Doctor Who Review: The Woman Who Lived

The Doctor, tracking an alien artefact across the galaxy, encounters Ashildr again.

Cast and Crew

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor
Jenna Coleman as Clara
Maisie Williams as Ashildr
Rufus Hound as Sam Swift
Gareth Berliner as Coachman
Elisabeth Hopper as Lucie Fanshawe
John Voce as Mr. Fanshawe
Struan Rodger as Clayton
Gruffudd Glyn as Pikeman Lloyd Llewellyn
Reuben Johnson as Pikeman William Stout
Ariyon Bakare as Leandro
Daniel Fearn as Crowd 1
Karen Seacombe as Crowd 2
John Hales as the Hangman

Written by Catherine Tregenna
Produced by Derek Ritchie
Directed by Ed Bazalgette

Premise

After making her immortal in the previous episode, the Doctor encounters Ashildr again. It’s 1651 and she’s not entirely happy that it’s taken him so long to show up.

High Points

Quietly discussing immortality by candlelight.

Basically every discussion about immortality, and the interaction of immortals with the mortal population.

 

Low Points

The soldiers surely did not need to be comedy buffoons.

 

The Scores

Originality: This feels like a classic Doctor Who story. There are lots of elements familiar here: a noblewoman duped by a mysterious alien who wants an artefact particularly resonates. It’s given a bit of a fresh spin due to Ashildr’s existing relationship with the Doctor. 4/6.

The effects include a rather unconvincing shot of the Doctor sitting on a trailer being pulled along a road. Sorry, that’s the Doctor riding a horse… everything else is fine, and with a nice classic Who aesthetic with the mysterious figure with the glowing eyes. 4/6.

The story as I’ve mentioned already feels to me very much like a classic story. I like it. Obviously back in the day this would’ve been at least a four-part story with at least six extra betrayals/twists/random other alien artefacts in it. This one stays nice and lean though, so it doesn’t feel rushed or particularly simplistic. The real meat here is the relationship between the Doctor and Ashildr and in that respect it works very well. 5/6.

The acting slumps a little in places. I’m really into Capaldi’s take on the Doctor again, but I’m not so convinced by the pose of cynical sophistication Williams puts on. Her little trip outside to talk to her mysterious ally sends me right back to 80s serials, and makes me think of Silver Nemesis despite not matching any scene I can actually remember from that story. The supporting cast deliver a solid set of performances, with some great, fluid comedy from 4/6.

The emotional response is mostly nostalgic for me, because it’s making me feel like I’m watching a story that could have been made in the Seventh Doctor era, another period in the history of Who when the question of who the Doctor really is and what his motivations are was very close to the surface. It’s even starting to feel to me that Clara is becoming quite a lot like Ace (even though she’s barely even in this episode). I do find myself empathising with Ashildr, but there’s a lot of humour to prevent us getting too upset about it. 4/6.

Production was quite minimal, an implausibly identical set of books in dim light mostly, until the hanging scene when suddenly everything became more expansive and no doubt significantly more expensive. It took me a while to place it in time, because I tend to associate highwaymen with a later time (mostly due to Blackadder the Third I’ll admit). I was straight into it once I saw Lady Me’s formal attire and the highly recognisable Cromwellian soldiers though. What I don’t think I’ll ever understand though is why aliens can invade and shoot things from their spaceships and there are only explosions of the sort you’d expect from half a stick of defective dynamite. 4/6.

Overall I enjoyed it a lot. I don’t think we’re seeing great TV here, it’s not world-changing or emotionally dragging, but it’s got a greatness in its comfort and the themes it’s trying to address. Capaldi’s really coming into his own now, the tone of the series has changed since the previous three Doctors who were all very energetic and manic to varying degrees. Capaldi’s brought a calmer tone, a bit of gravitas and introspection that I’m finding very welcome. 5/6.

In total, The Woman Who Lived receives 30/42.

5 replies on “Doctor Who Review: The Woman Who Lived”

  1. quantaman says:

    It took me a while to place it in time, because I tend to associate highwaymen with a later time (mostly due to Blackadder the Third I’ll admit).

    Also the banter, Blackadder was built on witty banter.

    But I had the same issue with the time, I was thinking the 18th or even early 19th century. Honestly I find that whole period from about 1550-1800 tends to blur together.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      Sheesh, I’ve known people to have hazy periods in their life, bit 250 years?!? Those must’ve been some crazy drinking days.

      Yeah, about those aliens who can cross vast distances but lack anything like effective weapons…..

  2. JD DeLuzio says:

    I agree the Doctor/Ashildr relationship is central here, and generally works. I liked the idea that Ashildr’s memories suffered (a concept used elsewhere, but still a good idea). And speaking of concepts used elsewhere, did anyone get a slight suggestion of The Sandman from this episode?

    As for the distracting elements, maybe I should just view Doctor Who in the context of its kid-show roots, but:

    -Was the amulet a one-use item? It seems odd the aliens would kill Leandro for one failure, and consequently prevent other chances for him to succeed, when he seems to be their only invasion route
    -I’m a huge supporter of greater ethnic diversity in TV and film casting. We need more of it. But the approach doesn’t make sense in this episode’ time and place
    -Those wanted posters got printed very quickly. And wouldn’t they have held some sort of trial for Sam Swift?

    • quantaman says:

      I liked the idea that Ashildr’s memories suffered (a concept used elsewhere, but still a good idea). And speaking of concepts used elsewhere, did anyone get a slight suggestion of The Sandman from this episode?

      That’s an interesting idea, all her formative experiences have basically been forgotten.

      That being said she still remembers the Doctor, which makes her subdued reaction during the robbery a very impressive stoic display.

      -Was the amulet a one-use item? It seems odd the aliens would kill Leandro for one failure, and consequently prevent other chances for him to succeed, when he seems to be their only invasion route

      Apparently the aliens also dislike unresolved plot elements.

  3. Foeclan says:

    I think the last scene finally gave us an explanation for the round things in the console room. :)

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