Vampires of Venice (and no, that's not a good thing). Crazy alien things aside, the conclusion of the episode goes down as one of my favourite moments in Series 9, possibly even the whole of Capaldi's run as far, that being the beautiful yet poignant glimpse back at how the Doctor got his face (I could've have been the only one whom shed a tear for Donna and Ten back in the TARDIS), to then, the shocking yet rich and teasing moment of Ashildr becoming a hybrid, to that last, absolutely stunningly eyeopening conclusion as the beauty revolves around this young, naive girl, and that naivety vanishes as the true horrors of the Doctor's errors are unearthed. Silly, eccentric, and a little melodramatic at first, The Girl Who Died is Doctor Who at its most teasing, for the true beauty becomes ever-present within only the glimpse of the true understanding of death in the last 15-or-so spectacular minutes.
On the surface The Girl Who Died may seem like just another historical romp along the same lines as last year's Robot of Sherwood, but to describe it as that alone would be to do it a great disservice. Plotwise, it is indeed much lighter in tone than the rest of this series has been to date, and some brilliant comic moments throughout lead to a frankly madcap resolution involving electric eels, giant puppets and the Benny Hill theme - not exactly the first things that come to mind when Vikings are involved! Simmering underneath all of this action, however, is some beautiful character work, and this is where the episode really shines. Although the themes of loss, immortality and the responsibilities of time travel that are touched upon throughout are not new, the combined skill of writers Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson ensures that they are handled in compelling and at times beautifully poetic ways, along with stellar performances as always from Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. The real heart of this story, though, lies with the titular 'girl who died'. Maisie Williams portrays Ashildr with great innocence and warmth making it highly believable that following her death the Doctor would strive for any way to save her, and the ensuing explanation as to why the Doctor looks like Caecilius from The Fires of Pompeii is not only pleasingly uncomplicated but slots into place perfectly. The Girl Who Died - although it could work well as a standalone episode - also sets things up nicely for The Woman Who Lived, with a haunting final shot of the immortal Ashildr’s expression changing from wonder to dread hinting at some very real consequences for the Doctor to face up to next time.
Sitting down to review this I’m still kind of speechless. I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed an episode of Doctor Who so much! I was glued from start to finish. Most impressively, Peter Capaldi shone. He owned being the Doctor more than I’ve ever seen him do before. The story was beautiful, in many ways because of a simplicity, but visually everything was near perfect too. I’m completely new to Maisie Williams, having never watched Game of Thrones. With the fanfare there was when she was cast I had my doubts, wondering whether all the hype would be justified. I soon realised I was witnessing raw talent. Ashildr is an incredible character. Williams expertly conveyed someone who feels painfully isolated and different, but who is blessed by a great gift to powerfully dream and control events in a make believe world. Ashildr's talent becomes invaluable to the plot, and is courageously used before there is a graceful switch to tragedy. It was Capaldi’s show though. He acted his heart out, the humour was great as usual but there was far more than this to be seen. He superbly depicted the Doctor at his most anxious and delicate, self doubting but caring beyond anything humanly possible so that he sweeps into a state of ecstatic confidence and belief. From the Doctor’s harrowing empathy with a crying baby, to the almost unnoticed hand clasp of relief at knowing he had saved a life against the odds, I felt there was something sublime about this performance. The recalling of the Doctor’s Tenth incarnation was an inspired touch, as well as explaining a mystery, I felt the imagery blew away the Eleventh Doctor hangover highlighted in Deep Breath. Capaldi embraced every scene in a way that shows he’s not just the guy who took over from Matt Smith, he in fact unquestionably evokes the same soul portrayed by William Hartnell, Tom Baker, Tennant and the rest.
The Girl Who Died is an episode of 2 very different parts. To open with, we have the capture of The Doctor and Clara by Vikings, a premise exciting enough for any episode. Eventually this escalates into a war with The Mire, an intimidating new villain to S9s ever increasing roster of fantastically designed monsters. Of course, The Doctor, driven by his own conscience, is driven to protect the village and drive back The Mire's attack. Take this premise alone and you have a fun, frantic story that is unlikely to disappoint many of the audience, yet within minutes The Girl Who Died transcends beyond that. The key component of this is the introduction of Maisie Williams's much anticipated and debated character, Ashildr. A glance between her and The Doctor immediately raises questions and elevates the plot from being a simple siege story. The Girl Who Died is very clever because of how it subverts the audience into a false belief, that the narrative may simply be one of The Doctor protecting a centuries old village from invasion; this could not be further from the truth, and is supremely better because of it. A Viking setting is not new to the Doctor Who canon, yet it is unlikely any other setting this series will match the intimacy of The Girl Who Died. At first glance the village offers nothing new, featuring all the tropes of a Viking hold, from wooden houses and mead halls to bearded men of might. Jamie Mathison, upon his return from an excellent run in S8, partners with showrunner Steven Moffat to create a village that feels real, connected together by beautifully evoked relationships between its inhabitants. We may not learn much about all of them, but the comradery is tangible. The humor of The Girl Who Died is also a wonderfully crafted slice of the episode's overall tone, giving Peter Capaldi his greatest soapbox yet to showcase how brilliant a comedic actor he truly is. Everything from the training segment to the final clash with The Mire is written and acted with such delicacy as to never feel forced or awkward, fitting in neatly with the drama that naturally unfolds. Humor and drama is balanced effortlessly in this episode, perhaps offering the greatest balance of the two in New Who. It is difficult to explain why I feel the balance is so well achieved, perhaps because none of the writing is hammy or the acting misplaced or misdirected. Even the villain, of which S9 has so far struggled with, slots perfectly into the narrative, neither underused or shoddy.
It is the final act of The Girl Who Died that cements it as a potential classic. A plan, albeit somewhat silly, is concocted by The Doctor via inspiration by a baby's speech whom he has translated. The father of the baby being the episode's intended 'clown' is a wonderful touch and another example of The Girl Who Died's great use of misdirection. The plan goes swimmingly and celebrations begin, another victory for The Doctor. The manner in which this breaks down is superb, demonstrating Capaldi's beautiful dramatic touch and effortless switch to humour. This is the rawest and most open view into the Twelfth Doctor's soul, a being blighted by his ability to do anything yet has a mandate of care, a narrative thread once again brought up with Clara. Those doubting Capaldi's legacy as The Doctor should be appeased by the final scenes, particularly with the revelation of how his new face was chosen from Deep Breath. How this thread was handled will be the most contentious element of The Girl Who Died, but for the sake of my review, I consider it a comfortable explanation for now. It is safe to say I am and will long stand as a big proponent of The Girl Who Died. Its ending establishes the most fascinating figure in Doctor Who for many years and tells a tale of hardship with great beauty. The final sequence in particular with Ashildr observing the transformation of the world around her as an immortal will be extremely hard to beat. At times it felt very un-Doctor Who, and I like that. My only concern lies in Clara and her position within the overall series, but I leave that as a mark on the series as whole for the time being. The Woman Who Lived can not come fast enough.
And the average totals out at 9/10. The internet may have been split on this one, but we at The Gallifrey Times pride ourself on swimming against the tide (or something), so this ends up as the second highest episode of the series so far on the leaderboard. Ratings crisis averted!
- The Magician's Apprentice - 9.25/10
- The Girl Who Died - 9/10
- The Witch's Familiar - 8.92/10
- Under the Lake - 8.2/10
- Before the Flood - 8/10
Our spoiler-filled team review of The Woman Who Lived will be up next week.