The Girl Who Died Review
Oh good, they didn’t just completely forget how to make Doctor Who. That’s comforting.
A lot of credit has to go to Jamie Mathieson, whose style is starting to emerge, and emerge compellingly. Central to it – and a point Moffat highlighted in interviews last year talking about him – is a solid sense of premise. The spine of this episode – Seven Samurai with Vikings – is, much like “there’s a mummy on the Orient Express in space” and “evil Flatland,” a rock solid structure that Doctor Who fits into nicely. In a season whose first two stories were marred by odd pacing, an episode that feels like it’s shaped correctly is just terribly relieving.
But the details are also all wonderfully on point, right down to an otherwise stupidly generic alien warrior race that’s instantly elevated by the detail that they harvest testosterone to drink. Similarly, the use of “Yakety Sax” over the video of Odin cowering from a wooden dragon is just a solid bit of charm. And the dialogue for the baby, which manages to be haunting and mythic while still being coherent and sensible as a baby’s take on a sense of impending doom.
Mathieson also seems, to me, to write something very much like the definitive take on Capaldi’s Doctor. The scenes where the Doctor angsts to Clara about events are all electrifyingly good. Much of this is Capaldi, who plays both scenes as a man grappling with the inertia of depression. But it’s also down to the writing, which, as with the closing scenes of Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline, is adept at picking what ideas to tell instead of showing. I feel slightly bad about ragging on him at this point, but Whithouse is an all too useful counter-example, always putting relatively obvious sentiments in explicit text. Whereas Mathieson picks lines like “I’m sick of losing people.” Really, that entire scene is amazing – the Doctor anticipating and dreading his inevitable eventual mourning of Clara’s departure, the way it contrasts with his earlier use of her as an example of someone he’s reshaped. It’s stuff that’s obvious in the sense of being self-evident, but it’s not obvious in the sense of being a cliche. It’s a small and simple thing – the same angst displayed whenever the Doctor sulks over losing a companion – but moved to a position in the narrative where it’s an unexpected nuance. And the overall take on the Doctor is genuinely impressive. Instead of being self-loathing and self-pitying, the Doctor is just exhausted by the centuries. A good man who is worn out.
Implicit in this is also the fact that Mathieson gives Clara good stuff; and he’s very easily argued as the best Clara writer besides Moffat himself. Obviously at this point, after three episodes where she was given very little to actually do, simply having an episode where Clara gets plot is relieving and satisfying. But it’s good plot. Her cajoling and pushing the Doctor is consistently satisfying, and the baseline of it. But her quick and efficient assessment of Odin and what’s going on and successful (until Ashildir screws it up) is also great, as is her basic rapport with Ashildir.
We also have to talk about Maisie Williams, who’s brilliant. Ashildir is obviously positioned adjacent to Arya as a character in some key ways, and it’s fascinating to watch Williams find space to make the characters different. The impulsive challenging of Odin would have been easy to play as basically an Arya moment, but Williams gives it a furious and desperate confidence that’s lacking from how she plays Arya in similar moments. With Arya we always see the scared kid inside and know she’s putting on a brave face, whereas Ashildir clearly genuinely believes in that moment that she’s going to take down Odin. Her big scene with the Doctor explaining why she won’t leave is likewise impressive, although in almost an opposite way. None of it is anything Arya would say, and Williams manages to build, almost entirely through tone and facial expression, a clear sense that Ashildir’s wisdom comes precisely from the narrowness of her world. It’s brilliant stuff, and emphatically confirms that Williams isn’t just riding a good part over at HBO, but that she’s a genuine contender to be the next Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, or Ellen Page.
And then there’s the ending, cleverly earned and structured. The title all but promises Ashildir’s death, such that her absence from the actual victory scene is an aching and uneasy thing. The result, especially with the knowledge she’ll be around next week, is a satisfying mystery for the final quarter of the episode. And the solution – that the Doctor brings her back but does so by making her immortal, knowing as he does it that he’s probably made a bad call – is at once obvious and compelling. Certainly it builds incredible anticipation for next week, and I loved the gloriously quiet and beautiful cliffhanger of that stunningly gorgeous pan around Williams, her expression going from joy at survival to something altogether more troubling.
Past all of that, though, this just hits a lot of buttons I like. Defeating the bad guys by telling a better story than them. The idea that seeing the world through technology is a weakness, a frankly astonishing thing to say in a contemporary television program, especially one as focused on narrative as technology. The sort of moral imperative it ultimately offers: always try to save more people. The idea of love and kindness as both the definition of home and that which is opposite death.
In short, an easy and straightforward best-of-season so far. If we can keep this level of quality up – and I really see no reason why the remaining seven shouldn’t generally be fantastic, based on premises and writers – this season may yet manage to live up to the one before it.
- Somewhat curious what Moffat did here; this felt like a Mathieson script through and through to me. I imagine he had a hand in the “where the Doctor got his face” scene, but other than that I honestly didn’t seen anything that felt like his work.
- Ah yes, the face scene. Obviously a total hoot, but man, that plot beat must be rough for anyone who’s the least bit hazy about a seven-year-old episode, and I’m not sure it was a satisfying enough answer to that question or an important enough issue (it’s not like motivating the Doctor to save someone should be hard) to justify that level of fanwank. But I’m generally suspicious when hardcore fans who catch lines nicked from Remembrance of the Daleks fret about fanwank, so I’m probably overthinking that one.
- Eels. What a wonderfully ridiculous choice. (Really, I thought the entire “defeat the monsters” section was marvelous; a reasonably complex action sequence that was quickly set up with a lot of animated dialogue that amounted to a list of strange objects and a shot of Clara and a Viking playing with her cell phone, and then smoothly executed such that you could tell what was happening, all in a couple of minutes. Credit due to the director, Ed Bazalgette, who, fun fact discovered while Googling for his name, was the lead guitarist of the Vapors, the band that performed “Turning Japanese.”
- Hopefully this marks the end of the sonic sunglasses.
- Well, it suddenly makes sense why they hired Catherine Tregenna: immortals and people out of time are kinda her thing. This should be good too.
Funny Quote From Someone Posting in the #moffat hate Tag on Tumblr
“I’ve not watched the ep obviously but jfc who [sic] much more obviously unoriginal can this show get ugh”
- The Girl Who Died
- Under the Lake
- The Magician’s Apprentice
- The Witch’s Familiar
- Before the Flood
October 17, 2015 @ 8:44 pm
It is nice to see the show nicking from the Eighth Doctor comics again. In this case, Katsuro Sato; a ronin the Doctor made immortal in a rash decision that he came to regret.
October 17, 2015 @ 8:49 pm
Somewhat curious what Moffat did here
The comedy cut from the Doctor finally letting the Vikings train with real swords to the village in flames felt like pure Moffat to me.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:47 pm
“The comedy cut from the Doctor finally letting the Vikings train with real swords to the village in flames felt like pure Moffat to me.”
Alternatively, feels straight out of Mathieson’s “Time-Travel.”
October 18, 2015 @ 1:51 am
Reminds me of Father Ted – “You let Dougal do a funeral??!!!”
October 17, 2015 @ 8:49 pm
I absolutely loved the way the fight was over and done with in no time at all – because it was so completely unimportant in the overall scheme of things (OK, beyond the need to kill the girl in an interesting way.) And yeah, that pan round her at the end was fabulous.
October 17, 2015 @ 8:56 pm
I’m fairly sick of the “pick the classic doctor you think the current incarnation is channeling” game, but oh well- did anyone else get a real McCoy vibe from Capaldi in this, even before the Remembrance line? The way he delivered all that “fire in the water” stuff, the way he delivered the ripples stuff by the fire, the “I’m looking for something…” bit in Maisie’s tent. He even took it as far as to do some properly cringeworthy, Battlefield-esque, shouting on the “To hell with you!” line.
I agree it’s the best of the season so far, but that’s not as glowing an assessment as it should be when we’re nearly halfway through.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:02 pm
Were it not for Listen, S8 would have seemed about as good at this point.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:06 pm
S8 felt like a fresh start, though, so there was a lot more enthusiasm going in.
It also didn’t have anything as bad as Before the Flood.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:17 pm
“Before the Flood” was merely uninteresting, whereas “Robot of Sherwood” was one of the worst episodes of the Moffat era, and surely the worst since “Curse of the Black Spot.”
October 17, 2015 @ 9:26 pm
YMMV, I suppose. I thought Robot of Sherwood was a joy, whereas Flood was the worst thing since Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. I guess I look for some joy and sense of fun in my Who. Mathieson showed in Mummy that he was capable of balancing that without things seeming frothy- and he pretty much nailed it again here. I’d rather too frothy (Robot) over incompetently written, self important dread slogs (Flood) any day.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:30 pm
I am much more inclined to compare Time Heist to Before the Flood in quality.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:33 pm
I suppose both were baiting a particular kind of 90s cult sci fi fan. You were spot on in the podcast giving Flood an 8, btw.
October 17, 2015 @ 11:11 pm
I think the appropriate comparison to Flood is Victory, given the complete misappropriation of historical imagery. Heist at least has a functional metaphor going for it, esoterically speaking.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:38 pm
I want a sense of fun in my Doctor Who as well. I just don’t want to feel embarrassed by what I’m watching. “The Lodger” and “Christmas Carol,” two of my favorites, are incredibly fun without making me cringe even once.
I don’t disagree that “Before the Flood” was a poor episode, but it didn’t inspire palpable revulsion in me.
October 18, 2015 @ 1:04 pm
I guess I could hear McCoy saying those lines completely in character but I kinda get Capaldi doing his own thing here. Really shining as himself.
I’d like to see another person revisit the Batman Gambit/Indy Ploy thing seven had going. Seven is my favorite after all. But I like Twelve being Twelve. Wouldn’t want him to become a “like # but”.
October 18, 2015 @ 2:48 pm
Regarding past doctors, we also reversed the polarity of the neutron flow this week.
My tuppence worth on this episode was that it was an improvement on Flood. Hard not to be, really. Interpreting baby was a standout moment and decently poetic. But Capaldi really does sell the part; I often feel that he is the doctor and inhabits the role rather than portraying it. I suspect I’m not expressing this very clearly.
October 18, 2015 @ 4:25 pm
I’ve gotten a Four vibe at least once, really strongly, in every episode this season. Pretty sure it’s fully deliberate, especially given how season 16/17 this felt.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:09 pm
Pretty much loved this episode, especially how gorgeously it was shot, Doctor Who needs to film in natural-looking light more often. Pretty much agree with everything Phil says here, with just a few additional notes.
-You know who the villains of this piece reminded me off? Villains from old Japanese superhero movies like Prince of Space and Invasion of the Neptune Men. Odin is pretty much a more stone-faced Phantom of Krankor, his armored goons are basically the Neptune Men, they even have weapons that disintegrates everything except HATS for some reason. The body’s gone, the clothes are gone, but the hat remains. All we need is for Odin to blow up a giant Hitler billboard the and the image would be complete.
-Speaking of hats, horns on the viking helmets? Really? I thought it was common enough knowledge by now that horned viking helmets were not a thing. I found that so distracting I thought it was a clue to something, like Odin was running some kind of simulation based on pop culture vikings. “This Hägar the Horrible seems like a worthy foe! Let’s make some viking robots/clones/holograms/This is the Land of Fiction.”
October 17, 2015 @ 9:11 pm
Mathieson commented on this in DWM, with, roughly, “of course this is Doctor Who so we’re doing horned viking helmets even though they’re wrong.”
I found it a very satisfying justification, really.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:43 pm
To each their own. Me, I thought it was too heritage theme park.
October 17, 2015 @ 11:13 pm
Visual short-hand is not “heritage theme park.” A heritage theme-park Viking story would have glorified raiding parties and war culture, not sent it up.
October 19, 2015 @ 8:57 am
Since the Vikings in “The Time Meddler” had horns on their helmets, we can reasonably assume that in the Doctor Who timeline, it’s a thing.
October 18, 2015 @ 4:52 am
I think it’s been reasonably established (If nowhere else, then on this blog at any rate) that the TARDIS time travels psychochronographically. For instance, the various WWIIs the Doctor has visited are formed from a kind of gestalt British folk memory of the era (Churchill, the Gasmask kid, barrage balloons over Big Ben, etc) and a quite child oriented one at that. Remember the show’s origins as a children’s ‘educational’ series? The Tardis’ first voyage was from Coal Hill school to a prehistoric Britain straight out of a year 6 history primer. Robot of Sherwood addressed this issue well, I thought, albeit within the confines of a not very good story. Remember Amy’s childhood picture book of Roman centurions being the memory that created the Pandorica setting and Rory’s ressurection? Probably not very historically accurate, but a vivid image that every British school kid is taught. Without going too far down the rabbit hole of the ‘Doctor is the renegade master of the Land of Fiction’ I think Mathieson is right to say “of course this is Doctor Who so we’re doing horned viking helmets even though they’re wrong.”
Best episode of the season so far. Can’t wait for next week. I love me some Highwaymen (and Highwaywomen)!
October 18, 2015 @ 6:03 am
It annoyed both my kids. The problem with the horned helmets is that is that it looked wrong enough that they took it as a plot point (oh, it isn’t really Viking times because of the horned helmets – which the Doctor will spot because something else is going on…)
For me it was the electric eels – which somehow made their way from the Amazon and aren’t actually eels. Geography-weography.
However, the kids were both won back by the Fires of Pompei flashback.
[2nd CAPTCHA is ‘VWHO’ cool!]
John G Wood
October 18, 2015 @ 6:41 am
Me and my children had exactly the same reaction to the horns, right down to thinking they were fake vikings – despite loving The Time Meddler. We decided the best thing would have been to insert a couple of lines as they were being taken to the village which effectively said what that interview did, but in-universe. Something like
CLARA: Hang on, I thought the horns on the helmets were a Hollywood invention?
DOCTOR: Never believe what archaeologists tell you, Clara. They’re usually wrong.
Still, definitely my favourite episode so far – I love the way that the battle is won through storytelling (and the threat of telling stories), rather than blowing things up.
October 19, 2015 @ 2:45 pm
The electric eels definitely bothered me because I could not think for the life of me what a bunch of vikings would be doing with them.
I was imagining a whole lot of electrocuted vikings with smoke rising from their tunics attempting to turn them into food.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:12 pm
Anyway, they’re clearly all just recovered cow space helmets.
October 18, 2015 @ 1:22 am
I came here specifically to make pretty much that joke. Should have got around to watching the episode a few hours sooner.
October 21, 2015 @ 6:44 am
I only just realised the full implications of this; the Mire’s plan is quite explicitly to take Vikings off Earth and use them as cattle. Of course each of them sports a space helmet for a cow.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:20 pm
It’s essentially canon that Vikings in the Doctor Who universe wear helmets.
October 18, 2015 @ 7:55 am
The helmets made me happy.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:10 pm
It’s not just the best episode of the year by default, but something sure to be a genuine standout, and one of the episodes I’ll go on to constantly rewatch.
“With Arya we always see the scared kid inside and know she’s putting on a brave face, whereas Ashildir clearly genuinely believes in that moment that she’s going to take down Odin.”
Ashildr is also, unlike Arya, someone whose hope and goodness haven’t been ripped out of her through repeated trauma. (I don’t really like the Arya character’s treatment; I find her incredibly tragic and heartbreaking, and yet the show, and its fans, think she’s pure distilled awesomesauce.)
Not only didn’t I like the “where the Doctor got his face” bit, I didn’t think it was even necessary. Actors get around. They’ll show up in thing, pop up in another, and sometimes within the same show a few years apart. That’s just the business. Why must there be some pointless canonical explanation for this? I’ve been dreading what silly thing they’d do to shoehorn “Fires of Pompeii” into Twelve’s run. At least this isn’t as silly as it could have been. They didn’t go back to Pompeii or anything ridiculous.
I hate fanwank. I hate callbacks. Move forward, writers.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:20 pm
I assume, though, that this means that the Fifth Doctor regenerated into Maxil to remind himself that Time Lords are often gigantic assholes.
Ger of All Trades
October 17, 2015 @ 10:32 pm
And the First Doctor regenerated into Salamander because, uhh… hmm…
October 18, 2015 @ 1:19 am
And then went on to prove it.
October 18, 2015 @ 6:14 pm
I was going to say, “Get ready for a whole trilogy of Big Finish Audios down to why he chose Maxil’s face.”
October 19, 2015 @ 1:04 pm
Well, clearly NOW we’re going to have to get ready for that. Good going.
October 17, 2015 @ 10:52 pm
Damnit, this godawful new web host ate my funny comment and then other people got to the same joke, but I’m just gonna be obstinate:
“So, if 12/13 picked his face to remind himself that he had to save people, what was 6 trying to remind himself? Not to mouth off to people who were pointing guns at him?”
Phil, if you want to run an indiegogo to raise money to buy you a cloudflare account, I’m in for a few bucks.
October 17, 2015 @ 10:55 pm
More seriously: I generally really liked this episode and think Mathieson is building himself quite an amazing resume so far, but… dear god, they really decided to make the emotional and narrative climax of the episode center on a plot point that even complete obsessives might have to pull up the wikipedia summary of “Fires of Pompeii” to refresh themselves on? This was as empty a signifier as anything in “Attack of the Cybermen”. Hopefully Moffat’s gotten it out of his system, unless the series finale is going to hinge on why it was also John Frobisher’s face.
October 17, 2015 @ 11:22 pm
Attack was pulling stuff from twenty years previous, that practically no one had seen since, given we weren’t collecting DVDs and inhaling Netflix at the time. Pompeii is only seven years old, in a context where most fans have access to every modern episode.
Furthermore, though, Pompeii has, I think, a great deal of thematic resonance for the episode and the season as a whole. It isn’t empty continuity fetishism. Here we have the Doctor playing god, again, only this time it’s also got ramifications for the relationship with his companion. He is utterly terrified of losing Clara, and now he’s put himself in a position of believing he can break all the rules to “save” her. This is going to be very interesting.
October 18, 2015 @ 3:24 am
Also, I think the clips give us everything we need to know: the Doctor, when he looked like David Tennant, saved someone who looked liked Peter Capaldi, and a thousand years and two regenerations later, he subconsciously chose the face of the man to hold him true to his mission of saving people.
Plus, I think that’s a legitimate amount of self reference for New Who’s Tenth Anniversary.
Megara Justice Machine
October 18, 2015 @ 6:23 am
At least it was just a minute or two of fanwank that didn’t get in the way of the rest of the story – I can tolerate that.
October 18, 2015 @ 4:30 pm
(I don’t really like the Arya character’s treatment; I find her incredibly tragic and heartbreaking, and yet the show, and its fans, think she’s pure distilled awesomesauce.)
The one leads to the other for me. She’s all the more impressive for being as broken as she is. But I know what you’re getting at: being single-mindedly focused on remorseless bloody revenge is a bit disturbing a thing for people to venerate.
Ger of All Trades
October 17, 2015 @ 9:35 pm
I was particularly delighted with the “duel of narratives” climax, plus the idea of using the alien helmet to channel Ashildr’s stories into manifesting. Mathieson has said he doesn’t really watch the classic series, but this episode felt so close to the spirit of “The Mind Robber” that I’m tempted to speculate he’s at least read Phil’s write-up on it.
October 17, 2015 @ 9:47 pm
Thank you for nailing just what is so delightful about that resolution. Everything right down to the mythical beast turning into an inanimate object, just as The Mind Robber’s creatures continually shift between 3D and cardboard cut-out!
October 17, 2015 @ 10:11 pm
If you had spoiled this for me yesterday and told me that the episode would bother to go back and explain why the Doctor looks like that guy David Tennant saved in Pompeii, I would have braced myself for the worst because that sounds like such a silly idea on paper.
Then it comes up in the episode and… it fits thematically with what’s happening in the story and its climax? It helps anchor the emotional core of things? It’s… good?
Mathieson’s three for three now with me. I’m coming not ten minutes from first viewing on this but if it doesn’t falter on a rewatch, this is my favorite episode of Series 9 so far. Oh my god. Incredible.
October 17, 2015 @ 10:32 pm
Also “Yay mirrors! Mirrors solve everything!” Because I know you’re thinking about that sort of thing.
October 17, 2015 @ 11:24 pm
Um, about the mirrors… that would be me.
Ger of All Trades
October 17, 2015 @ 11:49 pm
Speaking of which, it was nice to see the opening two-parter’s fascination with eyes continued. The extreme close-up of Clara’s eye at the beginning, the eyepatch-wearing Odin, Ashildr’s use of the eyepatch-like broken sunglasses to free Clara, the cut from the Mire’s eye-like harvesting equipment to the eye of Ashildr’s serpent puppet. There was even a bit of it with the ghosts’ hollow eyesockets in the Whithouse episodes. It’s shaping up to be a very strong motif for series 9, though I can’t quite grasp what point they’re working towards just yet. (Factoring in all the “hybrid” business, something to do with the Doctor’s infamous half-human retinal pattern might be fun!)
October 18, 2015 @ 12:53 am
Actually, Frezno’s getting on the mirror train as well.
October 18, 2015 @ 1:52 am
October 18, 2015 @ 7:37 am
Yeah, I did a rewatch of Series 8 just before 9 started and I remembered reading somewhere that there was a mirror theme so I started looking for it… and Jesus Christ, the mirror symbolism is EVERYWHERE in this show.
October 17, 2015 @ 10:31 pm
I had fun this week, which is better than last week. I loved both the “everybody lives” ending as well as the “oh bugger, immortality is rather shit” pan. Normally that sort of thing ticks me off due to it being usually written by people like Whithouse, but it doesn’t look like this’ll be an “angst angst misery angst no happiness” sort of follow up, but rather one that looks like a hell of a lot of fun.
October 18, 2015 @ 1:57 am
Everybody lives – except for the villages’ entire supply of hardy Viking raiders.
October 17, 2015 @ 10:33 pm
The Kinda Meddler
October 17, 2015 @ 10:54 pm
I liked it a lot, although frankly, I’m a fan of almost all DW’s turns (well, except the awful “Robots of Sherwood”).
But who gets the other medical patch?
That has to be really significant.
There are holes in my DW knowledge. Do we know why Captain Jack can’t die?
October 17, 2015 @ 11:14 pm
Jack’s immortality has something to do with when Rose became Bad Wolf at the end of Series 1. Magic, basically.
Thanks for joining me in hating “Robot of Sherwood.”
October 21, 2015 @ 5:35 am
“But who gets the other medical patch?”
The season seems to be pretty heavily pointing to it being Clara. Not just your standard heavy pointing; full-on Yellow Submarine Awful Flying Glove-level pointing.
Whether that’s what actually happens, of course…
Sex and Violins
October 17, 2015 @ 11:54 pm
In some ways the episode also functioned well as an actor show case. It required Capaldi a lot to do in a very short period of time, and actually gave Jenna Coleman something to do (finally). Maisie Williams was also subject to similar demands, as the closing shot is effectively reliant on her to sell it. If that had been done by a less good actor it would have been a very generic shot. As it was, Williams sells it completely and the whole shot manages to set up the next episode in what may be the most original cliffhanger Doctor Who has ever had.
October 18, 2015 @ 12:09 am
Wonderful, wonderful episode, I knew it right from the start when they brought up Odin-I had recently read the Terminus entry from Sandifer’s book. And the part with the baby kind of made me cry a little. Great episode, very funny as well.
October 18, 2015 @ 12:20 am
Also, the Doctor tricks and defeats the Mire by lampooning them in a sort of fanvid/YouTube spoof video/Crack!vid.
October 18, 2015 @ 12:35 am
“No, not the crack!vid!”
(Just thought of that.)
October 18, 2015 @ 3:01 am
A pity we missed out on BRIAN BLESSED as Odin, though. 🙁
October 19, 2015 @ 5:23 am
Odin should have looked more like W.G. Grace.
October 18, 2015 @ 3:34 am
The name Ashidlr (literally something like “God Battle”) was a bit on the nose though, wasn’t it?
(full disclosure, I only looked up the name’s meaning the other day to check if there was some clue she was Susan or the Monk, I know literally nothing about ancient Scandinavian languages)
October 18, 2015 @ 4:50 am
Electric eels in Scandinavia? Hmmm… With that and the name of the aliens (The Mire – Maya?) I’m wondering if an early draft of the episode was set in South America but someone realised it would be a lot cheaper to film in an archaeological living heritage village than fly everyone out to Chichen Itza.
October 19, 2015 @ 5:28 am
I had a very similar thought. Certainly I was extremely annoyed by the realisation that the story would have been better on almost every level (including, obviously, social progress) if it had been set in the Amazon and featured actors of colour, but if the reason that didn’t happen was that they simply couldn’t afford it, I guess that’s the least shitty excuse that could be given.
October 19, 2015 @ 1:12 pm
But do we need to demand that fauna stay in their proper geographical range in a story about an immortal-as-he-needs-to-be space wizard helping Vikings to fight monsters with the power of narrative?
October 20, 2015 @ 3:00 am
I don’t see anyone demanding anything. As always, different people have different levels of inaccuracy they’re willing to ignore for the sake of the narrative. I’ve never even remotely been a fan of the argument that the scientific/geographical/historical inaccuracies of a fantasy show shouldn’t matter, because it’s simply too trivial to suggest inaccuracies that would pretty much make everyone raise their eyebrows and tut (here we are in London, the capital city of Brazil, which being on the continent of Asia of course means that gravity works the opposite way round)*. All that’s of relevance is the level of inaccuracy a specific person is willing to stomach, and under what circumstances. “This episode is so cool I don’t care that no Viking ever met an electric eel” is a perfectly valid statement. “It shouldn’t matter if Doctor Who tells us that electric eels come from northern Europe” is shot through with problems.
(Plus, note that both of the comments above yours are specifically commenting on whether the eels are a signifier of a previous draft, or imply a more interesting route not taken. This is some way away from simply stating “MOFFAT DOESN’T KNO WOT ENDEMIC MEENS LOL!”)
*Now that as a concept for an episode, with some brief handwaving justifications so that we can get to the running around, might be a great idea. It’s all a question of lamp-shading.
(Captcha attempts: 2)
October 18, 2015 @ 4:58 am
I’m glad you liked this one! I was worried we would never have the same opinion again after last week!
That said, I’m sort of surprised you didn’t think it problematic that the episode basically celebrated the Vikings who were all about rape and murder? Or is the historical distance/construction of Vikings as a popular culture icon separate from the historical reality enough to make that not an issue?
October 18, 2015 @ 9:46 am
I thought the episode did a fairly well job to critique war culture, without conflating it to every aspect of Viking culture. The warriors are all mirrored by Odin and the Mire (testosterone drinking lampreys) who are lampooned in the end, defeated not through fighting, but through the alchemical trickery of Loki.
October 18, 2015 @ 12:13 pm
Obligatory tiresome pedantry: actually, war culture pretty much was every aspect of Viking culture, given that the word “viking” meant something like “raider” or “pirate”. Early medieval Scandinavian culture on the other hand…
October 18, 2015 @ 5:02 am
This one’s for us, it seems. Add to that the bit in The Witch’s Familiar where the Doctor survives an ambush because he’s secretly the Master of the Land of Fiction, and this is shaping up to be the Eruditorum Season.
October 18, 2015 @ 9:47 am
With Before the Flood being a sop to gun-trads? I sure hope so.
October 18, 2015 @ 1:33 pm
Doubly one for here as it briefly looks like a film version of ‘The Lost Vikings’
October 18, 2015 @ 5:13 am
I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on the Mire being defeated by showing them a dodgy special effect: in effect, the Doctor defeats the Mire by showing them an episode of Doctor Who. This is further underlined by the sfx being simultaneously a piece of CGI and a dodgy model, meaning the Doctor is showing both new and classic serials.
The whole series so far seems to have a recurring theme of how stories can define us, both for better and worse. The comedy Vikings are the opposite of traditional rape and pillage Vikings (thank god), while the Mire have the reputation the Vikings are supposed to, and the Doctor says he’s Odin and then his thunder being taken by the Mire doing the same; while not liked here, Under the Lake/Before the Flood has the Fisher King trying to survive by writing a brief story and turning human beings into transmitters for that meme; and the Magician’s Apprentice/the Witch’s Familiar is full of references to personal stories, from the Doctor in medieval Britain being found by the story he creates, to Davros and the Doctor’s entire conversation being stories about themselves; to Clara in the Dalek unable to communicate properly (in short, being denied the ability to tell a story).
The Girl Who Died is my highlight of series nine so far.
October 18, 2015 @ 5:17 am
What I love most is the story chosen to beat Odin with; a climax involving a dodgy giant snake effect.
Kinda is the key to defeating evil. Love it.
October 18, 2015 @ 5:22 am
Out in the cold on this one. Probably partly to do with not being in the mood, but I just found it a bit dull. Yes, the baby stuff was well-played, the resolution was fine, and I was relieved that people eventually stopped shouting “VIKINGS!”, but [shrug].
Also there was quite a bit that irritated me. For starters, the Doctor’s whole Prime Directive non-dilemma – “interfering with history” dilemmas may be contrived, inconsistent and lack real moral heft, but at least they tend to muster some vague semblance of logic, however flimsy. Whereas here, where obviously none of the usual “Laws of Time” sort of considerations apply to stopping a bunch of alien interlopers from wiping out a medieval village, we have all those problems and more besides. The explanations we get for the Doctor’s shoulder-shrugging readiness to break the habit of a lifetime are that actually pulling his finger out might hypothetically lead to Earth becoming a target for alien attack (Horrors! The idea!), and that apparently he doesn’t get out of bed for anything less than a species these days. Not just absurd but kind of sickening as well.
Also, on a related note, since Clara’s putative impending death apparently means that every single story is going to have one of those stomach-turning “never mind the peasants, CLARA’s in danger!” bits, can we please not wait until Face the Raven or whatever and just kill her now?
Also, we seem to have reached the point where it’s no longer possible to have a story that doesn’t revolve around Doctor-angst. Not that that hasn’t produced some good stories in the past, but enough really is enough.
Also, if I hear “no sonic!!!” as a way of stressing how desperate the situation is again, I’m going to start throwing things.
Also, I was sorely disappointed at the missed opportunity for someone to protest “But they got armour!”.
OK, maybe not that last one.
Yes, I know, I’m in a grump. Still though.
Also, I know I’m being impertinent here, but I can’t help the suspicion that its reception has benefited from its place in the schedule making it the vessel for the backwash of Whithouse-hate.
October 18, 2015 @ 4:47 pm
The whole season has been a pretty even stream of “okay” for me (which isn’t that bad) so far. I think you raise a lot of good points, particularly about the Doctor’s yes-we-get-it special treatment of Clara.
October 18, 2015 @ 11:21 pm
She’s not going to die.
October 19, 2015 @ 6:09 am
I said “putative”. I will be profoundly,/I> unusurprised if it turns out to be misdirection, but we are clearly being encouraged to expect it (just look at the published episode summaries), and these stories seem to be purposely overshadowed by that foreboding.
October 19, 2015 @ 6:14 am
Oh, hey, and another thing about the current comments system? You can’t delete comments, which is annoying when you, to pick a hypothetical example completely at random, stuff up a closing tag and turn most of your comment italic.
October 18, 2015 @ 6:07 am
Has nobody said ‘Pirate Planet’ yet?
October 18, 2015 @ 8:07 am
Yeah i thought that too.
BY THE BEARD OF THE SKY DEMON!
October 18, 2015 @ 10:07 am
Absolute favourite so far. Love that this is based around the stories about ourselves we present to the world and how stories are used/can be used as weapons.
October 18, 2015 @ 11:00 am
“Beyond the… folding of your smile… is there other kindness?”
And I was genuinely moved to tears by the beautiful poetry that was the translated speech of the baby. This was some of the most touching writing and a big highlight for me.
Also, the scene in the barn was stunning – which in a way felt like some kind of subtle mirror for the Barn scene in The Day of the Doctor. The way Capaldi played it was so lovely to watch for me.
October 18, 2015 @ 11:11 am
Things I thought were by Moffat:
-the aforementioned cut from training with real swords to the village in chaos
-the line about the baby’s junior parent (it just screams “Coupling” to me)
-the face sequence was Moffat, as you say
-I’d argue the opening sequence might well have been too (it felt, in both detail and concept, like the way many Moffat spectaculars open mid-adventure)
-I’d also bet on some of the more lyrical flourishes being his. Mathieson writes excellent dialogue, but the “I am afraid” business of the baby’s felt like Moffat at least had a hand in it. The same with “what is heaven but the gilded door of the abattoir” (Moffat’s had a thing with making pertinent points about the way we treat use animals, and he almost always uses the word “abattoir”. Just my two cents.
Like most of you here, I loved it too. Fresh and innovative and funny and moving. I’m psyched for Tregenna getting to run with the baton (which really is what next week feels like – passing the torch of a great idea on. Run with it. Make trouble.)
October 18, 2015 @ 12:17 pm
I bet Moffat polished up the characterization of Ashildr to fit in line with where Treganna takes her.
You’re probably right about the abattoir thing. Moffat used the word in Bells and used the concept in Deep Breath.
October 18, 2015 @ 5:47 pm
Yup, “no one loves cattle more than Burger King” is pretty much the same sentiment inverted. I like it when Moffat lets out his inner cynic and goes all snarky.
October 18, 2015 @ 1:31 pm
The abattoir line felt like unused material from Death in Heaven.
October 18, 2015 @ 11:35 am
On second watch what really stood out was how much the solution (the bit with the phone video and the threat of humiliation) was pure Malcolm Tucker.
October 18, 2015 @ 12:29 pm
I was wondering if i was alone in thinking about half the broken sonic sunglasses being used, was akin to odin loosing a eye?
did someone say mirroring?
October 18, 2015 @ 2:08 pm
This season’s themes so far.
Mirrors, eyes, Clara hanging upside down in an initiation pose. Disability (blindness, deafness, could immortality be perceived as disabling?) call-backs to the classic era, video and/or phone messages, the Doctor meditating on losing companions foreshadowing the loss of Clara. the dead or undead, hauntings, most literally in UtL and BtF but also a general sense of past events re-occurring and affecting the present. (Missy,the Confession Dial, the ‘Let’s Kill Davros’ dillema, the bootstrap paradox, Capaldi’s face, Ashildr, Osgood and the upcoming Zygon two parter).
And oh yes, The Hybrid. The ‘combination of two great warrior races’ that Davros was so worried about. Assuming this prophecy will form the impetus leading to the finale i’d like to speculate on what this might mean.
Of course Davros’ hubris leads him to assume that one of the races the prophecy refers to will be the Daleks. I’d be more inclined to call Humanity as potentially the greatest warriors the universe will ever know, constantly expanding and colonising. We’ve already seen RTD’s take on this with the Toclafane.
I think the ‘immortal Ashildr is a hybrid’ line is a red herring. I also don’t think it’s going to be Clara.
I think it would be just like Moffat to legitimise one of the most contentious pieces of Doctor Who canon. The ‘Half Human on my mother’s side’ line from the McGann movie.
I’m calling it now the Hybrid is the Doctor.
October 18, 2015 @ 2:36 pm
“I’m calling it now the Hybrid is the Doctor.”
Thinking this too. My partner & I said this to each other after that episode.
October 18, 2015 @ 3:43 pm
I’m honestly stunned by the response to this one.
I didn’t think everyone, or anyone, would hate it as much as I did but for it to be the almost unanimous favorite. …
I thought it was horrible. I was actually embarrassed watching it.
Virtually every single second was cringeworthy. Comedy Vikings, comedy cold open, the painfully overwrought baby poetry, the A-Team “I love it when a plan comes together” montage, Maisie playing Arya Stark and making me notice how shabby the production values are when compared to something like GoT, the rubbish bad guy. … Even Capaldi, who I usually love regardless of the writing, wasn’t very good here. This made Before the Flood look like Caves of Androzani.
October 18, 2015 @ 5:22 pm
I mean, if merely “comedy ___” was enough to make you cringe on two counts, maybe you went into this with slightly the wrong mindset.
Cringing must be the most intensely subjective of all the reactions casually deployed in fan criticism. I’ve heard of people cringing at completely innocuous line deliveries in songs. It’s reached the point where I have almost no faith in its ability to tell me anything about a work; it seems more like something we do when an arbitrarily placed laser sensor is tripped in our heads.
October 19, 2015 @ 3:29 pm
I can’t speak for kmt75, but for me it was cringeworthy because it was clearly trying so hard to be funny, and utterly failing. It was all just… stilted, like it was going through the motions of a joke without any sense of timing, like some kind of reptilian wearing a poorly-fitting human flesh suit and trying to sing limericks in a bizarre hissing monotone in a desperate attempt to fit in with these filthy warmbloods but its mouth doesn’t quite making the right shapes. You know?
Didn’t care about any of the characters, (therefore) didn’t find the story compelling, and of course this made the things that I’d probably accept in a story I was otherwise enjoying — like the eels or the helmets or the fact that the alions didn’t realise that you can’t upload videos to space youtube if you’ve been atomised from orbit or why did Clara take Masie Williams with her at the beginning??— stand out and annoy me even more.
And that godawful, mawkish ‘baby’ ‘poetry’. Uch.
Masie Williams looked like she was acting in a pantomime, but I’m inclined to say that she did her best with the material she was given, because everyone else was awful too.
But, anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only one who found this to be an awful episode.
October 19, 2015 @ 3:54 pm
I didn’t even bother with the massive plot holes (just blowing up the village from orbit) because I figured it would just be waved away with “You’re watching a show about an alien that travels through time in a police box and you’re complaining about things not making sense.”
October 19, 2015 @ 3:44 pm
Doesn’t “something we do when an arbitrarily placed laser sensor is tripped in our heads” describe virtually ALL criticism?
Look at Before The Flood. Mind you, I’m not defending Before The Flood. It’s as average as average Doctor Who gets.
Still, it had a diverse cast, that while not well developed was at least enough of an afterthought that the writer gave everyone names. This week we had Arya Stark, white guy with beard, other white guy with beard, third white guy with beard, and white guy holding baby. Where’s the outrage?
When O’Donnell dies it’s “fridging” because her death exists to create angst for a male character. Well what purpose did Arya’s death and resurrection serve? So we can further explore the “living forever sucks because you lose people” angst that the series has been beating us over the head with since Christopher Eccleston?
Whithouse wastes Paul Kaye by covering him in makeup and giving him nothing to do. Why doesn’t anyone have a similar issue with Mathieson wasting Maisie Williams by having her play Arya in her Arya costume? Does GRRM get cut some kind of royalty check for the, “the girls all thought I was a boy and the boys all thought I was just a girl” line? Did the scene where she’s killing the puppet Odin need multiple retakes because she forgot that in Doctor Who her death list only has one name and kept adding Raff the Sweetling after Odin?
The sets and designs for Before The Flood are slagged for being visually unengaging. Well how would you describe the viking costumes and village that looked like something out of Xena or Hercules? And, they look even worse when you throw Maisie Williams in the middle of them because in her other show she occupies a fully developed, lived-in, three-dimensional world that has been painstakingly crafted down to the tiniest detail.
The baby dialogue reads like it was written by a freshman poetry major at an engineering college.
And then there’s the “comedy.” When did Doctor Who become almost exclusively comedy with a little angst tossed into the mix?
I know all of this is subjective, and humor is probably the most subjective of all, but none of these jokes work for me. So when they break the sunglasses and Capaldi and Coleman look at each other and say “We’re going with vikings” (wink, wink, nod, nod, cut to opening theme) I cringe the same way I cringed when Capaldi told me to “Google” Bootstrap Paradox, or when he winked at the camera at the end of Before The Flood. Doctor Who has always been funny, at least when it’s been good, but the humor was organic. This just feels forced. It feels like we’re two or three episodes away from them playing Yakety Sax behind the entire show.
October 19, 2015 @ 2:29 pm
Oh thank God. I’m not the only one who thought is was predictable shit. I haven’t been this bored since Curse of the Black Spot.
October 19, 2015 @ 11:23 am
I enjoyed this episode, and really the only “huh?” moment for me was the whole drinking testosterone. These are space people from space and they are invading other planets and murdering whole villages to… drink their testosterone?!?
Quite apart from the Quatermass vibe, it seems a weird thing to turn a story on in a culture that happily manufactures testosterone by the crate.
Did anyone else find it odd that even after half the village had been harvested for their testosterone, the villagers left were still almost all male?
Bonus previous Doctor reference: the trousers looked very 2nd Doctor to me.
October 19, 2015 @ 3:38 pm
You just don’t get the same bouquet from a batch of synthesised testosterone. For the real psycho alion connoisseur, you really need to go for the free-range organic sources.
I’ve seen people who are queasy about taking vitamin supplements and prefer to get that stuff from meat, so there;s definitely some basis in reality here.
October 19, 2015 @ 1:26 pm
I think that they almost have to use the comic-book version of history for historical episodes.
To take history more seriously, you have to either address or ignore the ugly realities of history. Churchill was a classic example of the problems. No one who knows the history of India can easily accept him as the cheerful, genial heroic figure of “Victory of the Daleks.”
On the other hand, in “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”, the version of WWII we see the comic book version of WWII, with spunky ordinary folks standing up to the power of the blitz without being able to strike back directly. It works, even knowing the problems of British imperialism, because it avoids sympathizing with those behind the power and oppression of imperialism.
October 19, 2015 @ 2:07 pm
I feel silly saying this, but I’m getting tired of the utterly brilliant writing. Maybe that’s not it — maybe I’m just getting tired of the heavy-hitting plots. The farther you get into the logic of having a time traveler who is basically immortal who tries to “do good” the more it breaks down into, “Well, that’s completely impossible.” I like that, but in small doses. For example, the immortality theme. In this episode, the Doctor went on and on about it, and the emotional impact was intense. In contrast, in “Kill the Moon,” the Doctor got really angry and said, “Girl first, then her teacher, and then me. You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me because I will keep on regenerating.
. . . In fact, I’m not entirely sure that I won’t keep on regenerating for ever.” This gives me a chill every time I think about it. But the plot moved on.
I did like the pained look Capaldi gave when Clara told him the obvious truth that he’s a tidal wave.
Also . . . the sonic sunglasses have to go. When they were broken, my twelve-year-old broke our “no talking during Doctor Who” rule and burst out cheering. Kid, if only it was that easy.
October 19, 2015 @ 9:12 pm
I’m astonished at the reception this episode has received, and at how vapid and obviously tired this iteration of Doctor Who has become.
If the preceding two-part story was merely bland, this was smug, boringly repetitive and hollow. Didactic in the extreme, we are subjected to endless scenes in which The Doctor emotes with self-indulgent, tedious angst and self-pity regarding such cliched themes as the burden of moral responsibility on the all-powerful male superhero (and his inconsequential feelings of guilt, doubt and self-reproach) and The Doctor’s ‘duty of care’ to his infantilised companions. The return of the ‘Time Lord Victorious’ stuff is predictable given the inevitable return of the Time Lords, but is executed with so much less flair than it was with Tennant.
The more we focus on The Doctor’s character, the more empty a vessel he seems. The stories raise straw-man anxieties to awkwardly dash them when they become inconvenient: What is The Doctor’s name? Is The Doctor going to die? Is The Doctor a good man? To what extent can The Doctor change the pattern of events? All of these questions are smacked in our faces week after week with unsatisfying conclusions (because it is probably impossible to provide conclusions to them without breaking the show in fundamental ways).
Many of the smug jokes fall flat (and would fall flat with a noisy thud with less talented actors) and we have returned to a portrayal of The Doctor as a gibbering moron staggering his way through life on obnoxiousness, rudeness, arrogance and finally sentimentality (being the other side of the coin of brutality).
Moffat’s later era (from Series 7 onwards) should be viewed alongside J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek (and most likely Star Wars too), the superhero films of the ’00s and Sherlock as pieces of ‘official’ fan-fiction, which begin delightfully with the mythic echo of the original iconography – and then descend into its pastiche. Note how often he seems to be ‘trolling’ a fannish vision of Doctor Who: the pointless emoting of Davros, a ‘hybrid warrior’ overhanging the series like dirty linen, endless call-backs to the past in the form of quotation and allusion, a female Master, The TARDIS as ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, The Doctor getting married, the intrusive placing of Clara at every moment of his timestream, the Gallifrey scene of The Doctor stealing the TARDIS etc. etc.
Add to this tired formula an utterly pointless supporting cast with the exception of another ‘mystery girl’, a blandly realised historical setting and more guff about immortality and it’s not hard to see why there has been such a large drop-off in viewing figures.
Having said all that, I did like the stuff with the recorded footage, the illusory basilisk and the power of storytelling – despite its massively overwrought and unsubtle exposition.
October 20, 2015 @ 2:51 am
I could not agree more about how “vapid and obviously tired” the show has become.
For a show that can go anywhere and do anything it’s spent the past three years re-telling the same story with exponentially diminishing returns.
October 19, 2015 @ 9:31 pm
I’d be interested to hear if anybody is having doubts about Capaldi’s Doctor. He was outstanding in ‘Deep Breath’, ‘Kill the Moon’ and ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’, where he was given genuinely engaging material to work with. But so often he seems not to believe in the lines (understandably) he’s given.
His vocal delivery is often particularly strange – as if he hasn’t really got a handle on how to play the character. It doesn’t help that there have now been so many changes in costume. He’s a fine actor of course, and so there are scenes here and there which really work, but the characterisation in the scripts is so inconsistent that he seems to be having difficulty knowing how to pitch it. Interestingly enough, in this regard he most definitely does remind me of Colin Baker.
October 21, 2015 @ 6:06 am
This episode was the best episode of series 9 so far which is very sad.