The Woman Who Lived Review
There’s an odd tone to this, which is mostly good, although there’s a big exception. Perhaps the most striking thing is that the first half is essentially a two-hander; an extended character study in Me. This is an interesting exercise, especially coming off The Girl Who Died, and it’s by some margin the most successful the “all two-parters” experiment has been. Between the fact that she’s a Big Guest Actor and the fact that we just spent an episode being introduced to her character, Maisie Williams conspicuously does not need an introduction, and so the story sets about giving her one.
As expected, Catherine Tregenna is well-suited to this. And it’s remarkably tricky ground, especially given the decision to make Me an unsettling and borderline-villainous character, which immediately brings in a lot of mirroring, an approach that can crash into dull cliche with ease. Tregenna is good at this, deftly balancing the big tell-don’t-show lines with slightly surprising and unexpected perspectives throughout. “I stopped caring because everyone died” is obvious. “I left it there to remind me not to have any more children” is staggering. “They value life because it’s fleeting” is yawn-worthy if sweet. The act of caring as “falling off the wagon” is deliciously unnerving. She’s done this sort of thing before, and hat-tips Captain Jack in the script, but the experience in finding new takes on “person out of time” she brings to the job pays off mightily.
But a lot of credit also has to go to Maisie Williams. The Ashildir/Me role is not one that a lot of people could do, requiring as it does the ability to convincingly play a child and then convincingly play a centuries-old immortal who is actually the same person as that child. The list of people who can do that – and it is of course a matter of age and skill both – is very short. Maisie Williams is on it. It’s as simple as that. Whereas The Girl Who Died involved playing off of her role as Arya repeatedly, here her role is almost always to be alien and disturbing, and she relishes in it.
In short, Tregenna’s a great choice to write a story about a different sort of immortal, and Maisie William’s a great choice to play one. The result is that this story has a pretty foolproof basic engine. Basically put, you’re not going to go wrong with Catherine Tregenna writing forty-five of Maisie Williams as an immortal, and you don’t. And given that, it’s tough to call the fact that Doctor Who ends up being a guest in its own programme a problem. (And it’s manifestly Doctor Who, not the Doctor, who’s a guest here.) Indeed, it’s a refreshing variation, which is doubly welcome in a season that deliberately has fewer moments of completely reinventing the tone of the show than some.
What is a problem is that you can tell that Catherine Tregenna’s previous disinterest in writing Doctor Who was, in fact, a genuine sentiment. The actual business of being a Doctor Who story is not so much poorly done as sketchily done, with plot beats that frequently feel as if they’re being served up with a “will this do” attitude. The weird decision to include a full face shot of Leandro prior to his big smash down the door as the devil itself moment is sloppy in the way of dropping a character in The Curse of the Black Spot, which is never a good feeling. The Sam Swift bits are practically unwatchable. I don’t mind dick jokes in my Doctor Who, but for fuck’s sake, can we at least have funny ones?
What this means in practical terms is that after a tremendously compelling and strange first half we get a positively slapdash back half. It’s not that Doctor Who stories where the plot isn’t the main focus can’t work; indeed, in a real sense that describes last week. But here things come in the wrong order, with the good bits so front-loaded that once the plot shows up it’s little more than an irritation to get rid of. And the result is not entirely satisfying. Me’s redemption is almost completely unearned, so much so that Maisie Williams visibly can’t find her way into the scene and is reduced to seeing if she can shout loud enough to be emotionally convincing. The tightrope of her selective ethics is similarly unsatisfying, mainly because what it ultimately converges on – killing Sam Swift and then changing her mind – is tough to invest in, not least because what we ultimately get for the heel turn, the death of Sam Swift, is hard to get that upset over as a viewer.
It’s tempting to snark here about how “best of the Torchwood writers” was always damning with faint praise, and it’s true that Torchwood often had a similar tendency to feel like much ado about nothing, but that’s unfair. Even in the back half, the bits that don’t have much to do with the plot are great. Capaldi’s “I saved your life, I didn’t know your heart would rot” line is magnificently delivered, if a bit overwritten, and I’ve already praised the “falling off the wagon” bit. And the last scene between Capaldi and Williams is genuinely great. And this is clearly the point of the episode and where the attention is supposed to go. It’s just that the fire-breathing lion alien and the annoying highwayman are genuinely distracting.
So what we have is a sort of reverse curate’s egg – an apple with a bad spot that’s easy enough to cut off and enjoy the rest. Sure, we might be a bit glum we didn’t get a whole apple, but what remains is genuinely delicious.
- The reference to The Visitation is entertaining, given that the stories share a similar flaw, namely that the only substantive character other than the Doctor, the villain, and the companions is an unfunny highwayman.
- One thing I didn’t get into, but liked a lot, was that the episode ends on the decision that saving Ashildr was the right thing to do – that she was a tidal wave worth unleashing, to use the parlance of the two episodes. As someone who is emphatically opposed to the suggestion that changing history is morally wrong (as opposed to impossible or so dangerous and unpredictable as to be useless), I really enjoyed the decision over these two episodes to emphatically endorse a position along the lines of “tidal waves as a category are morally neutral, and require individual judgment.” The brave and compelling revision of the Davies-era fixed points/not one line doctrine that started with Kill the Moon continues, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
- Well, I say “the episode ends on,” but the episode actually ends on a Clara scene. Clara’s absence is certainly going to make podcasting with Caitlin interesting, but the story wouldn’t really have worked with her, and perhaps moreover, so much of the story is about her – it’s an exercise in commenting on the Doctor/Clara relationship by showing a contrast with it. More on the podcast, no doubt.
- There’s obviously a measure of cultural signifier in Sam Swift being played by Rufus Hound, who is apparently a significant celebrity guest star in his own right. This is not an aspect of British culture I’m immediately familiar with – is “tedious and unfunny” Hound’s shtick in general, or is this out of keeping with him?
- Much as I found the ending unsatisfying, I kind of enjoyed the sheer arbitrariness with which Leandro is dispatched.
- Since we’re now at the halfway mark, it seems prudent to try to make a direct comparison to Series 8, not least because I politely disagree with the general consensus that Series 9 isn’t as good. I’m pretty willing to stipulate that Deep Breath and Listen average out to about the same quality as The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, and that Under the Lake/Before the Flood are no worse than Into the Dalek and Time Heist in terms of their tedium. Which means comparing Robot of Sherwood and The Caretaker to The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived, a comparison where I’m inclined to say Series 9 actually comes out ahead. The disingenuous part here is that Series 8’s strength disproportionately came in the back half, so being as good as Series 8’s front half is idiosyncratic praise.
- Speaking of the back half, episode seven’s written by Peter Harness again, and I can’t wait for next week. I never thought I’d say that about a UNIT story.
- Oh, and I redid the episode ranking from scratch this week instead of using the previous ranking, because I discovered that the space between Under the Lake and The Magician’s Apprentice is impossible for me to slot anything into.
Funny Quote From Someone Posting in the #moffat hate Tag on Tumblr
Let’s just go with the post titled “HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO TALK LIKE A MAN IF YOU ARE A GIRL???!!!”
- The Girl Who Died
- The Magician’s Apprentice
- The Woman Who Lived
- The Witch’s Familiar
- Under the Lake
- Before the Flood
- The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived
- The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar
- Under the Lake/Before the Flood
October 24, 2015 @ 8:43 pm
I’d mostly agree with your review. Nearly excellent, but it just gets a little too wonky in the second half. It does feel like Tregenna was persuaded to contribute a script on the basis of how compelling she found the Doctor/Me concept, and sure enough those bits do work tremendously well, but the other stuff gets in the way rather.
I disagree about Hound, though; I thought it was quite fun the way that a rather bleak musing on mortality and the practical implications of it is effectively spliced with the bawdiest of bawdy restoration comedies in the English lit tradition (yes, I know 1651 is technically nine years out on that score, but it’s that whole era in genre tone). Especially the way that said bawdiness is reinvented as a mayfly’s “lust for life”. So that just about worked for me. And the two Welsh pikemen were straight out of Henry V, there was some of Woolf’s Orlando there, plus the obvious Beauty & the Beast visual reference. It was an intelligent, literate script, even if its disinterest in the B-plot weakened it somewhat.
October 24, 2015 @ 8:44 pm
Oh, but I too definitely preferred “The Girl Who Died”.
October 24, 2015 @ 8:59 pm
I liked Hound here, and he was good in Thank God You’re Here (available on YouTube).
Anyone else notice who played Leandro? That makes TWO brilliant Jonathan Strange actors wasted in one series.
Now I’m just gonna repost some of what I’ve written on GB, because I’m lazy and on my phone. Apologies for the long post.
For me, this episode epitomizes why I love Doctor Who. I mean, it’s reflective, it’s funny, not in a cheesy way—it feels fleshed out and speaks to a genuine, believable sense of pain. There are tons of episodes where people challenge the Doctor. I think that’s one of the most interesting paradigms/plotlines for the show to take, because he’s not always the hero. I sometimes think that when the Doctor screws up, that’s where the show really begins. (Literally—An Unearthly Child is all about that in some ways.)
Because even if an episode isn’t always for you in particular, sometimes it really speaks to someone, to the human condition, perhaps by questioning what it means to be human. Maybe I’m insane for getting all sappy over an episode that people have serious, legitimate criticisms about. But with all due to respect to the detractors, I (and my cynical girlfriend) think this was an absolute classic. I have some small niggles, of course, as I always do.
Overall, I thought this was the best episode of Series 9 so far. I really loved The Witch’s Familiar and The Girl Who Died, and in many ways they’re more “interesting” episodes (certainly if I had to write an essay on each episode, I wouldn’t have nearly as much to say about this one). But that was brilliant Doctor Who, fantastic television in general, and critical and emotional in a way that felt earned.
October 24, 2015 @ 11:49 pm
Looked up actor Oh, no! Not him! He was so good, why did they misuse him like that?
Personally, if I had to write an essay, I might come up with something, especially in comparison to the previous episode, development and hint of Me’s past history and how that might relate to historical developments, and some of the visual cues were interesting-like the opening one. If watched back to back with The Girl Who Died’s ending, the light and darkness sequence of Ashildr living through her days might lead in well to the moonlight in the darkness at the beginning’s highway robbery.
October 25, 2015 @ 1:12 am
Fortunately, given the amount of makeup and costume they both wore, and the brevity of their performances, both Ariyon Bakare and Paul Kaye could turn up again even next week with nobody batting an eyelid or the requirement of a “No, that was my great grandfather’s cousin,” cover line.
And if you’d told me 3 years ago that I’d be a little sad that the man I previously knew as Dennis Pennis was criminally underused in anything, I’d have likely laughed in your face (same for Frank Skinner I think).
October 24, 2015 @ 9:12 pm
When you say “This is not an aspect of British culture I’m immediately familiar with…” do you mean stand up comedy? Because I’ve always wondered if you were going to cover Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle in The Last War In Albion. They are both hugely popular social and political comedians who despise each other and Boyle happens to be friends with Grant Morrison and Lee is friends with Moore and there’s something inherent in their comedic styles that makes those pairings make perfect sense. But I’m sure the project is already huge enough that it doesn’t need another little detour.
October 24, 2015 @ 9:24 pm
I’m aware of Stewart Lee and the general shape of his style. Only familiar with Boyle by name. Probably something that’ll come up, at least in passing, though not sure where.
October 24, 2015 @ 9:25 pm
But in this case I really mean “I’ve honestly never heard of Rupert Hound before, is he always this annoying?”
October 24, 2015 @ 9:35 pm
He was one of the celebrities who appeared on the Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor, the announcement programme for Capaldi. He certainly came across as annoying there, so it may just be his schtick.
October 25, 2015 @ 4:13 pm
Or it could have just been that everything about Doctor Who Live was annoying (apart from the announcement itself, obvs).
I liked him in this. He’d clearly looked at the script, realised correctly that he was playing a pantomime highwayman, and just gone for it.
October 24, 2015 @ 9:42 pm
Hound was in episode 4 of Cucumber as the guy Henry tricks into not having sex and makes him break down into tears and call Henry beautiful. I thought he was pretty good in that role.
October 24, 2015 @ 9:48 pm
Also, you referred to him as Rupert and not Rufus in your reply and Rupert was his character’s name in Cucumber.
October 25, 2015 @ 9:54 am
This was sub-par Hound, I’d say, but even at his best he’s pretty inessential. Certainly the implicit suggestion that he’s secretly an immortal who’s been honing his skills since the Cromwell era makes me wish they’d chosen a better comedian – even more so a better female comedian, just to tweak the noses of those who so desperately need it.
October 25, 2015 @ 7:40 am
And of course, both Lee and Boyle are the only writers worth bothering with in the Guardian.
October 25, 2015 @ 10:10 am
They despise each other? Sorry to hear that if it’s the case. They’re both extremely intelligent and funny comedians.
October 24, 2015 @ 9:29 pm
Yeah, I pretty much agree with this one again. Having not rewatched it yet, there is one really jarring bit. How does people dying create fractures in reality? I could understand if it was ‘dying before their time’, because then you’ve got a plot mirroring Ashildr, but this just doesn’t make any sense.
October 24, 2015 @ 9:30 pm
It’s sheer poetry.
October 25, 2015 @ 1:39 pm
Exactly. It’s the world of Doctor Who working more as metaphor and poetry than an alternative physics. Death is the breakdown of a narrative, when being becomes nothing. When a narrative shatters, so does reality.
Doctor Who is not a scientific show. It’s a mistake to try to make it somehow consistent with what we know of science, or make its world a scientifically consistent plane of its own. That way lies the spectre of Ian Levine.
October 25, 2015 @ 11:20 pm
To be fair, I don’t generally give a toss whether the show makes scientific sense. I was looking for any kind of sense, but I can see poetic sense now it’s been pointed out.
October 26, 2015 @ 6:14 pm
I agree with this in general, but I nevertheless think the show should ordinarily maintain a sort of cloak of pseudo-science, which I’m not sure it did too well here. I’d be more willing to buy the “poetry” angle if the poetry in question were actually any good: at best, what we’re presented with is a nice starting point.
October 25, 2015 @ 9:12 am
Because at that moment, Missy’s stealing their souls and uploading them into the Promised Land, and they’re able to make use of that brief hole in reality?
Actually, when the hole opened up and there was a planet on the other side, I thought for a second that was actually what was happening, and that we were getting a glimpse of Gallifrey, which would be delightfully twisted. Gallifrey was saved from destruction, but placed into a realm of death, and that’s how Missy was able to steal people’s souls all through time and space. Would have been interesting.
October 25, 2015 @ 4:37 pm
What bothered me most about that particular line was that the rest of the episode seemed determined to remind us that death is a perfectly natural and in many ways indispensable part of life, and that puzzles like Ashildr only come along when you take death out of the equation.
October 25, 2015 @ 7:09 pm
“Reality” is a mirror. Of course it’s fractured, especially by death. Tiny shards we are. Perfectly natural.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:18 pm
I assumed it was a sly reference to “Ghosts of N-Space,” added by Moffat.
The simple “a death opens the portal” was sufficient for magical purposes, adding the ‘fracture in reality’ bit was unnecessary unless it was a reference.
October 24, 2015 @ 10:55 pm
I didn’t find Rufus Hound as annoying as you did, though I’m horrified at the idea of Ashildr/Me stuck with Sam Swift for eternity. Mainly, I wonder about the quality of the direction in that all the parts that weren’t showcases for Capaldi and Maisie Williams seemed off, not just Hound. I assume the whole point of casting a standup comedian was for the gallows scene, the point of which is that he’s telling jokes in desperation to postpone his own execution for just a few seconds more in the (likely futile) hope that a miracle would come along and save him. I don’t quite think the director picked up on that.
Also, I think Lion-O or whatever his name was just wandered in from nowhere and was a complete afterthought for both the writer and the director. Tregenna either decided or was told that Doctor Who has to have an alien who tries to invade the planet through contrived means in the last fifteen minutes so she went with a fire-breathing lion-man because, sure, why not. I was also profoundly disappointed that Tregenna had Me specifically say that she didn’t completely trust Lion-O and was prepared to kill him if he betrayed her … and then she is completely surprised when he betrays her and does nothing meaningful against him other than close the portal which causes his own people to execute him by remote control … again because sure, why not. I genuinely wonder whether Lion-O was in the first draft or whether he was added perfunctorily after someone insisted on a monster. The more I think about it, the more the ridiculousness of a firebreathing lion-man feels like some sort of writer revolt … the 21st Century Androgum.
October 24, 2015 @ 11:56 pm
Something that really caught my attention, though it was a small detail, was when the Doctor first appeared in the wagon and Ashildr/Me’s reaction to it-a minor movement for Maisie Williams to perform, but it highlighted her character’s shock and the jolt she received, even though she didn’t overreact, as to the Doctor’s presence. Classy bit of acting.
October 25, 2015 @ 1:05 am
At first I thought Leandro might be a Tharil, which would have been exciting.
October 25, 2015 @ 3:56 am
When he first broke through the door with his eyes glowing I thought he might be the Garm which would have been…something.
October 25, 2015 @ 6:24 am
It would have at least explained the glowy eyes! Why were they so glowy (and then stopped??)
October 25, 2015 @ 7:32 am
He is CLEARLY a Tharil: A leonine creature from another dimension. I thought that was deliberate, and obvious.
It was also obvious however, that Katherine Tregenna really didn’t care about him, or the Tharils, or the sci-fi part of the plot at all. And it’s fine not to, just… don’t make it so obvious. Your lack of care.
October 25, 2015 @ 1:56 am
“The tightrope of her selective ethics is similarly unsatisfying, mainly because what it ultimately converges on – killing Sam Swift and then changing her mind – is tough to invest in, not least because what we ultimately get for the heel turn, the death of Sam Swift, is hard to get that upset over as a viewer.”
The point I took from it (but which the directing certainly didn’t make clear) was that she saw nothing wrong with using Sam’s death to open the portal since he was captured without her influence and was going to die anyway. (Which really does make since — she maybe centuries old, but I imagine she spent most of that within cultures that executed people for things less serious than brigandry, plus it /is/ entirely possible that Sam was a murderer who got off scot-free because of a completely unearned immortality.)
The heel-face turn came when she realized that the Thundercats were using Sam’s death to invade Earth and realized that to save the world he had to live. THAT should have been the emotional beat — not Me’s specific decision to save Sam as a person, but rather her decision to sacrifice her only hope of finding someone she loved enough to make immortal and spend eternity with her.
I almost want to see a follow-up a few centuries later, perhaps during the Victorian era when Me has reinvented herself as a Vaudeville entertainer just for a change of pace and Sam is now a dour stiff-upper-lip type profoundly embarrassed by his earlier comedian persona.
October 25, 2015 @ 3:48 am
Was Tregenna delberately going for some sort of history-fail record in the first few minutes? The old life-expectancy canard, six arrows a minute is a lot apparently, and the 38 years between Agincourt and the end of the war would like a word with you (now, if the French had won, that might have ended it, but since she’s bragging about how well she fought with a longbow, I don’t think it’s going in a history-changing direction) – oh, and please, please, someone reassure me that the “mere woman” bit was some kind of ingenious gag that I’m not getting, riffing on the audience’s awareness of Joan of Arc and the character’s apparent blissful ignorance, and explain how it works, because as it stands it just looks like Tregenna’s never heard of her and oh deary me.
October 25, 2015 @ 5:03 am
Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams were a joy to watch together – I very much hope that she comes aboard the TARDIS, though it seems unlikely.
Clayton, Leandro and the two pikemen were wonderfully silly, and much more entertaining and lively than any of the characters in last week’s episode. The incompetent highway robbery in the pre-titles sequence was pure ‘Blackadder’. Plus, a return to the 17th century! At turns funny, moving and silly, this was only let down by the needless ‘alien threat’ and the poor resolution at Tyburn.
‘It takes a day to get to Kent’ didn’t make much sense for a Viking.
Leandro’s death was hilariously bad.
Murray Gold’s score was unfortunately distracting. Some of the direction and editing in this series has also left a lot to be desired.
There were some excellent lines:
‘I have waited longer than I should ever have lived; I have lost more than I can ever remember’
‘All the other names I chose died with whoever knew me’
I’m really missing The Doctor’s Series 8 costume – no more t-shirts, hoodies, sunglasses or guitars, please!
October 25, 2015 @ 6:19 am
I like his costume and I like the guitar! I like that he’s a lot more fun in series 9, they really should have had him as light in series 8 as well. I feel the dourness there drove a lot of people off (at least in my personal experience)
October 25, 2015 @ 4:21 pm
I wondered if anyone else thought that there was a definite similarity between the larynx skills of Lady Me/the Knighmare and Amy Harcourt/the Shadow.
Although Blackadder at least had the good taste to make a joke about how obvious the “jolly well hung” joke was, rather than just making it.
October 25, 2015 @ 5:16 pm
I was half-expecting they’d go the whole hog and actually use the words “But your voice, it’s…”, “Clever, isn’t it?”
October 25, 2015 @ 6:18 am
I liked everything that wasn’t the actual plot, which was a shame. The whole stuff with the Thundercats seemed like an afterthought. It reminded me of the Van Gogh episode but at least that kept the emotional punch til the end to stop it fizzling. More than anything I think it was this episode which needed a Moffat co-write (but I’m sure that would have garnered accusations of sexism blah blah blah).
That said, its odd how the production gets the emotional beats wrong at the end too. I agree with the poster above that says her heel-turn was mishandled. For such a pivotal character-based scene in a character based episode, it was an odd fumble to make.
The direction was surprisingly poor, I never usually notice stuff like that, but it stuck out to me, especially in the end sequence where everyone has to run about in panic at a void in the sky and there are shooty things and then the lion man just vanishes, though I guess that could be the fault of working with the script rather than all on the director.
The whole thing would have been better without the Thundercats plot. Or with it done differently. As it is, it just felt shoved in and that really hurt the episode.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:00 am
I read this elsewhere, so I’m not taking credit for it, but someone suggested this would be much better as a straight historical and it’s something I find myself very much agreeing with. The plot here, such as it is, is next to irrelevant anyway, so why not just dispose of Cut Price Aslan and give over more time to the emotional beats while the Doctor and Me get into a bit of local trouble (sorry, I just liked typing that). There’s still plenty of scope for Ashildir to have her questionable side and still “fall off the wagon” without a corny volte-face even the Master might find questionable, and without wasting time with the Cringy Lion it could be more elegantly layered into the episode. This is the first episode in a (very) long time where the science fiction element is basically irrelevant, so just ditch it. Highwaymen (dandy or otherwise), the hangman’s noose, gallows humour… there’s plenty of local colour to keep everyone engaged and it’s a well-enough known period of history that you wouldn’t need to belabour all the details to get everyone up to speed.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:24 pm
You could still have an alien device to drive the plot forward (though there’s no need for it) but the Lion Man felt… wasted.
I liked the visual, liked the presence and the voice and whatnot… but he was thrown into the story and thrown out just as easily because they needed an easily vanquished villain in the 3rd act in order to come to the most perfunctory conclusions, rather than an earned or natural one.
(And the heel-turn was awful, IMO.)
October 25, 2015 @ 6:35 am
More hanging… This really is becoming a thing. Something more than simply heralding the return of the cliffhanger…
October 25, 2015 @ 6:51 am
This is the first episode of Doctor Who in a very long time I haven’t wanted to re-watch immediately. It seemed badly written and directed – pretty shoddy.
Worse, it seems entirely disposable: we find out ‘Me’ has turned bitter and bad, she becomes lively and good at the drop of a hat… and then the vibe I’m getting from the 21st Century Selfie is that she’s going creepy and bad again? The Doctor will probably have to explain it to Clara in a few brief sentences in the final two-parter leaving this rather stiff and dull episode redundant. I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine rewatching this episode over any other in this season so far.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:50 am
I don’t think the selfie is meant to be read as ominous at all. It seemed to me just a straightforward follow-up on her promise to the Doctor to look after his leftovers (and slyly inserting Me into the ‘lore’ of the series without her needing to actually make another appearance).
October 25, 2015 @ 7:03 pm
I took the Selfie as ominous — not because Ashildr’s broken bad again, but because her role of taking care of “the leftovers” implies an expectation that the Doctor’s gonna be running again pretty soon.
Love that turn of phrase, “the leftovers.”
October 25, 2015 @ 7:50 am
At some point I’m going to sit down and watch this as a two-parter, but as I’ve already watched Girl four times in a week that will have to wait.
Just done the one watch of Woman so far. I suspect I liked it a little more than Phil. A few scattered thoughts:
With her “knightmare” pseudonym and the weird glowing eyes in the cold open, I really suspected she was up to her old puppetry/stroytelling tricks, perhaps with the help of the Mire technology, so the reveal of Lion Dude was a real disappointment.
Lion Dude looked pretty lovely though.
I’ll put it down to direction rather than performance that Swift’s desperation in the stand up routine scene didn’t quite come across as much as it should have.
I want Maisie Williams back before too long. I feel there was a hint that she would meet Susan in the future.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:21 am
October 25, 2015 @ 7:56 am
Sorry but, while Katherine Tregenna did just shrug her shoulders and say “ehhh?” at several important components of the script, the direction really let this one down.
This was part two of a two parter that was meant to start with tension and darkness and drama. So the second part should have had more lightness and comedy (to contrast the darker themes, right?)
This is pretty simple stuff, sure. But where was the comedy in the opening highway robbery? It was written with comedy (bordering on farce – boobs, and the Doctor literally walking in through the carriage, his face right next to them), but there was barely a chuckle in the watching of it.
How about the confrontation with Sam Swift? A pair of highway robbers repeatedly disarming each other, and getting one up on each other, while trading quips? Surely that was clearly written with COMEDY all over it? So, where were the actual laughs in the shooting and delivery of it? That one’s especially egregious when you note that they are also meant to be forming a typical Rom-Com bond with each other that will pay off in the killing/sacrifice/choosing-to-share-eternal-life-with-you-bit at the end.
Nope: Bazalgette is more to blame than Tregenna in this case.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:00 am
Sorry to reply to my own comment but:
Has anyone else noted that in a series made up entirely of 2 parters, they have chosen to
a) ALWAYS change the setting entirely across the two episodes?
iii – In the case of writers and directors who don’t have a lot of depth, the inability to change approach (or lack of breadth and depth) ALWAYS leads to problems?
October 25, 2015 @ 11:15 am
The setting wasn’t changed entirely from Under the Lake to Before the Flood.The Doctor’s part was in a new (and utterly inexplicable!) setting, but Clara and company were still in the underwater base.
I’m also not sure that The Magician’s Apprentice can be said to have had a main setting – and its last act was already on Skaro.
October 26, 2015 @ 6:22 pm
I didn’t particularly notice any problems with the direction myself, though I see your points now you mention them. The previous episode, also directed by Bazalgette, felt like it could have done with a lot of improvement in the direction department, however.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:36 am
Since we all seem to be doing lion jokes, can I voice my disappointment that the script didn’t take advantage of the potential thematic partinence of the phrase “the circle of life”?
October 25, 2015 @ 9:11 am
I’ll have to admit I’m struggling with this one. I really wanted to love it but it was let down by so many things. A lot of the faults have been detailed by other commenters above and I agree with most of them.
Maisie Williams gave it her best shot but was sometimes a little out of her depth. Tregenna was clearly aiming for a ‘Wicked Lady’ meets ‘Interview with a Vampire’ vibe but unfortunately Williams doesn’t yet have the experience to negotiate the swift turns of the script from haughty immortal to rollicking highwayman. This often left her looking vulnerable and exposed, though Capaldi did a generous job of catching her each time and giving her plenty to react to.
The less said about Rufus Hound the better. Please stop stunt-casting comedians (Frank Skinner being the exception who proves the rule). I’m not filled with enthusiasm for Reece Shearsmith’s turn later in the series.
As to Leo the cuddly space lion with laser eyes…if ever there was an argument for ditching unnecessary alien invasion plots from the ‘Historicals’ this was it.
The overall tone was strangely one-note and the pacing was also over the place but Ed Bazelgette’s direction overall was superb, particularly the interior scenes. I feel a lot of the blame many are pinning on the director should be aimed at the editing which, in some instances, was positively amateurish. A number of instances of ‘crossing the line’, badly matched reverse shots and clumsy transitions. The sound design was murky too apart from Murray Gold’s score which I see is getting the usual complaints. I think the ‘girl does man’s voice’ conceit would be less concerning (it was expertly and cheekily handwaved diagetically) if the voice had matched the ambience of Maisie’s own voice rather than sounding like a guy sitting in a recording booth. There was the same problem with the Fisher King’s voice two weeks ago.
I’m struggling also to find any worthwhile imagery or resonances to point out. Maybe Jane will come up with something interesting. More eye references I guess – the Eye of Hades, the bloody sonic sunnies again, domino masks, (anyone else want to see Maisie Wiliams play a Damien Wayne style Robin?) the aforementioned laser eyes. The Hanged Man might be a thing. Though no Clara upside down this week.
Oh and the tacked on coda in the TARDIS was appaling. Who gives a selfie as a present? Why does Clara show it to the Doctor on her own phone rather than send it to him? Was this bit written by Moffat? Does he know what a selfie is? Is Ashildr/Me going to be another tedious mystery woman turning up in the Doctor’s time line to confound and intrigue him? Please no. We already have River, Clara, Missy, we don’t need another one.
October 25, 2015 @ 11:34 am
“I’m not filled with enthusiasm for Reece Shearsmith’s turn later in the series.”
Reece Shearsmith is as good a dramatic actor as he is a comic actor. I can’t wait.
October 25, 2015 @ 4:44 pm
A selfie is a moment in time, of which ephemerals only get a very few, relatively speaking. It is, I think we’re meant to infer, one of the most precious gifts anyone ever gets.
October 25, 2015 @ 11:24 am
I really liked the conversations between The Doctor and Ashildr, which was really the heart of the story. Unlike Phil, I also loved the gallows humor and Sam Swift in general, a fun and lighthearted counterpoint. And as far as the Leandro plot goes, yeah, it was pretty stale, but as is always the case with “monsters” it behooves us to examine it on a metaphorical and symbolic level.
I was nonplussed with the direction. There weren’t any wonderfully surprising shots like we got in the previous episode — the end shot of Ashildr, for example, or the Doctor’s reflection in the water — and so much of it was so dark early on that it bordered on being drab. That said, there were still a few images that will be interesting enough to explore.
Finally, I’m not so sure I’m as excited for the return of Peter Harness as Phil is. My concern is rooted in something that came up in Phil’s interview of Harness, where Harness said he didn’t realize how Kill the Moon could function as a metaphor for abortion. I’m reminded of The Unquiet Dead, actually, and how the Gelf functioned as a metaphor for immigration, also quite likely inadvertently. So I’m afraid the Zygon story will, given some of the preview shots, I dunno, end up being an inadvertent metaphor that’s deeply Islamophobic or something.
That’s the thing about SF and Fantasy, everything that’s not rooted in our mundane reality has the potential to function as metaphor and symbol, and indeed should be read in that kind of light. So if a writer isn’t paying attention to that potential, isn’t aware of it — hell, isn’t planning for it — well, I’m apprehensive. Because the “fantastic” on its own terms doesn’t connect to material social progress without translation via the processes of metaphor and symbol, and it’s ultimately that end of alchemy that actually matters.
October 25, 2015 @ 1:58 pm
Harness has suggested in interviews that immigration and the war on terror are conscious themes of the Zygon story.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:31 pm
I’m a bit concerned that there might be some Unfortunate Implications given the current refugee crisis.
“All 20 million of them are rising up and trying to destroy us!” is a bit problematic in that light.
Maybe they’ll pull it out and it turns out the ‘uprising’ is a threat in the people’s heads and it’s really just a small group who’re causing the trouble, and most of the Zygons don’t want to be bad.
October 27, 2015 @ 3:28 pm
Racism is only bad if it is incorrect. People should be treated the way they deserve, and if entire race or species is evil or defective, racism is the only morally right. But Zygons aren’t real. Whatever their treatment is, it doesn’t translate to real world, because real world has no Zygons or shapeshifting aliens or aliens of any kind (Except for those lizards running global banking trying to starve us all).
Kill the Moon meanwhile has morality I can’t get behind in any context.
October 27, 2015 @ 5:41 pm
‘Racism is only bad if it is incorrect.’
I hope I’m right in assuming there’s some kind of language disconnect here. If not, can you give an example of correct racism? And possibly an instance of an entire race or species that is evil or defective?
The portrayal of fictional ‘aliens’ as having singular traits or characteristics (the ‘Planet of the Hats trope) only serves,to reinforce attitudes in the real world toward those that are different or come from another culture and legitimizes generalisations such as ‘all Muslims,are terrorists’ and ‘all immigrants are after our jobs and benefits’.
October 25, 2015 @ 3:33 pm
The darkness in the first half worked for me, visually. You had Me and the Doctor set up as Red/Blue opposites. And the darkness made the whole world Blue, which in turn set Me’s Red as being the opposite of the entire world around her, emphasizing her aloneness.
October 25, 2015 @ 7:00 pm
On my parents’ TV set, the darkness didn’t show up as blue, but as black. I struggled to see what was actually happening.
I agree about the blue/red dichotomy though, and just the use of Red in general throughout the episode.
October 25, 2015 @ 1:54 pm
This episode wasn’t particularly good, and retreading Jack Harkness’ turmoil seems redundant.
Can’t wait for the next week. It’s Harness and he’s writing a plot about trojan refugees right in the middle of refugee crisis. This will be even better then “Abort the Moon”.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:35 pm
Jack Harkness didn’t bother me.
Another woman who exists all across time and is cheeky, spunky and good at everything, and is interested in the Doctor, gives me nightmares though.
So River is the one he married, Clara is the one who saved his soul and this is the one who turned bad?
I’m just tired, tired of the archetype.
October 25, 2015 @ 3:11 pm
For me, Hound was the best part of the episode. I don’t enjoy his stand-up or comedy, and the dick joke was awful, but his scenes raised a smile. The rest made me yawn and clock-watch.
October 25, 2015 @ 4:56 pm
My favorite episode of the season so far. Not as much fun as the Missy bits of the opener but I enjoyed it much more than “The Girl Who Died.” I quite agree that the Whoisms seemed uncomfortably stuffed in, though I found I’d enjoyed everything else so much I didn’t care. I didn’t even mind Sam Swift very much, and I think it’s probably significant that in the end Ashildr/Me was forced to choose to give immortality to a bit of an ass as opposed to someone “good enough.” I loved the Doctor’s invented technobabble to try and convince her she wouldn’t have to be sending him Christmas cards for the next few hundred years.
It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was the first episode in a while that was, in essence, what I want Doctor Who to be like.
I’d agree with your story ranking, and would maybe just have to flip 1 and 3 to be on board with your episode ranking as well. I’m generally enjoying this season more than season 8 and am actually looking forward to the Peter Harness story next week, which is something I never thought I’d say.
October 25, 2015 @ 8:23 pm
And my own review of this week’s episode, piggybacking on Phil’s readership again. It really struck me watching this episode that Tregenna’s strengths as a writer are very well-suited to Doctor Who at its best. The Woman Who Lived sings when it’s just the Doctor and Ashildir having intense philosophical and ethical conversations in a variety of period settings.
Yet Tregenna seems to think that a Doctor Who story needs to have a monster plot. It’s something that she clearly can’t stand because that’s where the story loses itself. But Doctor Who has been drifting away from generic monster adventure plots for a long time. It’s one of the best developments of the Moffat era, if you ask me.
This week: http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2015/10/making-monstrousness-doctor-who-woman.html
Last week: http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2015/10/escaping-inevitable-boredom-doctor-who.html
October 26, 2015 @ 12:10 am
I’ve got it in my head that having a ‘monster of the week’ has been imposed on the series by the BBC higher ups – I have an unreliable memory of Davies saying as much once…
Ooh – the captcha is EYE T…
October 26, 2015 @ 7:12 am
So, right at the end, I thought Ashildir looked like Ace.
October 26, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
Thought Williams was better in this one but still not brilliant. She does a much better job with Arya.
I like the point about Treganna not being interested in Doctor Who. I wonder what we’d have got if she’d simply not bothered trying to conform to the basic Doctor Who template at all – after all, some of the show’s best stories have been those which have departed from that template.
December 29, 2015 @ 5:33 pm
Disagree on the comedy–I thought that being faintly pathetic was part of the point, because that’s who Sam Swift was. He was a faintly pathetic man who somehow got way in over his head and was (almost literally) now at the end of his rope, desperately saying anything he could to prolong his life that one moment more. Actual funny comedy wouldn’t have even made sense there.
Just once, just bloody once I would like to see the Doctor well and truly lay into one of the people who blame him for all their decisions just because he didn’t personally stick around to hold their hand for however long they thought they needed someone to do all their thinking for them. He’s not a nursemaid and he’s not a god. Ashildr’s life was whatever she made of it–if it was a prison, it was her own fault, not the Doctor’s.
Absolutely spot on that Williams had no idea how to make that horribly awkward face-turn work. No slight against her as an actress, it was just not a workable scene, but you can tell that she’s trying to make the lines fit in her character’s mouth and they just won’t.