Doctor Who #966: The Woman Who Lived

"What took you so long, old man?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.24 2015

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor finds Ishildr still alive in 1641.

REVIEW: A Clara-less episode (save for the last scene), in which the Doctor confronts the former Ishildr, now calling herself Lady Me (which kept reminding me of "Mini-Me", I'm sorry) and very bitter at the curse of immortality though she's clearly made the best of it. The episode shines brightest in their conversations, which might as well be the Doctor talking to himself at times, telling himself how life is supposed to be lived and why mortals are important. She hasn't yet realized that immortality isn't meant to be lived alone, nor that the company of fellow immortals is necessarily a good thing. But may by now have incredible skills, she still has a human-sized memory, and only remembers most of her experiences through her own journals. Some too painful pages have been ripped out, but pain remains, like the death of her own children from the black plague, to remind her not to connect too strongly with her humanity. And so she is able to betray the Doctor when someone else offers a ride off Earth, even if it means killing an ephemeral, and if she shares the Doctor's adventurous spirit, it manifests in criminal behavior. She does have a change of heart at the end, but it's just not enough to make him change his mind.

It's just unfortunate that everyone else in history is a dumb caricature. Not only is the comedy it provides middling, but it doesn't feel honest to contrast these clucks with the two immortals. Most ANYONE would seem like an advanced being next to them. Rufus Hound does a good job with Sam Swift, I thought, especially when he's trying to be brave and laugh off his own hanging, clinging to every precious second, but the fact that the village populace hates him and loves him from moment to moment undermines the scene. Everyone is SO STUPID, gah! They can't even spot the lion man in their midst!

The plot is really secondary to this meeting, with a MacGuffin to chase down and an impending invasion to stop. It does get mired in boring comedy burglary and the Doctor gurning on a horse for what seems like forever, a forced double act between the Doc and Sam which doesn't sit well with the former, an unjustified slo-mo jump, and terrible dialog about purple being the color of death and such. Sam is saved by the Mayan medical patch, but the episode is vague about his chances for a long life. Regardless, he isn't seen again. As for Lady Me's future, I've always felt like they made promises here they never kept. Ishildr as protector of the Doctor's leftovers will be seen in Face the Raven, but I rather hoped she'd be collecting companions, not enemies, and that her appearance in Clara's selfie wasn't meant to be sinister. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Bottom line, I'm like the Doctor. I don't like who Ishildr has become, and at the end of this, I'm not actually eager to see her again.

THEORIES: Once Leandro of Delta Leonis opens a portal to another dimension, it's hard not to think of the equally leonine Tharils that can somehow navigate between E and N Space from Warriors' Gate. Perhaps these are cousins from the time when they were war-like, a sin for which they were later enslaved?

VERSIONS: The DVD features a number of deleted moments, the only notable of which is an extended sequence where the Doctor reads Me's memoirs, and flashes back to a scene during the Black Plague where she crosses paths with a masked doctor and tells him what's causing the epidemic. As she walks away, he takes off the mask and is revealed to be the Doctor, covertly checking up on her.

REWATCHABILITY: Not Quite Medium, Sorry - It's important for tracking Ishildr/Me, but it just doesn't take its setting seriously and tries too hard to be funny.


Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

I moreso this season than last, seemed to follow pretty much every episode, and this one was pretty good. I hear ya' on the not following through of promises, because Me could've been a really good grey-area ally/frenemy, and yet now that won't happen. Of course the actress playing Me wasn't meant to stick around more regularly, but yeah, the idea of a fellow immortal who wasn't a time-lord keep the tabs on the Doctor and his activities here on Earth as a possible neutralizer should he ever become a threat, did seem interesting. Sadly that won't happen, but who knows what could've been. My question is once Clara eventually is allowed to die, what happens to Me then? I'm guessing she keep that diner Tardis and plays Doctor then?

Siskoid said...

Maybe that'll be revealed in a Big Finish audio series some time.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"Bottom line, I'm like the Doctor. I don't like who Ishildr has become, and at the end of this, I'm not actually eager to see her again."

Agreed. So, you mean that if this morally-ambiguous, arguably callous and criminal being who is too dangerous to be taken in the TARDIS and allows to roam the universe gets a silly-double-act and the power of a TARDIS to fly off and do whatever she wants in the cosmos in some future episode, its absurd, gravitas-ruining chicanery WON'T be the satisfying ending you were looking for...? (Of course, I get ahead of myself, but you can probably tell where I stand...)

Also thought of the Tharil connection; I like your idea for it. Wish they'd done something with it in the show.

And... can we assume that Sam was indeed restored to a normal lifespan only, considering that he is neither seen nor mentioned again, and if someone like him was immortal and continued his scheming ways apart from lady Me's side, he probably would have created some pretty big historical ripples? Unless he's just going to come back in a future season to prove this supposition, of course...

Brendoon said...

"And... can we assume that Sam was indeed restored to a normal lifespan only"

Yup, I think that was said in the narrative, closing the portal thing ripped most of its battery juice. I wonder at what stage Ash's repair-bot battery will run out too.

Being the LAST immortal, p'raps Ash got together with all the rest of 'em (face of Bo, Christopher Lambert, her Mire brethren etc) and she trounced 'em all soundly with her superior immortal kombat skills in a sort of end times "quickening" as triumphal strains of Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon pipe in the background.

Brendoon said...

...Or should that be tunes by Bowie? "it's only forever."?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this a lot more than you did. As with last episode, most of this one was a vehicle to getting us to the events at the end, in other words the conversation with the Doctor, which I can watch again and again. And I find Ashildr's story absolutely heartbreaking.

It's easy to see Ashildr as amoral, but I see her more as an immortal who doesn't have a magic phone booth to take her to new fun places when earth becomes a drag. She's left to cope with immortality as best as she can on a planet that would torture her endlessly if they found out. Just enough power not to die, not enough power to make a life for herself, and a mind that is not equipped to handle living forever. The fact that she resolves to help anyone at all -- even if it means helping enemies of the Doctor who are stranded on earth and now harmless -- is a positive thing as I see it.

More Ashildr for Anonymous please.

Siskoid said...

This is definitely an episode I was more positive about on first viewing, but rewatching it, I felt bored or annoyed at everything that wasn't about how Ishildr handled immortality. The setting, the plot, the other characters, all drained the "rewatchability" of it (which is what my reviews attempt to gauge).

Brian said...

It makes sense that Ashieldr is basically a one-season character because of what I call the "Ritchie Ryan Problem" from back in the Highlander days: Maisie Williams is an 18-year old playing an unaging immortal but will soon start looking substantially differently – as much as having her be a character with a slow burn would be fascinating, it's logistically more feasible to get the main parts of the story out in one season (although I could see her appearing another story within the next year or so, albeit 'out-of-order' from her other appearances).

As for Sam Swift, I agree that the mention of the conflicting alien doodads suggests a normal(ish) lifespan. I wouldn't be surprised if some extended source noted him living to 120 and causing havoc across the British Empire, but I don't see any indication of immortality.


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