A Rather Egotistical Young Lady (The Woman Who Lived)
|Me takes poorly to the Doctor’s “Varys is a mermaid” theory.|
It’s October 24th, 2015. KDA with Tinie Tempah and Katy B are at number one with “Turn the Music Louder (Rumble).” One Direction and Sleepy Tom & Diplo enter the top ten, while Bieber, The Weeknd, Drake, and Ellie Goulding are still around. In news, Hurricane Patricia, the most intense tropical storm ever to hit the western hemisphere and the second most intense ever, strikes Mexico and deals nearly half a billion dollars in damage. The Tories change rules to weaken the power of Scottish MPs by ruling that laws affecting only England must have a majority vote of English MPs. Hillary Clinton spends eight hours testifying in front of the Benghazi Committee, while Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb both drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination.
On television, meanwhile, the two-part structure of the season begins to break down with an episode by a completely different writer than its nominal part one. Let’s set aside my decision to cover them separately, which is really a decision about how many words I think I can spend on them and not about them per se. The consensus appears to be to treat these as separate stories—Doctor Who Magazine offered them separate previews (unlike Heaven Sent and Hell Bent), and they seem to consistently be listed separately, but they’re certainly more connected to each other than Utopia is with The Sound of Drums, and The Girl Who Died ends with a clear “to be continued” that presents this as part two. Indeed, to an audience untrained in the Doctor Who fandom art of obsessively following writer credits, it’s difficult to imagine that this would not be viewed as the third two-parter in a row.
Speaking of writerly readings, it is with this episode, in his penultimate season, that Moffat finally addresses the embarrassing problem that his writing teams are consistently all male. This is a tricky needle to thread. “The first female Doctor Who writer in more than seven years” is not something to celebrate in 2015 so much as something to be actively ashamed of. For whatever it’s worth, Moffat recognized that and repeatedly acknowledged that it was a problem, but, well, it still took this long. Still, on the bright side, we have Catherine Tregenna, she of the actually good Torchwood episodes. Her hire for this appears to have been something of a specialist hire—she noted that she never really felt like Doctor Who was a good fit for her, but was specifically pitched writing about an immortal woman and agreed that she could do well with that, which was an obvious conclusion to anyone who’s seen Out of Time or Captain Jack Harkness.
The resulting story is an odd one. For large swaths it’s effectively a two-hander between Capaldi and Williams, which is one of those ideas that’s self-evidently going to work with an even remotely competent script, a bar Tregenna clears by several miles. She does an exquisite job of making sure that both the Doctor and Me have clear and motivated perspectives, and makes sure that her big emphasized lines are actually earned and interesting—the “I just wanted to save a terrified young woman’s life” / “you didn’t save my life, Doctor, you trapped me inside it” exchange is particularly exquisite. She makes a number of extremely savvy decisions—making sure not to forget that Me and the Doctor don’t actually know each other very well, for instance, with the Doctor constantly indignant that she presumes to know him and surprised by what she’s actually become. It’s a solid character piece—the sort of thing everyone praises Boom Town for being, for instance, but appreciably less clumsy because it actually features two sympathetic characters at the center of its debate instead of a scheming genocidal maniac.
And yet this doesn’t particularly have a great reputation—it came in 9th out of 10 in the Doctor Who Magazine poll for 2015, just behind The Girl Who Died and ahead of Sleep No More, and these days it seems to hover around “fine I guess”; the Eruditorum Press poll had it come in at 274th between The Mind of Evil and a Gary Russell novel. And I’m probably guilty of this to an extent—I put it 10th out of 13, which may actually be true because Series 9 is insanely good, but I also have definitely contributed to the narrative that it’s in some sense subpar. Rewatching it, this is mostly unfair. The issue is not that the story is subpar so much as that it’s just really fucking weird in its basic instincts.
Let’s take Sam Swift, a character I was ludicrously hard on in my review because he fell into a particular mode of juvenile humor that tends to leave me cold. Which he still does, but in hindsight the more remarkable thing is that a character so central to the episode’s resolution should just sort of pop up out of nowhere nineteen-and-a-half minutes into the episode for a two minute scene that has no relation to the plot other than the fact that Sam Swift shows up again at the end. There’s something remarkably slapdash about this. It’s the sort of thing that looked deeply clumsy in Under the Lake when the idea that the mantra being repeated by the ghosts was already in everybody’s head was introduced out of nowhere. But there the failure to set up ideas was part and parcel of the story’s overall lack of them. Here there’s a clear reason for pushing Sam to the margins, and that’s to create more space for the Capaldi/Williams interaction that is this story’s engine.
But Sam isn’t the only element pushed to the margins. There’s also the plot. This is, of course, not the first story to do this, but it’s worth contrasting with, say, The Caretaker. There the romantic comedy elements were wrapped around a Doctor Who plot that was parodic in its traditionalism, executed by someone who could knock out half a dozen bog standard yet entertaining Doctor Who plots before lunch and still have time to retweet a few transphobic memes. Here, however, everything feels slightly off. The basic elements are all there, but it feels as though they’ve been arranged by someone who has only ever had Doctor Who described to them.
To be clear, my point in this is not to say that Catherine Tregenna is not a real fan or that she did a poor job with this episode. Strangeness is one of Doctor Who’s signature elements, and it’s one that the new series has been in some regards reluctant to embrace in favor of consistent quality. But Doctor Who never used to be afraid to feel tonally off for long stretches of time. More to the point, most eras of Doctor Who feel tonally off from each other. And so Tregenna’s slightly odd and unfamiliar take on how to put the elements of a Doctor Who story together ends up feeling like a dispatch from a relative in a neighboring country. It rides the line between distracting and interesting, but it’s easy enough to let your perspective drift to where it lands on the right side of it.
There is, of course, a third and altogether element pushed to the margins here: Clara. Bizarrely, two of the twelve episodes in her final season essentially don’t feature Clara beyond a short cameo at the end. In one of these there are a host of unimpeachable reasons for doing a Clara-free episode. Here, however, the situation is muddier. It’s certainly the case that Clara would have gotten in the way of the Doctor/Me interactions. On the other hand, countless stories have separated the companion from the Doctor for long periods, and there’s a perfectly obvious place to put Clara: with Sam Swift. This would necessitate some cuts to the Doctor/Me material, but while well-written there’s plenty of repetition, both internally and of old standards (“And how many have you lost? How many Claras?”; “You’re the man who runs away.”), and finding enough time to give Clara a Mummy on the Orient Express-sized role would certainly have been possible.
That said, the usual reason we get grouchy about something like this is both because of the incessant sexism of anti-Clara discourse. But here we have an unusual amount of cover for the decision: a woman writing the script and using Clara’s absence to focus on a different female character. This means that the bulk of frustration at the way in which Clara is sidelined just comes down to Clara being great and it being sad that we only get ten episodes with her in her final season. (Fewer depending on how you want to treat next week.) This is still a problem, but it’s also petulance, so you know, one has to keep one’s grumpiness in proportion.
Ultimately, whether this gambit works hinges entirely on whether the character who takes Clara’s place in the narrative, Me, works. And the answer, like the episode, is “mostly.” Tregenna is good at writing the tragedy of immortality, but it’s also 2015 and we’ve seen this dance before. There are some steps that are, if not unprecedented, at least pleasantly novel—the sense of dissociation from having forgotten most of her actual life, for instance, and the sort of suicidal sociopathy she displays in her decision-making. There are no shortage of cracked mirrors for the Doctor across the series, and especially across this season, but Me has new things to offer, including a particular balance of her relationship with the Doctor that we haven’t seen before—one that is neither ally nor antagonist, but in a liminal space between the two.
But all of this is embellishment and adornment upon the basic frame provided by Maisie Williams. Simply put, the character would not have been worth doing with essentially any other actress. Williams is both enchantingly flexible and capable of doing melodrama with utter conviction. She has the raw charisma to stand up as a third lead against Capaldi and Coleman, a feat generally not associated with people not named Michelle Gomez, and she dispatches with relative ease virtually anything four separate writers throw at her, managing to make her character seem credibly aged by a few hundred/billion years between appearances each time. There are other actresses who are this good, yes. But ones who are eighteen, would get the show a decent amount of publicity, and can convincingly play a teenage girl before aging her into ancient immortal? Since Sophie Turner’s got the wrong flavor of charisma, you’re pretty much left with Maisie Williams there.
So after a two-parter that was firmly a second tier classic and a two-parter that was firmly a complete shitshow we get a two-parter that confounds all expectations, including being a two-parter. Every facet of this story is partial, compromised, and not quite living up to whatever it was “supposed” to be in ways that jar. Of course it doesn’t live up to the Moffat stories in the season, or even to the two-parter that follows it. How could it? Those are a honed Doctor Who writer at the height of his power and working squarely in his wheelhouse. This is something far more interesting: something new. An actual different take on what Doctor Who can be and how it can be put together. This isn’t just down to Tregenna being a new writer—coming to the show from Torchwood frankly makes her less radical new blood than Harness, Cross, or Gaiman were, and certainly less radical than Richard Curtis or Simon Nye. And it’s certainly not down to Mathieson and Moffat.
No, what we have here is innovation and newness. It’s weird and blobby and yes, hybrid, but in the same way that The War Machines, Paradise Towers, or Love and Monsters were. Not all of those were followed up on in any way, and there may well never be another story like this; in fact it seems more likely than not that this is the only story we’ll get like this. Certainly it’s the only two-parter we’ll get like this, given the idiosyncratic combination of creative forces involved in it. It’s weird, and wonderful, and very probably unique; an oddity, in the best sense of that word.
August 6, 2018 @ 10:09 am
I slightly disagree with you about Tregenna – I think she’s more radical new blood than Gaiman or Curtis or Nye. All of those people are Doctor Who fans and they have a deeply inrained sense of what Doctor Who is. Tregenna is one of the few Doctor Who writers who isn’t a fan of Doctor Who at all. Making the jump from Torchwood isn’t particularly common either – I think Chibbers is the only other writer to do that.
As for this story, it falls into one of my favorite categories: rip-offs that are better than the thing they’re ripping off. In this case, the Hob Gadling issue from Sandman.
I’d rank this one at the series’ halfway mark – better than both the opening two-parters and sleep no more.
August 6, 2018 @ 10:14 am
Phil Ford, too, though one could just as easily (and probably more accurately) say he made the leap from SJA, not Torchwood.
August 6, 2018 @ 10:35 am
New blood (especially in a series such as Doctor Who, which in its present post-Buffy form has been going since 2005 – not many shows from 2005 are still airing) is always crucial, and it’s good to see new writers being courted for the series. Old hands might be reliable, but not every writer is good enough to escape falling into a pit of familiarity and sameness.
I haven’t rewatched this episode (or this season really) since it first aired, so I don’t want to go into the nitty gritty but the concept of Ashildr/Me is deeply fascinating and the casting of Williams a coup. Perhaps El is right to look at these (Died/Lived) as not two parts of the same story but two seemingly distinct episodes. On my original watch I think I recall thinking this didn’t feel like a resolution to the previous episode (which framing it with a ‘to be continued’ kinda leads you towards doing): perhaps being viewed as a ‘stand-alone’ (albeit the second episode in the ‘Me arc’) rather than a continuation of the previous episode does this story more justice.
August 6, 2018 @ 8:35 pm
What are the shows still going?
Setting aside the crime procedurals and the cartoons, the standouts are Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Big Bang Theory. Also Power Rangers, but that’s more of an anthology series, despite a loose shared universe.
Otherwise, modern genre shows with 10+ seasons would include Smallville, X-files, and Stargate: SG-1.
August 6, 2018 @ 10:11 am
Great write-up; even greater title.
This story is, of course, even better if you remember that Sam Swift is actually the Rufus Hound incarnation of the Monk messing with the Doctor and Me for shits and giggles.
Its oddity is definitely appreciated, though, like you say. I wonder if excising the Leonian and using the spare runtime to pair Clara with Sam Swift (that same joie de vivre, cherishing life, laughing all the way to the scaffold? – they’re both the mayflies, at this point at least) might have been a sensible choice. On the other hand, the off-kilter, Clara-less nature of this story at a time when we get so much excellent Clara material elsewhere is what makes it so distinctive. Tough call.
August 6, 2018 @ 10:33 am
I struggle with this story. I thought it was okay on watching it, though nothing special, and… yeah it’s pretty ‘okay.’ It strikes me as something that’s trying to do three different things, and the three things are all pulling against each other. It feels like when a story gets constantly rewritten so much that it loses the main core of what made it unique.
1 – There’s the Doctor-Me stuff, which I remember being quite good
2 – There’s the painfully unfunny comedy stuff which is never good but the era keeps trying to do (whenever Murray Gold’s plinky plonky ‘comedy’ music comes on, I cringe) and is tonally out of place with the first point
3 – There’s the alien cat plot which I mean, okay but it’s a bit rubbish, isn’t it?
There’s some nice scenes, but it really could have done with a different story (and I’m the sort of person who enjoys a good experiment!)
The show’s still too scared to do a pure historical, but to be honest it would have been better if it was!
August 6, 2018 @ 10:40 am
Now you mention it, doing this episode as a pure historical (or as pure as you can get when it’s anchored on the double-act of two immortals connecting over the concept of immortality) might have given it a lot more focus and been a lot more interesting than trying to find a way to feature a lion alien. The episode also already has Maisie Williams, which at least in the context of Williams also being on GOT is already something of a publicity draw in and of itself even if the episode doesn’t have a fancy new alien to trot around (and arguably GOT was at its strongest when it was leaning towards being more of a ‘pure historical’ in its own way rather than the sort of fantasy metal aesthetic its increasingly been adopting).
August 6, 2018 @ 10:59 am
Yeah, I just felt that the whole “How did she realistically deal with immortality in the middle ages” is undermined by the “also she is running around with lion aliens” bit
August 8, 2018 @ 6:17 am
Although then you’d lose the mirroring with the previous episode. Ashildr died to protect her village from an alien invasion. Me helps to bring an alien invasion on a helpless village. This helps her realise that she’s gone too far.
August 8, 2018 @ 7:26 am
Yes, but is this mirroring done well? I never noticed it before you pointed it out. Which might be my fault, but still.
August 8, 2018 @ 7:52 am
I never noticed it before writing the comment, so ;).
The villain of TWWL is interesting in the larger context of the Moffat era. It’s been said many times that it’s not very interested in monsters and villains as such, and yet most of the time it works despite that, maybe because it’s usually hidden better? Here the villain has to appear front and center in the finale, where he draws attention to how underdeveloped he was.
August 6, 2018 @ 11:17 am
I liked this story. But as a nonconforming dialogue-driven story with considerable talent driving it and no large blunders, I should be loving it. The unavoidable problem it has is that magical immortality (and hence the ethics of making someone immortal) is just an impossible topic to make generally interesting. Without any real-life current or speculative phenomena to relate to, or any logical constraints, it’s just something every writer makes up stuff about, and you get to see what they decided to make up, and decide whether you would have made up the same things.
So when, for instance, the writer decides that immortals forget large chunks of their life, I’m not thinking “yes, that’s a problem with immortality” or even “no, that’s wrong”. I’m thinking “given how memory is so much more reconstructive than most people realise, rather than being like filling up a hard drive, what I’d do is to have them become massively unreliable after hundreds of years of iteratively being reconstructed as something slightly more different each time”. Which isn’t the kind of thought the story is going for.
The fewer objective constraints you have, (which includes things like “the politics which actually improves people’s lives” as well as obvious things like “science” or “the real world”,) the more chance there is that the viewer will just make different arbitrary decisions.
August 7, 2018 @ 9:35 am
Why do people insist that immortality is a topic “without any real-life current or speculative phenomena to relate to”? In most instances I’ve encountered (and certainly in this episode) immortality is used as a metaphor for longevity and world-weariness. The forgetfulness you mentioned ties directly to the issues of old age.
August 6, 2018 @ 11:37 am
Regarding “is this a two-parter?”: I kind of disagree that they’re any more connected than “Utopia” and “Drums” — in both of them the main connection is “the person the Doctor met in this place is now in another place and the Doctor finds them there”.
Also, “Utopia” ended on a cliffhanger; if there was no “To Be Continued” and the next story had just been business as usual, we’d feel there was something missing (like, oh, how the Doctor got the TARDIS back). Whereas if we never got back to Ashildr, the last scene would be one of those open-ended “Oh, she’s out there somewhere, maybe Big Finish are interested” things.
(Come to think of it, this season also boasts a one-part story that ends on a definite cliffhanger that isn’t resolved.)
Which, to be clear, isn’t to say they’re not a two-parter; it’s pretty clear that part of Moffat’s aim with this season is to explore the question “So what is a two-parter anyway?”
August 6, 2018 @ 11:40 am
I’ve just realised I deadnamed Me above. In my defence I think I was thinking “If we never got back to her we wouldn’t know she was called Me”, but I wasn’t actually writing from that viewpoint, so no.
August 6, 2018 @ 2:00 pm
Also of course Utopia and Drums are tied together by the Toclafane, it just isn’t explained how until LOTT. Utopia turns out to be the source of the big payoff resolution of the mysteries that Drums sets up.
Whereas TGWD is only connected with this in as much as its last few minutes provide an origin for what is effectively a whole new character, pretty much unrecognisable from the one in that story.
August 6, 2018 @ 5:27 pm
Between this pair and the Monks trilogy, the efficacy of having different writers separately doing linked stories seems a bit unproven (let’s not even get into Trial of a Time Lord). I could attempt an opinion on how this might relate to the approach to writiing season 11, if I actually had a clear or up-to-date idea of what that seems in fact to have been.
August 7, 2018 @ 8:20 am
I make the same sort of observation about the “individual stories linked by an arc” format generally. I don’t think it’s an accident that all my favourite stories are things driven by the same creative force for their entirety without having periods where someone else takes over, whether on television that’s a self-contained (or reasonably so) Doctor Who story or an anime serial stretching over tens of episodes.
August 6, 2018 @ 4:42 pm
I’ll say it now that my headcannon for Sleep No More is that the Doctor found the broadcast, high-jacked it and replaced the signal with static but forgot to put a disclaimer saying he had. Just his signature in the opening code field.
This episode is the opposite of Sleep No More. A well-made off-kilter story that looking back isn’t actually that interested in doing more than just setting up things for the surprise second half, without having a lot to say. But I’d be lying is I didn’t say I loved it for what it is, and Maisie Williams and Peter Capaldi are excellent with the dialogue. I easily preferred this “two-parter” it to the Zygon story, even if that’s more for the first half.
August 7, 2018 @ 8:15 am
If I remember correctly, Gatiss actually did intend to follow up Sleep No More with a proper sequel later on where the message would’ve somehow reached Present-Day Earth, and then he ended up putting it off and doing something else when he realized Moffat and Capaldi would both be leaving after Series 10.
August 8, 2018 @ 4:21 pm
No spoilers etc but I’m going to end up defending Sleep No More next week. Not as a good episode of Doctor Who, because I don’t think it’s that, but I think there are real elements which deserve to be defended, and if SNM had appeared in almost any other season than this I think it would get a lot more praise – it may be the weakest episode this season, but that speaks more to the strength of this season than anything else.
Sucker for punishment, me.
August 8, 2018 @ 4:57 pm
I maintain that familiarity with E T A Hoffmann’s “Der Sandmann” is extremely helpful in appreciating Sleep No More as a really, really good episode of Doctor Who.
August 9, 2018 @ 7:41 am
That may be so, but “If you know this obscure work, you’ll really appreciate this popular work” is really not a good thing for Doctor Who… If only because, historically, in regards to this show the obscure work in question was usually also Doctor Who.
Prole Hole, I’m looking forward to your comments then!
August 7, 2018 @ 1:14 pm
I think the closest parallel would be “The Lodger” and “Closing Time”: like those stories, TGWD and TWWL are entirely separate apart from sharing a main guest star, whose story we continue to follow despite the absence of the plot elements and other supporting characters from the earlier story. TGWD and TWWL could have been in different series, like the Craig stories, and still would have worked individually.
August 8, 2018 @ 7:54 am
The Lodger and Closing Time also share a writer, which is pretty significant.
August 6, 2018 @ 5:45 pm
The Leonian was a bad misstep and probably the worst example of shoehorning an alien into a historical since the Terreleptils who at least had the decency to not have a (Sci-fi cliche number one) Latin name which described their appearance.
As for Sam Swift, was there ever a character whose actor’s name was a better fit than the writer’s choice? Rufus Hound IS an 18 Century Highwayman. Sam Swift sounds more like a hard bitten 1940s gumshoe.
This, along with the whole ‘Me’ thing which, sorry, just causes some awkward sentence structures and never quite works off the written page, exposes a writer uncomfortable in this genre not just in Doctor Who.
I also think Maisie Williams drops the ball here tonally. She is fine in The Girl Who Died where she is pretty much playing Arya Stark as a Viking. She is rather splendid in Hell Bent as the final immortal at the end of the Universe. But here I don’t really buy her as either a credible Highway robber or a Lady of the Manor. ‘Wicked Lady’ is slightly beyond her range just yet.
Also, wasn’t it a missed opportunity to have Me witness her children’s death not from the plague but simply from old-age? The oft reiterated, curse of the Immortal Time Lord, posited numerous times as the reason the Doctor gets emo about his mayfly companions and, like Peter Pan, never returns for them.
I agree, Clara is a vital missing ingredient here. She was present at the creation of Me from Ishildr and is destined to travel the Universe with her in the Diner TARDIS, she should be here to witness this part of her story. For Clara to see and understand the horror of immortality before being granted her own, between the heartbeats, version would have balanced her arc wonderfully and made more sense of the lessons of her journey.
August 7, 2018 @ 1:20 pm
“was there ever a character whose actor’s name was a better fit than the writer’s choice?”
Not the writer’s choice, but ‘Nick Frost’ is a much better fit for the character than ‘Santa Claus’.
August 7, 2018 @ 4:46 am
I know I’m generally the odd fan with this story because I positively love it to bits. The actual rubbishness of the plot has never bothered me in the slightest. I love the quirkiness, the eccentricities of it. It just suits me. One of 3 stories from this season that I rate 10/10.
August 7, 2018 @ 1:25 pm
I agree with literally every word of this, down to the ratings. Out of curiosity, are the other two 10/10 stories the opening and closing two-parters?
August 10, 2018 @ 12:40 pm
The others are Heaven Sent and the Zygon two-parter. I don’t consider the end of the season to be a multi-part episode, just separate but connected stories. I do collectively like to call Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent the “Clara’s Death Suite.”
August 7, 2018 @ 9:28 am
Another great essay… but I don’t think it managed to redeem this episode for me. I like new and weird ideas, especially in DW, but here all that weirdness and uniqueness seems to amount to a slightly disappointing piece of television. And since I don’t enjoy weirdness for weirdness’ sake…
In addition to the strange structure, the not-very-interesting time period and the unnecessary alien plot, I was disappointed that DW took the opportunity to explore immortality at lenght and then basically repeated things I’ve already heard elsewhere. Maybe I was expecting too much, having been brought up on strange, thought-provoking Stanisław Lem’s stories that often addressed the topic of immortality, but the amazingly acted Williams-Capaldi scenes was the only thing that saved this episode for me.
I also think it was a mistake to have Me keep asking the Doctor why he wouldn’t take her with him and to have the Doctor not give an actual answer until the end of the episode. It made him seem cruel and intentionally unhelpful. It reminded me of the scene where the Doctor just listens silently to Davros’ silly accusations that they’re alike. Either give the Doctor a chance to voice his reasons or don’t raise questions you don’t want answered.
Still, I enjoyed the acting and the set pieces. I just don’t think I’ll be rewatching this story anytime soon.
August 7, 2018 @ 1:35 pm
Would disagree strongly that 17th century England is a not very interesting time period. It’s ripe for fascinating historical exploration and I recommend Simon Guerrier’s audio drama “The Settling” as a good instance of Doctor Who doing it rather well (Cromwell during the invasion of Ireland in 1649). I understand there will be a James-the-First story for Whitaker’s Doctor this year, so that will no doubt be set in the 1620s or thereabouts.
If we’re talking specifically about The Woman Who Lived, surely this is where all the silly Rufus-Hound-isms become completely appropriate? Because the mid-17th century is best known for bawdy Restoration-era comedy and that’s exactly what Tregenna is going for here?
August 7, 2018 @ 1:37 pm
August 8, 2018 @ 8:02 am
I’m sure the time period itself is very interesting (they all are), but as far as representations of historical periods in popular culture go, 17th century England is surely not as exciting as 19th century England or the Middle Ages. Or at least it never managed to excite me on-screen. I feel the same about 18th century France in “The Girl in the Fireplace”. All pretty costumes, very little substance. (The episode itself is wonderful, of course).
It also probably doesn’t help that, being Polish, I only know the broad strokes of English history and culture and so “bawdy Restoration-era comedy” means very little to me. We’ve had our own comedies at the time, of course, but they mostly revolved around middle class families or courtly matters and I don’t think they included many characters like Sam Swift.
August 7, 2018 @ 2:19 pm
Although I think I enjoy this episode much more than you, Przemek, I do agree that the Doctor’s behavior is a huge flaw.
This episode presents the situation as if the two, and only two, possible choices for the Doctor are to take Me on as a full time travelling companion or leave her to her fate (as he essentially does at the end of this episode.)
Two other options that easily come to mind are the Doctor takes Me to a point in Earth’s future or to another planet where day-to-day existence isn’t quite so soul-crushingly difficult. This might require some time where he sticks around while Me gets acclimated to the new time (or planet), but it does not require them to stay together forever (or even for a particularly long time). Certainly you can achieve the same outcome as the existing episode by having the Doctor make the offer and Me declining (any good writer could come up with a plausible motivation why she would refuse).
It doesn’t bother me that the Doctor didn’t move her to a new time or place, but it bothers me a lot that the episode acts like that possibility doesn’t exist.
August 8, 2018 @ 7:40 am
Exactly! And if the Doctor doesn’t want to babysit Me in another time period/on another planet, he doesn’t have to. He can just do what he usually does: drop her off somewhere and then just leave without saying goodbye. Her life would still be better. Win-win.
The funny thing is, I can imagine this story working well with Matt Smith’s Doctor. Creating an immortal and then just leaving without a care in the world is 100% Eleven’s style. After meeting her again he would awkwardly try to fix his mistake, not understanding how much resentment she has for him and making her even angrier. But with Capaldi playing his scenes with Me in “The Woman Who Lived” like he’s this wise, stoic hero who just knows better, the Doctor comes off as paternalistic and unsympathetic. Which Twelve definitely can be, just… meh. Didn’t work for me here.
August 8, 2018 @ 12:20 pm
Of course, it’s even more of a Nine/Ten thing to do, given Davies’s preoccupation with that idea of the Doctor throwing things up and then irresponsibly walking away without checking how they land. Ten especially – early Nine does also spend some time clearing up odds and ends of the Time War mess, and with him the unfinished-business idea features as an aspect of how the Doctor operates generally, whereas with Ten it’s more closely aligned with more his arrogant and frivolous personality. Introducing that notion again here was maybe a matter of coming back round to an idea that had perhaps been done to death before, but that hadn’t been used for a few years and was therefore ready for another turn.
I suppose the antithesis of that sort of thing is Seven, with his tendency to tie up the loose ends left lying around by his own past and future selves.
August 8, 2018 @ 12:22 pm
“with his more”
August 8, 2018 @ 12:51 pm
You’re right. I mentioned Eleven specifically because I feel like Nine/Ten would at least apologize to Me after seeing her so unhappy about her immortality. (And I feel like Nine tended to make such mistakes more by accident than by design – I wonder if he would even consider making Me immortal). Eleven would be clueless while also trying to be charming and/or smug.
August 8, 2018 @ 8:04 am
I seem to remember Waters of Mars having a similar problem, where everyone concludes someone has to die because they were reported dead and that was all inspiring, not even with any body being found because Mars, and nobody suggests just taking her to a different time period, or a different planet, or even just giving her a new identity and hiding her on Earth in her own time.
Though that was even worse because “now she mysteriously appeared back at her home then shot herself” does not actually fix history.
August 8, 2018 @ 11:23 am
I do try to moderate my readiness to care about things not making sense, or at least to put it in perspective, but I have no intention of ever cutting the end of Waters of Mars any slack. It’s just stupid.
August 8, 2018 @ 1:44 pm
I agree with you that a similar solution could have been used for Waters of Mars and that the ending is a huge flaw that mars an otherwise excellent episode.
My bigger problem with the ending of Waters of Mars, though, is I’ve never bought that the Captain (or leader, I forget her rank) has heard or seen anything like enough evidence that what the Doctor says about the future is true, to seriously motivate her to TAKE HER OWN LIFE!
The only thing she directly experiences is that the TARDIS can instantaneously travel from Mars to Earth. If she MUST kill herself (which I agree with you is not the best [or even a very good] solution, given the parameters of the show), then there needed to be a side trip where the Doctor takes her to the future and she sees/experiences enough to convince her that the Doctor is a true time traveler and not a con man.
August 9, 2018 @ 8:17 am
I think “people just immediately accept the reality of time travel/space travel/monsters” is just a part of the adventure genre. And I don’t think it’s a part you want to get rid of. The constant explanations would get tiresome very quickly.
Regardless, wouldn’t you believe an extremely clever alien who arrives in a magic machine and seems to know exactly what’s happening? It also seems to me that Adelaide was reacting more to the terrifying attitude of the Time Lord Victorious than his words about her personal future. She wanted to prove that monster wrong and stop him in his tracks.
August 9, 2018 @ 6:51 pm
The way you phrased this made me realize that Waters of Mars resembled Extremis in this regard, Extremis being the other episode about defying an omscient and omnipotent god (or rather a host of demiurges) by killing yourself.
Austin G Loomis
August 7, 2018 @ 4:41 pm
I have nothing to say about the episode itself. I just wanted to point out, because my level of anorak neepery leads to me keeping track of these things, that this is the eighth time you’ve given a TE post a title quoting The Caves of Androzani, bringing it ahead of its closest competitors (The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Curse of Fenric). Are these your favorite episodes, or just the best sources of usable quotes?
August 10, 2018 @ 8:16 pm
Dalek Invasion of Earth certainly isn’t a favorite. Curse of Fenric comes closest to being explicable on those terms. In this specific case, I was uninspired for a quote so went “well, I don’t think I’ve done Sixth Doctor in a while,” pulled up his WikiQuotes page, and then immediately saw an obvious winner in his second line.
August 7, 2018 @ 9:39 pm
There are two glaring questions that this episode raises but it only addresses one of them.
I mean the Jack Harkness one. It would be preposterous if the Doctor didn’t refer to Jack as another immortal that he also shunned occasionally. I wonder if the only reason we actually got that reference is that Tregenna wrote Torchwood. Sometimes I feel they avoided referring to Jack just to hide the fact that Me is so much like him.
And the second question is: what the hell happened with Sam Swift, if he was also made immortal???
August 7, 2018 @ 11:59 pm
Drawing attention to Jack might end up drawing attention to the problem that for all his Time Vortex-enabled “fixed point in time and space” thing and seemingly limitless reconstitutive powers, he apparently ends up growing old and dying, whereas, as far as we can tell, Me “survives to the very end of the universe, to the end of time itself”* on the basis of some bunch of comically-inept third-rate axe-murderers’ tu’penny-ha’penny barring-accidents healing device, which somehow never wears out or breaks down. But probably no one involved was actually nerdish enough to worry about that.
August 8, 2018 @ 9:15 am
“How would immortality affect a person like Sam Swift?” is definitely one of the most fascinating implications of this episode. Because Me is a known type (even if the writing and acting keep her fresh and interesting) insofar as she’s a brooding, melancholy immortal – at least at this stage. But Sam Swift? I imagine him becoming a sort of folk hero – not particularly clever or brave, or noble, but posessing his own brand of smarts, not to mention a lot of luck, so that he’s always fine in the end. Sometimes doing good, sometimes serving his own selfish ends.
Damn it, BBC, where is my The Tales of Sam Swift anthology?
August 8, 2018 @ 6:51 pm
I believe they clarified that opening the portal drained the chip, so Sam was not immortal.
August 10, 2018 @ 7:44 am
From Wikipedia’s plot summary: “Afterwards, the Doctor explains that Swift may or may not have been rendered immortal by the chip as its power could have been drained when closing the portal”. So mx_mond’s very nice idea is still on the table.