Monday, October 26, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived

Full disclosure: I didn't think much of this episode as I was watching it. After light-hearted comedy romp, I expected more of the same from the conclusion. I was especially looking forward to the return of Odin and the Mire.

Instead we got an episode that took a 180 degree turn into slow, moody and talky introspection that plodded dully across the screen. In fact I actually dozed off for a few seconds while watching! 

After all the pre-season buildup and hoopla over Maise Williams guest appearance, it all seemed like much ado about nothing.

But now that I've had a day to think about the episode, I'm slowly warming up to it. It does an excellent job of showing us just how miserable the prospect of immortality would be. Seeing your friends, loved ones and children wither and die while you remained unchanged would surely be a curse rather than a blessing.

Since the two halves of this story were such polar opposites, it might have been better if they they'd aired several episodes apart. Oddly enough, each half was written by a different person-- The Girl Who Died was written by Jaimie Mathieson and Steven Moffat, while The Woman Who Lived was written by Catherine Tregenna. That's never happened in modern Doctor Who before, and makes me wonder if the two episodes really weren't meant to be shown back to back.

Many fans were convinced that Maise Williams was going to become the Doctor's new companion. I'm puzzled as to how anyone could possibly think that. She's already got a job on a massively successful series. There's no way in hell she'd leave that gig, not even for Doctor Who. Plus there's no way her schedule would allow her to be on both shows.


The Plot:
The Doctor travels to 1651 London, looking for an amulet that's radiating dangerous energy. There he encounters a highwayman, who turns out to be Ashildr, the young Viking girl he saved in the previous episode. Turns out she's looking for the same amulet.

Due to the Doctor's meddling, Ashildr is now immortal, and is over 800 years old. She's become bored over the long centuries, and her new hobby is posing as the highway robber known as the Knightmare. 

Ashildr takes the Doctor back to her home, which is filled with hundreds of journals. It seems that even though her life is infinite, her human mind isn't, and she doesn't remember the things she's done. She also no longer goes by the name Ashildr, but calls herself Lady Me. 

Her immortality means constant loss. She's lost friend, lovers and even children, over and over again. All this tragedy has caused her to forget what it means to be human. She begs the Doctor to take her with him in his "ship," but he refuses, saying two immortals in the TARDIS wouldn't be a good idea. He's also not sure if he fully trusts her.

Lady Me has a backup plan. She's been keeping company with a lion-face alien called Leandro (!), who tells her that the amulet is his, and can open a portal back to his world. The catch: the amulet requires a death to make it work. Lady Me is nonplussed by this, and doesn't see a problem. She steals the amulet from fellow robber Sam Swift.

Lady Me is going to use the amulet on her aged and decrepit butler, but when she hears Swift has been captured in the nearby town, she decides to use it on him instead to open the portal. She ties up the Doctor and heads for town.

The Doctor frees himself and when he arrives in Tyburn, he sees Sam Swift literally using gallows humor to keep his neck out of the noose (so that's where that term came from!). As Swift stalls, Lady Me grows impatient and slaps the amulet on his chest. Swift is instantly killed, and the amulet, powered by his death, fires a beam of energy into the sky which opens a portal to Leandro's world.

Unfortunately spaceships begin firing though the portal, hitting innocents left and right. Lady Me has a change of heart, and realizes she does still care. She takes her spare immortality chip and places it on Swift's forehead. It brings him back to life, which shuts down the amulet's beam. This may or may not have made Sam Swift immortal as well.

Lady Me again asks the Doctor to take her with him, but he refuses. He says, "People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other." He says immortals need to be around people who's lives are short, to remind them how precious every moment is.

Lady Me says she'll devote herself to looking out for the ones the Doctor leaves behind. The Doctor returns to the present, and picks up Clara. She shows him a selfie on her cell phone. In the background, the Doctor sees a very creepy looking Lady Me in the background, seemingly staring right at him.

• Lady Me seems to know way more about the Doctor than she should. She even knows he travels through time in some sort of "ship." The Doctor notices this as well. 

I thought they were going somewhere with this seemingly ominous sublot, but it's quickly dropped and never mentioned again.

• At the end of the previous episode, the Doctor filmed the Leader of the Mire being defeated by Ashildr and the Vikings. He then threatened the Leader, saying if he didn't leave immediately, he'd upload the video to the Galactic Hub, where everyone would see the Mire was defeated by group of primitive villagers. The Leader hisses, "This isn't over!" and retreats.

I expected we'd see the Mire again this week, but I guess not. Lady Me never mentions them in the episode, so I'm assuming they never returned at any point in the following 800 years. Looks like they took the Doctor at his word, and the Leader's "This isn't over!" was an empty threat.

• I was impressed (as well as a little disturbed) by the idea that Lady Me's human brain just wasn't big enough to contain all the memories of an 800 year life. I don't think I've ever seen that concept used in a sci-fi story before, but it makes perfect sense.

I also agree with the episode's sentiment, that immortality would be more curse than blessing. Sure, at first glance the prospect of living forever seems really appealing, but I just think that after a while it would be miserable. 

How would you support yourself for eternity? I have a job I love, but even so there are days when I still can barely force myself to get out of bed and drive to it. Imagine having to work forever. 

Think about how bored you'd be by popular culture. You'd get sick of seeing the same movie plots over and over, reading variations on the same books, hearing the same songs and jokes. 

And then there's outliving everyone you ever knew. I honestly don't think I'd want to live forever.

• The Doctor asks Lady Me why she didn't use the second immortality chip on a loved one, so she wouldn't have to endure the centuries alone. Good question, especially since she's constantly moaning that everyone she's ever loved has withered and died. 

Lady Me says she never used it because no one was ever good enough. It seems like a lame non-answer at first, but I can kind of understand how she feels. When you only have one of something valuable, you tend to jealously guard it, afraid that if you give it away you'll need it again someday. You'd always be terrified that someone better was just around the corner.

• What are the odds that an alien who looks like a Earth lion would be named Leandro? I'm betting his planet's name just happened to be Lionus, in the constellation of Leo.

I wasn't a fan of this whole Leandro/amulet/portal subplot. It seemed like it was literally tacked on to pad out the runtime and add a little sci-fi to an otherwise overly talky episode.

By the way, looking at Leandro, now we know what happened to Vincent from the Beauty And The Beast TV series.

• Lady Me explains her expertise with weapons by saying, "10,000 hours is all it takes to master any skill. Over 100,000 hours and you're the best there's ever been."

Wow, not only is she immortal, she can see into the future as well. She just quoted author Malcom Gladwell's "10,000 Hour Rule," from his 2008 book Outliers. Pretty impressive that someone living in 1651 can quote a book that won't be written for another 400 years!

• When the Doctor turns down Lady Me's request to take her with him, he says, "I traveled with another immortal once... Captain Jack Harkness. He'll get round to you eventually."

I believe this is the first mention of Captain Jack since Stephen Moffat took over the show. Despite the fact that fans have been clamoring for Jack's return, Moffat seems to have a definite grudge against the character-- most likely because the former regime created him.

• The Doctor namedrops the Terileptils, saying they were responsible for starting the Great Fire Of London in 1666. 

In the 1982 episode The Visitation, the Fifth Doctor actually had a run-in with Terileptils, who were planning to wipe out humanity with the Plague. The Doctor stopped them of course, but one of their weapons started the blaze.

• After Lady Me ties up the Doctor, he tells his captors, "Do I look like some feckless thief? I'm on your side. I'm an undercover constable from Scotland Yard. Do you have Scotland Yard yet?" When they appear unimpressed, he realizes he's a bit early for that reference. Scotland Yard was formed in 1829.

• Near the end of the episode there's a lingering shot of a pub sign called "The Swan With Two Necks." Believe it or not, there really was a pub by that name in 1600s London!

• The Doctor's thrice-damned sonic sunglasses return in this episode, despite being broken in half last week. I don't know why those things infuriate me so, but they do.

• Next week, the return of the Zygons (gotta amortize those expensive costumes!), along with Osgood!

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