Caution: This review contains spoilers.
The Vikings are Coming!
It’s another multi-episode story arc for Doctor Who, as viewers are introduced to Ashildre in “The Girl Who Died.” The offbeat and “strange” Viking girl is portrayed by Maisie Williams from the hit series Game of Thrones, a casting decision that’s generated buzz for months. Williams is neither the Doctor’s granddaughter nor someone else from his past. That revelation may leave some viewers disappointed, but I regard this weekend’s chapter as a strong venture onto some new ground.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) embark on another adventure and end up getting captured by Vikings. His Sonic Shades are destroyed. The Time Lord tries to pass himself off as the god Odin, complete with yo-yo tricks. The “real” Odin appears in the sky, sending down beings in heavy armor. The creatures are identified as the Mire by the Doctor, harvesting “testosterone” from the strongest members of a species from places they visit. It’s creepy and admittedly a bit gross, but Ashildre (the “girl” in the title, if you hadn’t already guessed by now) is really the focus here.
Clara and Ashildre are taken along with the warrior Vikings, signaling that the latter young woman is not all that she seems. Her “oddness” around others and love for puppetry are qualities that attract the Doctor to her story. It also brings to mind the connection that Clara made with the belittled and frightened young Doctor in “Listen.”
Look Who’s Talking
Clara and Ashildre survive the trap in the spaceship, meeting the mastermind, fake Odin. Ashildre rashly challenges fake Odin, who accepts it and sends the two women back. The Doctor is reluctant to help with the upcoming battle despite pleas from Clara and Ashildre. The strongest voice turns out to be a crying baby, wailing that he translates for everyone: “Hold me, Mother, I am afraid. Turn your face towards me, Mother … for you are beautiful … I will sing for you.” Capaldi teases out such a lovely tone to capture both the infant’s fears and reassurances, a little speech that might otherwise have floundered.
The Doctor, as we’ve seen previously (recall Stormy in “Closing Time”), is a sucker for babies and decides to stay. His attempts at training the remaining villagers with real swords ends disastrously and hilariously with the town on fire. Who needs the Mire when these fellows (the likes of Lofty, ZZ Top, Heidi, etc.) can take themselves out? Again, Lofty’s infant daughter is instrumental here, as the Doctor connects her reference to “fire in the water” with the eels in the barrels.
“I Can Do Anything”
The electricity from the eels very briefly immobilizes the Mire. Ashildre gets the honors of putting on the Mire helmet and projecting a dragon that frightens the aliens. Clara records everything on her phone, which the Doctor threatens to upload on the galactic internet of sorts. The modern blackmail is a nice touch. Overall, I would say that “The Girl Who Died” is certainly a vast improvement over last season’s “Robot of Sherwood,” another episode that combined a past century with armored enemies and a hidden spaceship. (I did enjoy that spoon fight last year, I admit.)
Ashildre dies from the effects of the helmet, prompting a passionate moment from the Time Lord. We finally get an answer about the Doctor’s face and why it looks like that of Caecilius, a Roman that he (David Tennant) rescued in “Fires of Pompeii.” The Doctor remembers that exact face and that he broke the rules to save that life: “To remind me. To hold me to the mark… I’m the Doctor and I save people!” That pronouncement doesn’t explain where John Frobisher of Torchwood fits into the mix, unless he’s a descendant of Caecilius.
“Dying is an Ability”
There’s a bit of overkill as the Doctor repeats the warning about “ripples” or bad consequences if you interfere and do things you aren’t supposed to do. He revives Ashildre with a medical kit from the Mire and leaves a second one for her to use on “whoever she wants.” It’s a repair device that gives her immortality, almost like the regenerative abilities of the Doctor. However, Ashildre has a rather dark look after countless days pass for her, bringing another “fire” with which the Doctor will have to contend.
Another issue is the fact that those Sonic Shades are gone. At this year’s Awesome Con, Alex Kingston hinted that we have yet to see the Doctor with her screwdriver. The need for a new screwdriver and the news of River Song’s return this Christmas together suggest that we’re about to see it again. For now, check back next time for Maisie Williams’ return in “The Woman Who Lived.”