Sunday, October 18, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 5: The Girl Who Died

This week on Doctor Who we get the first of another two parter, a Game Of Thrones guest star, and at long last the answer to a question no one was asking.

For almost a year now the BBC has been touting the fact that Maise Williams, Arya Stark of Game Of Thrones fame, would be making an appearance in this episode, and milking the publicity for all it was worth. The producers were coy about who she was actually playing though, saying only that she was someone the Doctor knows. 

Of course the way this was worded made it sound like she was someone from the Doctor's past, which fueled massive speculation among fandom. Was she a regenerated Susan Foreman? Missy/The Master's daughter? The Rani? A future companion we've not yet met? Or god forbid, yet another incarnation of River Song?

Looks like it's none of those, and the producers either deliberately misled the fans or worded their statement clumsily. Yes she's someone the Doctor knows, but not someone we've actually seen on the show before. Seems like a bit of a cheat to me.

This was a lighthearted episode, full of comedy bits reminiscent of Monty Python And The Holy Grail and Army Of Darkness. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's a welcome change.

So far this season has been a big improvement over last. Let's hope they keep up the good work. This episode was co-written by Jamie Mathieson, who wrote last year's Mummy On The Orient Express and Flatline, two bright spots in an otherwise dreadful season. Show runner Steven Moffat is also listed as a co-writer of this episode, but I'm assuming he had little to do with it, since it's actually good. Can you tell I feel it's high time Moffat stepped down from the show?

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
After the Doctor rescues Clara in space (don't ask), he lands the TARDIS on Earth during the Viking era. He and Clara are immediately captured by a Viking hunting party. They're taken back to their village, where the Doctor sees a young girl named Ashildr, who seems familiar to him. He tries to bluff his way out of trouble by pretending he's Odin. Just then, Odin miraculously appears in the sky. Don't you hate when that happens?

Odin congratulates the Viking warriors for their bravery and invites them to feast with him in Valhalla. Giant robots then appear and teleport the Vikings away. Clara and Ashildr are also taken.

Clara, Ashildr and the Vikings find themselves in the hold of a ship. They're confronted by "Odin," who's really the Leader of a warrior race called the Mire. He slaughters the Vikings and extracts the testosterone from their bodies, which he drinks to make him a fiercer warlord. I don't think it works like that, but whatever.

Clara convinces the Leader to send them back to the village, but Ashildr challenges him, saying her people will destroy him. The Leader then declares war on the Vikings and gives them twenty four hours to prepare, which seems awfully polite for a warlord. He sends the two women back.

Clara informs the Doctor of what happened, and he suggests the villagers all run away to save themselves. Naturally they refuse, since there's still another half hour to go in the episode. The Doctor doesn't want to help them, saying if the Mire are defeated by this small village, they'll declare war on the entire planet.

Clara eventually talks him into it, and he trains the remaining villagers-- who are farmers and fishermen, not Viking warriors--  in the art of battle. It doesn't go well, so the Doctor comes up with a new plan-- when the Mire appear again, the villagers will hook metal wires to the antenna on their armor, and charge them with electric eels (!), which will deactivate them.

The Mire appear right on time the next day, and the villagers' plan works. They electrocute the Mire grunts and incapacitate them. The Doctor steals one of their helmets, which he gives to Ashildr. She then uses the helmet's holographic display (smart Viking!) to make the Mire see a giant dragon. The Mire grunts flee back to their ship, leaving only the Leader. The Doctor blackmails him with a video of the event filmed with Clara's cell phone. He tells the Leader if he doesn't leave immediately, he'll upload the video to the Galactic Hub, where everyone will see the Mire was defeated by group of primitive villagers. The Leader hisses, "This isn't over!" and retreats.

Unfortunately, using the Mire helmet causes Ashildr's heart to fail. The Doctor says he's sick of losing people and rewires a chip in the Mire helmet which is absorbed into Ashildr's body. The chip repairs the damage and brings her back to life. The Doctor gives her a second chip to use on someone of her choosing. He and Clara then leave in the TARDIS.

The Doctor tells Clara that the Mire chip will never stop repairing Ashildr, and barring an accident she'll live forever. He says she's become a hybrid of Mire and Viking. The episode ends as Ashildr watches the centuries pass, never aging or dying.

Thoughts:
• The minute I heard this episode was going to feature Vikings, I knew they'd have horns on their helmets, and I was right. 

It's a known fact that Vikings never actually wore such helmets. I expected a little better from Doctor Who. Heck, the BBC specializes in historical dramas, so you'd think they'd know something like that.

 Hallelujah! The viking leader snapped the Doctor's thrice-damned sonic sunglasses in half! Hear that? It's the sound of millions of fans rejoicing and cheering in approval.

Let's hope the miserable things stay broken and he goes back to a proper hand-held sonic.

 The Doctor tells Clara that any advanced technology can seem like magic. He stole this idea directly from noted sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke (writer of 2001: A Space Odyssey, among many other things), who said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Stealing quotes without crediting the source? For shame, Doctor!

 When "Odin" first appears in the sky, he looks a lot like God in Monty Python And The Holy Grail. A lot. This episode was more comedic than most, so I'm wondering if that was intentional?

With his electronic eyepiece, "Odin" also looked somewhat similar to the bionic space captain in the Fourth Doctor adventure The Pirate Planet.

 Odin was originally going to be played by Brian Blessed, aka Vultan of Flash Gordon fame ("Gordon's AlIIIIIIIIVE?"). Unfortunately Blessed had to cancel at the last minute. Too bad. He would have made an awesome Odin.

 After the fake Odin disappears from the sky, the Doctor scolds the villagers, saying they all know it wasn't a real god. He says, "Yes, I am a false Odin, that's exactly right; I lied. The big fella in the sky, he lied too. You all know it. Because what's the one thing the gods never do? Gods never actually show up!"

I bet the BBC gets a lot of complaints about that line. Personally I thought it was awesome, and all too true.

 The Doctor's seen reading his 2000 Year Diary. Apparently he's upgraded. The Second Doctor had a 500 Year one in the The Power Of The Daleks, and the Eighth Doctor had a 900 Year one in the TV movie.

I'm assuming his 2000 Year Diary uses Time Lord technology and is bigger on the inside than the outside, because it doesn't appear nearly thick enough to contain 730,000 pages,

 I really wish my viewing source had closed captioning. Due to all the different accents, it sounded like they were pronouncing the Mire as "the Maya."

 Kudos to the costume designers who created the amazing, clunky Mire armor. It's too bad they've stopped making the 5" action figures-- they'd have made awesome toys.

They also did a great job on the Mire's lamprey-like faces underneath the armor.

 We've seen before that the TARDIS automatically translates any and all languages for its occupants. So why doesn't it translate "baby?" Why's the Doctor the only one who can understand the Viking baby's cries?

 The Doctor gets the bright idea to fry the Mire grunts with electricity generated by the villagers' vats of eels. Um... need I point out that electric eels (which really aren't eels at all) are native to South America, and would have no business being in Scandinavia? 

I suppose we could say the Vikings might have ventured to the new world or traded with someone who had a supply of eels, but... it seems like a bit of a stretch.

 The Doctor says "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!" For some reason everyone thinks that was the famous catchphrase of the Third Doctor, but in reality he only said it onscreen twice!

 When discussing whether he made a mistake in saving Ashildr, the Doctor says, "Time will tell It always does." That line's lifted directly from the Seventh Doctor adventure The Remembrance Of The Daleks.

 The Doctor says that the repaired Ashildr is now a hybrid. A few weeks ago in The Witch's Familiar, Davros quoted a Gallifreyan prophecy which said that two great warrior races would be forced together to create a soldier greater than either. 

Davros assumed the prophecy was talking about the Daleks and the Time Lords. Could it really have been talking about Vikings and the Mire?

 So now we finally have an answer to the incredibly important question of why this incarnation of the Doctor looks like Caecilius from the 2008 episode The Fires Of Pompeii (who was also played by Peter Capaldi). 

In that episode, the Doctor was ready to flee Pompeii just before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. His companion Donna Noble pleaded with him, saying, "I know you can't save everyone, but can't we save just one family?" The Doctor agrees and goes back to save Caecilius and his kin.

Apparently as the Eleventh Doctor was regenerating into the Twelfth, he chose Caecilius' face to remind him that he can always change time if he wants.

This matter of why the current Doctor looks like a character from an old episode has apparently been bugging the living sh*t out of show runner Steven Moffat for years. Never mind that no one else on the planet cared, one way or the other, it's a question THAT MUST BE ANSWERED. Thank Odin it's finally out of Moffat's system.

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