I’m getting worried. He used to be so much fun, always joking around, but now he’s moody and anxious about following the rules and not making waves. What should I do?
Worried in Wyoming
Remind him of who was in his “former” life, then be strong and hold him to the mark.
In the words of Penny from The Big Bang Theory: “Holy crap on a cracker.” This little episode was just doing its thing, being all formulaic Doctor Who, and then “wham!” I mean I was on my feet and yelling at the screen when 10’s face lit up my TV and Donna’s voice came pleading behind him. And then there it was, Capaldi’s Caecilius (yes, I looked it up) from Fires of Pompeii, and I thought “O.M.G. they’re actually talking about it?!” I couldn’t believe that Moffat was dealing with the elephant in the room from the beginning of Capaldi’s reign – the fact that he played another character in a previous episode. And I thought the Doctor talking directly to the audience was shocking. Truly, this season is going to kill me.
Spoilers ahead, Sweetie…
The Episode in a Nutshell
We begin in normal, expected chaos. Clara is floating in deep space with an alien, brain-sucking spider trapped in her space suit. The Doctor distracts her with questions and, blessed with impeccable timing, saves her. The Tardis lands so the Doctor can scrape said squished alien beastie from the bottom of his shoe, providing an opportunity for the two to discuss every time traveler’s conundrum: what are the rules? According to the Doctor, they are to tread lightly, making ripples and not tidal waves. Logically, they are next captured by Vikings who break our Doctor’s sunglasses/screwdriver and take him and Clara back to their village.
Once there, the Doctor has a premonition about a village girl named Ashildr before pretending to be the Norse god Odin in an attempt to win his and Clara’s freedom. Unfortunately another Odin wannabee appears in the sky, beaming down robots that then harvest the Viking warriors as well as Clara and Ashildr. This Odin is an alien who has mashed up the Vikings for their adrenaline and testosterone. The ladies are spared and Clara nearly talks the alien into withdrawing until Ashildr starts some Viking posturing and commits her village to a war. The Doctor identifies the alien threat as the Mire, the most deadly warrior race in the galaxy. He encourages the villagers to leave and hide, but of course they refuse.
Our Doctor next interprets a nearby baby’s cries in a lovely little homage to Alfie and Stormageddon. I, for one, wouldn’t have thought that babies could wax poetic, but regardless Ashildr asks the Doctor to help them fight and he refuses. Clara presses the point, so he circles back to the ripples-versus-tidal-waves discussion and explains that saving one village could easily doom the planet. The baby cries again, something about “fire in the water,” and the Doctor relents. He tries to train the villagers, but as fishermen and farmers they end up setting the place on fire. The Doctor confides to his companion that the best they can hope for is a good death. She tells him he is missing something important that will allow them to win and encourages him to start looking. Part of the search process includes Ashildr’s hut and we discover that she has always considered herself an outcast as a puppet-maker and storyteller. That damn baby starts crying again, but thankfully its cries hold the key as the Doctor realizes that “fire in the water” refers to electric eels, an asset he can actually use.
When the Mire arrive, it’s to a feast not a fight. The villagers have rigged up a way to use electricity to remove one of the Mire warriors’ helmets, which Ashildr then wears to convince them that one of her puppets is an actual dragon. A villager or two has secretly taped the Mire fleeing, so the Doctor blackmails their leader into leaving to avoid the ridicule of having everyone in the galaxy witness their cowardice via the galactic equivalent of YouTube. Sadly, Ashildr has died in the process and the Doctor runs off in pain. He is tired of losing people when he is capable of doing anything if it weren’t for these pesky rules. That’s when the Doctor realizes that his current face is familiar and was chosen to remind him that his purpose is to save people, as previous companion Donna convinced the tenth Doctor to do. So he re-programs a Mire medical kit to repair Ashildr, knowing that it will make her immortal, and leaves a spare kit so she won’t have to spend eternity alone. To Be Continued…
Okay, okay, okay, so…I’m just like…wow. There are two important pieces to the pivotal “I’ve seen this face before” scene that I’d like to touch upon. First, since when do we air out the dirty laundry? As a committed viewer and fan, I have tacitly agreed to suspend my disbelief when a previous actor is reconstituted into a new role in the same show. As an example, at no point did Amy Pond have to explain why she wore the same face as the “Soothsayer” from the same episode (lots of great talent in The Fires of Pompeii). This was, as far as I was concerned, unnecessary.
So I was stunned and then incredibly impressed as the writers not only owned up to the fact that Capaldi’s been here before but then gave us a compelling reason why it’s okay. It was done on purpose so at this moment the Doctor can remember his humanity, just as #10 did when faced with Donna’s tears, and start saving people. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but thank God they’re acknowledging the mistakes made last season and making course corrections. I refuse to believe that this was the grand plan. Those Doctor Who surveys must have really made an impact with Team Moffat.
Not surprisingly, The Girl Who Died is a cliffhanger. Since the Doctor hauntingly called Ashildr a hybrid, I am on pins and needles to see how that one word will be clarified next week. And as a conspiracy theorist, I am always wondering if we’re seeing our next companion. I am also very curious about who she can’t bear to lose.
Liz Bowen, a.k.a DocBlogger
Liz Bowen is a long-time Doctor Who fan and first-time blogger living in Colorado Springs. She enjoys seeing her childhood recreated in cinematic excellence and will waste entire evenings waxing poetic about the technical beauty that is Transformers. She indulges in writing Supernatural fanfic and is working on her first original book.