Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Gallifrey Times Team Review The Woman Who Lived

Saturday night saw the Doctor reunite with the immortal and embittered Ashildr, and eventually save her soul, turning a pun-loving highwayman immortal too in the process. Here's what our team thought of the episode:

Louis (Editor)

The Woman Who Lived is an unusual episode. It's dialogue-centric, barely features the companion and exists as more of a sequel to The Girl Who Died than a genuine continuation. It's the duologues between the Doctor and Ashildr where the episode truly shines, with Catherine Tregenna sensitively and intelligently exploring the devastating effects of immortality. Maisie Williams ably tackles the range of emotions thrown at her with ease, notably improving on her solid but unremarkable turn in Girl. When The Woman Who Lived is forced to ascribe to traditional formula, with an alien and a last-minute action scene, it falters, offering a weak and half-hearted villain and a tenuous sense of threat - Leandro is thinly sketched, and crafted together from an uninspiring hodge-podge of sub-par Who tropes. Despite that, Leandro works as a means to an end (saving Ashildr), and there's enough great, thoughtful material in The Woman Who Lived to paper over some of the cracks. 8/10

Ben (Assistant Editor)

After last week's introduction/death/revival of Ashildr, I was excited to see how immortality would affect her. However, after watching The Woman Who Lived and seeing the daunting effects of immortality expertly realised by Maisie Williams, I felt myself beginning to dislike the character, who seemed colder and more arrogant than the Doctor or Captain Jack for example. This is obviously because of what the character has been through, but I didn't enjoy seeing a character loved by all of fandom turned into this. However, Maisie Williams did an excellent job developing Ashildr from innocent young girl to troubled woman. Meanwhile, Rufus Hound's Sam Swift, despite the cringeworthy jokes, was a fun addition to the cast, putting in a commendable performance that played well with Capaldi's Doctor. The Doctor himself also provided some great moments, in his element having an adventure on his own. Then we get to 'Lenny the Lion', who continued the Series 9 tradition of being an underused, unthreatening alien villain. While the touching insight into immortality was interesting to watch, the episode had a number of flaws and spoilt one of my favourite characters. 7/10

Owen (Instagram & Previews)

A thin plot, a weak villain and a subsequent lacking sense of direction, The Woman Who Lived certainly didn't meet expectations in it's cohesion with normality, however, strangely, this shift into a wordy, suggestive and intellectual episode, with a slow and subtle pace that almost fluctuated it's silliness to something a lot bigger and better - that being the almost look at the meaning of life, death and the abyss of dilemmas with immortality, allowed the episode to move away from the average structure of Who stories. Maisie Williams finally got her moment, with her acting being something of a gift for such a young woman, and whilst I'm certainly not a Clara-hater, the lack of her actually made Capaldi's light shine a little higher. The Woman Who Lived is probably the weakest of Series 9 so far, but don't let that put you off, because it just shows how amazing the series has been so far, as this episode, is still highly enjoyable and suitably interesting. 8/10

Bedwyr (News)

The Woman Who Lived is a direct sequel to last weeks The Girl Who Died and deals with the Doctor's action of giving Ashildr eternal life. It is sometimes argued that the Doctor swans in and turns around a situation but disappears again failing to see the fallout. The consequences of the Doctor's actions were explored well with The Ark in 1966 and The Long Game/Bad Wolf in 2005 but was sorely lacking following the dramatic conclusion to The Waters of Mars in 2009. On this occasion it is perhaps something we could do without. The story centres on Ashildr's struggles with her immortality and it is her scenes with the Doctor that fill the programme. Outside of that the plot is fairly thin, an amulet which opens a universal portal and Tharil lookalike Leandro being under-utilised. As is always the case with these plot lines the obvious exit is for the alien to hitch a lift in the TARDIS but of course it is a part of a dastardly plot for invasion or human destruction. Rufus Hound appears as Sam Swift, adding comedic relief to the tedium of the rest of the episode and there is a popular name check of fan favourite Capt Jack Harkness.

However, the episode is a masterpiece from the two lead actors Maisie Williams, who is far more experienced an actress than her youthful looks suggest, and Peter Capaldi. Both are at the top of their game, Williams having honed her acting skills on Game of Thrones and Capaldi flourishing deep into his second year in the role of the Doctor. So much is the need to let these two run riot with the script that third wheel Clara is removed from the action altogether. The Doctor and Ashildr dynamic might still have another story yet to tell which would be a treat as It is these two alone who engage the audience, not the action or special effects, and credit to them. 5/10

Patrick (News)

This week's episode had VERY big shoes to fill. TGWD, whilst still divisive within the fandom, was for people such as myself a hit out of left field, offering a story that was both heartfelt and uniquely balanced between comedy and drama. The final part of this next two parter, TWWL, is , even in its best moments, disappointing. The incredibly strong and consistent start of S9 thus far resulted in a bar that was set very high, particularly after its predecessor. Unfortunately, TWWL struggles to recapture the poignant drama and comedy that made TGWD so magical to many, often floundering between Ashildr's transformation into a supposedly heartless immortal and a main threat that was frankly abysmal. S9 has so far struggled immensely with presenting deadly and engaging villains; it's safe to say Lenny the Lion carried neither and will sit atop that miserable pile, another brilliantly designed villain squandered. There are only so many times the writers can posit the villain as sympathetic, only for it to then show it's true motives at the end. Despite the awful threat that looms so ungracefully in the background of this episode, Maisie Williams does indeed put in a performance to remember as Ashildr to right the course.

Her transformation following resurrection then immortality takes center stage, a deuteragonist and an antagonist in equal measure. It is exciting yet heartbreaking to witness that once hopeful, weird and wonderful girl corrupted by her losses over the ages. Maisie juggles pain and determination with strikingly great ease, painting a figure clearly burying intense sorrow deep within. In hindsight it is easy to view Ashildr as the episode's true villain, particularly in the eyes of The Doctor, who too has to deal with the choices he has made. If there is one shining light to take away from TWWL and hope to return, it is the chemistry between Maisie and Peter. The similarities between Ashildr and Susan, running with that grandfather figure are striking, the fierce yet loving old man and the sprightly youngster. The state of her immortality has yet to be answered, but it is not hard to see the threads of potential companionship being sewn, even against The Doctor's best wishes. Her role now as a steward of the Time Lord's previous companions is a heartfelt touch and a plot thread begging to be explored in due time. TWWL is undoubtedly an excellent personal adventure and Ashildr continues to be the standout character of the series thus far,  but the dead weight of a half baked main threat weighs it down. It is testament to the quality of S9, the writing and acting so far on show that I continue to appreciate TWWL despite its flaws, and the foundations of a gripping finale continue to be set. Ashildr is out there somewhere, perhaps having a drink with Captain Jack. We can only hope. 8/10

Andrew (News)

I found this episode very enjoyable but I think it’s fair to say it came with it’s flaws. Regardless of this, Maisie Williams was superb again, to give the character of Ashildr a major shift with inner age and experience was a very big ask, but I think she just about pulled it off. Portraying being traumatised through continually outliving everything she knows can’t have been easy, but Williams rose to the challenge well. This said I thought maybe the writers went a little too far in the direction of tragedy in telling her story, but a good chilling atmosphere was created nevertheless. Putting a Time Lord and his own immortal creation face to face was pretty fascinating, we saw Ashildr being bitter with the Doctor for abandoning her after changing her life so drastically. She embodies and vocalises some of the Doctor’s worst fears in terms of how he runs away. The Doctor is heartbroken by what has become of Ashildr, her tales of sorrow and the desensitised person that he sees shock him. So there is something quite powerfully psychological about the challenge the Doctor has, to break through to the heart he has damaged and somehow heal this person back into good ways. This aspect of the story works really well, it is very heartwarming towards the end of the episode seeing the Doctor thrilled despite destruction all around him as he witnesses a change in Ashildr. He is overjoyed in seeing her become caring, this is what he had set out to inspire and it’s a euphoric moment. On the down side - I don’t think I am alone in finding the fire breathing, lion-faced alien a bit ridiculous. It felt to me like Doctor Who meets The Wizard of Oz at times and I reckon the script could have been better without this, it didn’t seem necessary and I felt something better might have been included. A big saving grace came in Sam Swift. Rufus Hound gave a stunning performance as the happy go lucky rascal that finds himself doomed to the gallows. I was seriously impressed with how he acted being ‘cheerfully terrified’, I could almost feel the fear as the uneasy Sam is trying to extend his life with a few drunken jokes. Capaldi’s timely appearance in this scene was a real joy to watch unfold. 9/10

And the average totals out at 7.5/10, the lowest score of the series so far, and a clear indicator of the ongoing ratings crisis the show faces. Here's our current Series 9 leaderboard:
  1. The Magician's Apprentice - 9.25/10
  2. The Girl Who Died - 9/10
  3. The Witch's Familiar - 8.92/10
  4. Under the Lake - 8.2/10
  5. Before the Flood - 8/10
  6. The Woman Who Lived - 7.5/10
Our spoiler-filled team review of The Zygon Invasion will be up next Tuesday.