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Doctor Who (Spoilers!) Review: "The Girl Who Died"

                Now THAT is more like it!
                I missed something clearly as it looks like every episode this series is going to be a two-parter. I think its Steven Moffat trying to add another element of the classic series to the revived one and I don’t mind that. It does mean there are less stories but some stories will get the chance to be expanded upon which I like. Others though like the last two-parter could clearly have just been confined to one hour. But if these episodes continue like this, being connected by only a couple threads of story or character, I’m going to enjoy them more. I’m already starting to enjoy a lot more.
                Thank god for “The Girl Who Died”! This episode was really good. It offered a new scenario, some serious discussion that connected to the story, great characters and actors, marvellous set pieces, revelations, creativity, and humour that’s fresh and effective. Lousy title though. Not only does it spoil the last part of the episode, but it’s another odd example of Moffat liking the title “The Girl…” (“The Girl in the Fireplace”, “The Girl Who Waited”).
                Opening in the middle of another adventure (always a good start), the Doctor and Clara suddenly land in a Viking village in presumably the 9th or 10th century. They are captured and brought to the village where the Doctor tries to convince them he’s Odin. A moment later the apparently real Odin (David Schofield) appears and sends soldiers down to take some of the Vikings to Valhalla. Only they are actually aliens of a race called the Mire and after killing all of their captives but Clara and a girl called Ashildr (Maisie Williams), the bold young Viking stands up to Odin accidentally declaring war. The Mire plan an attack in twenty four hours and these Vikings who aren’t very good Vikings have to be trained and prepared for the battle by the Doctor if they stand any chance of winning.
                I think this episode won me over the moment a Viking crushed the Doctor’s sonic sunglasses. That pleased me greatly. But it just continued to get better from that point on. The tone was a perfect mix of light-hearted comedy and serious dramatic stakes and I really never knew what direction the story was going to go in. I liked the Doctor once again dwelling on consequences. I liked the Doctor having to prepare people for battle knowing they stood little chance against one of the most renowned warrior races out there and Clara pointing out the divergence of this to his usual character (yeah I actually think Clara was pretty good in this). I like the Mire; they’re a great warrior race that can be comedic without resorting to what’s happened to the Sontarans. They’re design is really creative and creepy, like something out of a slightly lesser John Carpenter film (though I can’t be the only one who saw their armour and thought “Judoon”). I really want them to come back! And I love the comic Vikings! They’re hilarious, incompetent to the point they make the gang from How to Train Your Dragon look positively fearsome! They provide for some great laughs giving the Doctor the opportunity to treat them with a comedic superiority like the Third Doctor did. He called a guy (who kinda resembles Rory Williams) Lofty, and another guy Limpy which is hilarious, the latter toeing the line of political correctness wonderfully. There are some great bits like when the Doctor poses as Odin, when he’s reading the 2000 Year Diary, and his thumbs up to Clara (though I do think actually hugging her injured the joke). When the Mire are defeated Clara records it, uses the Benny Hill theme (which somehow will never not be funny), and the Doctor blackmails them. That’s amazing! Essentially the Doctor brings down one of the most powerful warrior races in the universe by threatening to share an embarrassing video on facebook! And let’s not forget that Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference when Odin first shows up in the sky!
                But let’s get to the main reason so many people saw this episode, and yes Maisie Williams was terrific as Ashildr. As she’s proven many times on Game of Thrones, Williams is one of the best actresses of her age, and I like many, hoped (and still hope) that she would be the next companion. She has a scene with Capaldi at one point and both are acting it so well, it shows how good a team they could be. There was a lot of mystery around her character, that she may be tied to the Doctor, and while there’s still another episode to get a big revelation in, I actually like that she seems to be an original character and concept, and one that may be a part of the show for a while. In a time where a lot of Doctor Who has been mining the past (for good reason) it hasn’t created anything or anyone that could be a new lasting element of the show since the Weeping Angels. And I hope Williams is that next one. But aside from her, David Schofield’s also in this episode hamming it up as Odin. I’m used to seeing Schofield in roles that aren’t that serious (the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels come to mind), but then I also saw him as a serious martyr in Valkyrie, so there was still something surprising to me in this performance.
                There’s a running theme of ripples in time with the Doctor considering what to do about the Viking-Mire war and what will happen regardless of who wins. He tells Clara early on that only slight ripples of change can be made to the time stream and they must avoid making tidal waves. And while he initially thinks he’s done the former, his actions in the last part of the episode may lead to the latter. In the end the Doctor conceives a brilliant way to defeat the Mire by electrocuting them with electric eels then tricking them into thinking they’re being attacked by a basilisk that’s really just a Viking ship. They are then blackmailed and take off. To do this at one point they stick Ashildr in what looks like an electric chair where a discharge winds up killing her. It depresses the Doctor but something soon occurs to him. He flashes back to when Donna Noble begged his Tenth incarnation to save someone in the destruction of Pompeii. He remembers saving the family of Caecilius whose face is the one he now bears. Realizing he chose his new face to remind himself that he saves people, he’s reinvigorated with energy and through some rewiring of a Mire chip manages to bring Ashildr back. However as he and Clara are leaving, he realizes that he’s brought her back permanently and wonders if he made a mistake in condemning her to immortality. And it looks like we’re soon going to find out.
                It’s great to finally have an answer connecting this Doctor to Peter Capaldi’s character from “The Fires of Pompeii”. I was hoping it might be something more significant or connecting to a bigger arc as Moffat implied, but this explanation did make sense. And there’s still the fact that Capaldi played John Frobisher in Torchwood: Children of Earth and even though Moffat seems to want to ignore that series I’d love to see a connection to that, especially considering how morally contemptable Frobisher was. And as to the Ashildr thread, it seems the Doctor’s created another Jack Harkness. But in her case she’s more likely to resent him for cursing her. Again I like that they seem to be creating a new potentially lasting character (maybe even villain) in her. The Doctor reveals to Clara she’s got some alien in her now making her a hybrid, and I don’t know if he even realizes her potential connection to Davros’ prophecy about a hybrid in “The Witch’s Familiar”. In any case it’s fascinating, intriguing stuff and I couldn’t be more excited to see where it goes. “The Girl Who Died” was a great episode hitting all the points a Doctor Who episode should and is easily the best of this series so far. Its comedy, mystique, characters, performances, themes, and revelations all work terrifically, and the Doctor being forced to deal with the consequences of his actions is coming back. That final shot of Ashildr in place as the world around her changes with time and her expression turning into grimness and anger certainly shows that what he does for good reasons may not be entirely for wise reasons.

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