Doctor Who: Initial Reactions to The Woman Who Lived
A Guest Blog by Hevy782
If you’ve been keeping up with these little review I’ve been doing you’ll know that this series has been rather up and down for me so far. I’m happy to say that this episode was on an up though. Not up as high as Mummy on the Orient Express or Flatline but a definite improve over the last two weeks. Which makes me wonder whether this one will be well remembered in the future or whether it’ll be one of those strong episodes that doesn’t quite stand out for being either really good or really bad so just ends up being forgotten about. Time will tell on that front I guess. But anyway, this Doctor Who story is written by a woman but that’s not the important part about Catherine Tregenna, the fact that she’s very good at writing characters is. And she really is good at it and adds a genuine sense of character to Ashildr (or Me as she goes by now) that wasn’t really there in any great abundance last week. She also does some great stuff with the Doctor and you can really see Peter Capaldi sinking his teeth into all that wonderful stuff. However, the intense focus on character does mean that the plot takes a back seat. Admittedly it is a simple plot and is nothing really new but nevertheless it would’ve been nice to have had a bit more build up and a slightly longer scene for the invasion and it really was far too quick. Me’s sudden change of heart was (as the word sudden would suggest) a bit too sudden and a bit too convenient. That might’ve been more down to directing rather than writing but I do feel that it shouldn’t have been as instantaneous as it ended up being. Just a couple of seconds extra would’ve been able to fix that I think but I guess you can’t have everything.
Speaking more in-depth about Me, she very much feels like a substitute companion in this episode and I am begging to wonder whether or not this was supposed to be a Doctor solo series before Jenna decided to stay as it does feel like most of the episodes would have been no different without her and here she’s just written out altogether excluding a short scene at the end. Did I dislike her absence? Not really as I feel that there was no other way to get her in the episode without detracting from it as a whole. It is very much a two hander between the Doctor and Me and it wouldn’t work any other way. Anyway, back to Me herself. Maisie Williams was great last week but here she take it to a whole other level, probably because the script really allows her to. I really loved the idea of her being an immortal but still having a human sized memory. I also liked that she wanted to explore beyond the confines of her world and join the Doctor. The way those scenes where played though implied there was some sinister reason as to why she knows about the Doctor’s travels but that’s never really followed through on. Maybe that’ll be explored in a future episode? It would be nice to have her back some time.
In terms of supporting character there are only two worthy of note, Sam Swift and Leandro. Sam Swift was wonderful and it’s a shame we didn’t get to spend more time with his character. Leandro however was more of a plot device than a character and was a rather poor villain if I’m honest. He, like the plot, was only really there to push the character drama between the Doctor and Me forward. You could argue that Sam Swift was there for that purpose too but he was a much more entertaining character and had such a style about him thanks to both Catherine Tregenna’s writing and Rufus Hound’s acting that it’s much less noticeable that he’s kind of a plot device. He even gets a bit of development himself and ends up being friends with the Doctor and Me in the end. The gallows humour was very nicely done and while it did feel a bit like padding at the time I appreciate it in hindsight. In terms of humour it fitted in much more with the story than the humour did last week in The Girl Who Died. Speaking of, I did bring up the topic of whether or not I classed it as a two-part story last week and I still stand by my statement that they are two separate episodes but with a small link between them. They each tell their own stories and only really have a single character in common. Or three characters if you count the Doctor and Clara. It’s nice to have that though as it’s great that they’re trying something different the format and also something different in the form of the character of Me.
Overall, Catherine Tregenna’s Doctor Who debut has a rather week plot but that’s mostly forgivable because it’s main purpose is to be a character piece and it does that spectacularly. I think eight-out-of-ten is a fair rating for this one and I hope I’ll get to give out more scores like this or higher as we enter the second half of the series. The Zygon Invasion is next up and it’s Kill the Moon writer Peter Harness back for another go. It looks to be very good but I said that last year about Kill the Moon and look how that turned out so I’m not counting on it being a classic just yet. However, we don’t have long to wait now so until next week be sure to sound off your thoughts on the episode in the comments below.