‘Doctor Who’ Season 9, Episode 6 Recap: The Doctor faces the costs of …

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Doctor Who’ Episode 6 review: Who wants to live forever?.

Immortality has hardened the young woman formerly known as Ashildr, leaving her cold, empty and violent. “I didn’t know your heart would rust because I kept it beating,” the Doctor tells her. Starting out Season 9 of “Doctor Who” with three back-to-back two parters seemed like a little too much, but “The Women Who Lived” went a long way in redeeming the weaker parts of last week’s episode.In 17th century England, the Doctor meets an older, world-weary Ashildr (now in the guise of Me) for a second time, as both hunt for an alien artefact in the form of a jewelled amulet.The Game Of Thrones star made her series debut last Saturday in the episode The Girl Who Died – as the Viking girl given immortality by the Doctor – and she’ll be back in this Saturday’s episode The Woman Who Lived, set in 1651.

It’s out there now — the technology exists to make people “functionally immortal.” So why didn’t the Doctor use a Mire medical kit, or something like it, to keep any of his previous companions by his side? But we all know the worst that can happen is that he’ll be forced to change his face one more time, and that we’ll be prepared for that event long before the fact. (Of course, the real worst that could happen is that the show will be cancelled by the BBC again and go off the air for another 15 years before being revived by another wily showrunner — but given its global popularity, that doesn’t seem likely any time soon). And speaking to the BBC Maisie revealed that while nothing has been set in stone, she certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the character returned in the future. Some examples just since the 2005 reboot alone: Rose Tyler gets trapped in a parallel dimension; Amy and Rory get trapped back in time; and, perhaps most tragically, Donna Noble has her entire memory of her adventures with the Doctor wiped permanently from her brain. As Arya Stark, Williams has shown tremendous skill in navigating that character’s increasingly dark path so it’s no wonder Ashildr seemed a little flat in comparison.

At exactly the same time, it’s an unutterably bleak, sometimes stagey, meditation on the nature of (im)mortality, the consequences of his “saving” of Viking woman Ashildr last week coming home to roost. Maisie went on to point out that Saturday’s episode picks up Ashildr’s story ‘years and years in the future’ – and will show how much she has changed in that time. But as Me, the woman Ashildr has turned into after living for 800 years, Williams is simply spectacular at showing how time had rusted out the gentle girl’s heart. And perhaps it wouldn’t work if it were not for guest star Maisie Williams’s remarkable ability to do what’s demanded in the script, to turn on a pin between those two genres, a style which, in other hands, might jar horribly.

Wishing it on Ashildr was short sighted — a split-second response to a loss that reminded him of all the others — and he ran rather than deal with the consequences. In truth, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of an episode which is light and frivolous on one hand and serious and introspective on the other. There isn’t exactly a lot of material available with which to research a Restoration-period lady who doubles up by night as a feared highwayman, who 800 years before was a Viking girl, turned by an eternity of watching everyone around her die. With Clara sitting this adventure out, the episode devotes serious time to examining the costs of immortality and how the Doctor and Me’s contrasting natures have dealt with the blows of time.

It’s a niche role, but Willams sells it, as the amusing montage of her journey through history gives brutal way to the memory of watching her children die, and we hear the story of her unusual name. “All the other names I chose died with whoever knew me, Me is who I am now. They’ve both been bruised by their long lives but the Doctor’s generous, compassionate nature helped him survive where Me’s tender nature has hardened into heartlessness. She’s largely absent from this episode, but it is widely known Jenna Coleman is leaving the series; and her departure is being heavily foreshadowed this season.

The opening sequence is played very much for laughs, and almost seems ripped from a very similar scene in the BBC’s legendary 1980s historical comedy Blackadder. Capaldi once again proves that he’s a lot better as “Funny Doctor” than he was as “Dark Doctor” last year; overcoming his aversion to punning in order to buy valuable time. Over 800 years, Ashildr has become Me, an immortal, linear traveller through time, experiencing horrors on both a broad and a personal scale, such as losing her children to the Black Death.

And as his verbal sparring partner Sam Swift the Quick, Rufus Hound brings the same infectious glow of an actor clearly having the time of his life that Frank Skinner did last year. To watch your lovers, your friends, your family and your children die, to witness every human disaster – the loss would be almost too tough to bear, at least while retaining one’s sense of humanity. Having demonstrated her abilities against the likes of Charles Dance and Sean Bean on “Game of Thrones,” Williams tears into these scenes with Capaldi like a meaty hunk of steak, They are so good together, one wishes Williams wasn’t already gainfully employed and could take over as the new companion. The flashbacks are delightful, and no doubt millions of kids will have a better grasp of English history thanks to this sequence (although they’ll need to watch out for the show’s erroneous claim that Agincourt helped end the Hundred Year’s War). Walled off and desensitised emotionally and with a cavalier attitude towards life, she is what the Doctor might have become had he not had human companions to ground him and remind him, as he tells her, ‘how beautiful and precious life is because it’s fleeting’.

Ultimately, whether you think it has worked or not, this loose two-part story has certainly come up with a novel way of bringing some heft to the fun, frothy ones. This episode did tackle one point of immortality that doesn’t often come up in science-fiction: how the human brain copes with hundreds of years’ worth of memories. First the Doctor explains to Ashildr about his need for a mortal human companion and why it wouldn’t be good for him to travel with an immortal such as her, as she tells him her new mission is to act as ‘the patron saint of the Doctor’s leftovers’. She’s closed off to the people around her and traded relationships for “adventure.” She accuses the Doctor of just passing through the world, but she’s just passing through her own life at this point, which she paints as a natural byproduct of her unique state. Though he doesn’t talk about it, the Doctor understands what it’s like to lose a child and believes the tender hearted young girl is still within the hard shell of the woman she’s become.

Her memory is short — as short as any mortal human’s — so along with the names and places she’s lost, Me is constantly forgetting the emotional lessons that go along with any lived experience. Events come to a head when the Doctor discovers Me is working with Leandro, an alien with the face of a lion who needs the Eye of Hades to open a portal back to his own world. I suppose, given that the rhythm of this series is how famously the pair are getting on this year, there’s inevitably going to be less story to mine as Clara just gets on with being great at the hero job. In that sense, her immortality is the opposite of the Doctor’s: Even when he changes his entire personality, he holds on to the knowledge of where he’s been. With an aged, well-read, worldly wise pair to play with, scriptwriter Catherine Tregenna was able to give the dialogue a literary feel (“All these people here, they’re like smoke.

During their last conversation about immortality, Captain Jack Harkness gets a shoutout and Me focuses again on the Doctor’s companions and how his relative immortality affects them. They blow away in the moment.”) And while on the topic of Tregenna, a spot for the particularly nerdy Doctor Who fans: a mention of Jack Harkness written by a former Torchwood writer. The two of them elevated a pair of episodes which contained too much slapstick and banter for my liking – Sam and the Doctor exchanging jokes at the gallows was excruciating – but gave us the opportunity to hold a mirror to the darker side of what it means to be a Time Lord.

Doctor Who has specialised in inflicting on its companions fates worse than death, and Russell T Davies once said that it just isn’t the sort of show where you kill off your leading lady. Later, as the Doctor plays his guitar alone in the TARDIS, Clara bursts in looking for a new adventure and telling him one of her students took a selfie as a thank you for his help on a project. And because you’re probably hearing it in your head right now, here’s the Queen song in question and the similar scene it accompanies in Highlander: It’s easy to understand why Me has become a robber of renown, the latest in a long line of activities she’s becoming expert in, 10,000 hours at a time.

But “you don’t forget the man who saved your life.” Me begs the Doctor to take her to the sky — she’s been waiting — but he has no intention of doing so. Belatedly, the Doctor tries to play dad. “This is no way to live your life,” he says, “desensitized to the world.” Of course, that’s pretty much how he spends eternity too, looking for ever greater thrills to keep boredom at bay. If there is a theme developing here to foreshadow Clara’s exit, then it’s maybe worth considering that next week’s story concerns those shapeshifting aliens the Zygons, with duplicate insurgents apparently walking among us (as established in the 50th).

Even more troubling is Me’s disregard for human life — she aims her gun at the amulet’s owner when he nearly catches them, and she aims it again at local robber Sam Swift when they meet him on the road. “Kill him and you make an enemy of me,” the Doctor reminds her — and as much as she claims not to care, she can’t have that. A niche reference even for us, but the Great Fire of London was indeed within the Whoniverse, started by the Terileptils, in the 1982 story The Visitation. A reptilian, fish-like race, their invasion plot to wipe out life on Earth by releasing rats infected with an advanced strain of the great plague went haywire when one of their weapons overpowered inside a bakery on Pudding Lane. Whether this is relevant or not is a conversation for another day, but it’s worth pointing out that Catherine Tregenna is the first woman to write for Doctor Who since Helen Raynor penned The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky in 2008; and only the second since the show’s revival.

You almost expect him to throw in “ask for me tomorrow, you shall find me a grave man.” The villain of the piece, the lion man Leandro, is almost incidental to the narrative. He stumbled into – and totally bungled – her robbery because he was using his “curiosensor” to track an alien artifact that has no business being on Earth.

The so-called “10,000-hour rule” is central to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which looks into the factors behind expertise, and takes as its premise the results of a study by K Anders Ericsson which found that to be the optimum period of practice needed to perfect any skill to top levels. Me and Leandro set out to put Swift’s death toward their own end while soldiers arrest the Doctor, who’s had a bounty on his head since he was seen in the company of the Knightmare. If “purple is the colour of death” then is there maybe more than meets the eye to that purple velvet jacket which, yes, I am still going to keep banging on about?

They break into the house where the artifact, the Eyes of Hades, is being held, and when they are almost caught in the act, Lady Me’s first instinct is “kill or be killed.” The Doctor, instead, persuades her to hide. Even more so for the fact that Me now appears to be following the Doctor through time, keeping an eye on old companions, mopping up the mess he leaves in his wake. As they scurry up the chimney, whispering as they go, the Doctor is surprised to learn that, given all she’s forgotten, Lady Me remembers Clara. “I take particular note of anyone’s weaknesses,” she quips.

Time will tell if she returns, or if the Doctor’s realization in the previous episode that she’s a hybrid — like the Dalek-Time Lord hybrid foretold back in Episode 2 — actually means anything at all, or was a mere red herring. Just as Swift starts waxing poetic about the “precious gift” that is life, the Doctor presents his psychic paper as a pardon from Cromwell himself. You think you don’t care, but you fall off the wagon.”) She can’t be responsible for the death of so many defenseless people. “They need you,” she says to the Doctor. “They need us.” He welcomes her back. The Doctor believes that he and Ashildr are a dangerous combination — their perspectives are too vast. “People like us,” he says, “we go on too long.

The last thing we need is each other.” Immortals need to be around people whose lives are short, because they’re the ones who understand how “precious” every moment is. At the episode’s end, the Doctor zooms in on a selfie one of Clara’s students took and notices the immortal woman grinning behind a fence in the background. *Is Sam now immortal? That grin in the photo on Clara’s phone, to me, seemed a tad sinister and tells me we’ll almost definitely see her again. * The birthdays of Peter Capaldi (April 14) and Maisie Williams (April 15) are one day apart.

He needs a companion with a small perspective, but he also needs to live a big life, full of the kind of life-or-death situations that remind him what matters — as this one reminded Ashildr today.

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