The Girl Who Died

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Captured by vikings, the Doctor and Clara must defend the Norse villagers from an extraterrestrial threat posing as Odin.

The opening of the episode, with the Doctor battling war fleets to save an entire civilisation, juxtaposes with the relatively small-scale main story: a small village under threat from aliens. It also sets up the question about how much the Doctor can interfere, and what the rules are for doing so. It’s a question that’s been around in Doctor Who almost since the beginning, along with the uncomfortable truth that the Doctor often chooses who lives and who dies. Each story this year has given us different ways to survive; and another is for the Doctor to choose to save one person over others. When he remembers that he last saw his current face on Lobus Caecilius, the patriarch of the family he saved from The Fires of Pompeii he decides to save plucky teen viking Ashildr.


In saving Ashildr the Doctor has created another immortal, as Rose did with Captain Jack in The Parting of the Ways. The pitfalls of immortality have been spelt out in Doctor Who before, notably in The Brain of Morbius and The Five Doctors. The Doctor’s line describing Ashildr as “functionally immortal, barring accidents” seems to deliberately recall the Doctor’s line from The War Games about the Time Lords themselves. And the Doctor calling Ashildr a hybrid links her to the mythology of his own people too.

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“You’ve just seen the world through the eyes of a story- teller.”

As with last series’ Robot of Sherwood, the importance of story-telling to Steven Moffat’s Who is once again underlined. This is the most direct example of the power of stories and imagination, as it is crucial to the Mire’s defeat. The Doctor’s mysterious ability to understand the language of babies crops up again. Speaking baby, horse, dinosaur etc is not part of the TARDIS translation gift, it seems that he has learned these languages in recent incarnations (Dino-talk between Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and Deep Breath, and baby between say, Father’s Day and A Good Man Goes to War). Capaldi does a great job of selling it here, but it’s still a daft idea.

After a pair of two-part stories so far this year, this is back in the forty-five minute story mold (albeit Ashildr’s story will continue next week). This episode’s fairly slight alien plot still gives the characters room for some lengthy, in-depth scenes though. There are some great scenes with the Doctor and Clara, their onscreen relationship having been perfected this year. Sadly, their dialogue seems to make the outlook for Clara’s short-term future continue to look grim. Had the run-up to the broadcast not been dominated on Twitter by Maisie Williams’ guest appearance, the title The Girl Who Died might have referred to Clara herself.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/10/2015 - Programme Name: Doctor Who - TX: 17/10/2015 - Episode: THE GIRL WHO DIED (By Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat) (No. 5) - Picture Shows: ***EMBARGOED UNTIL 13th OCT 2015*** Clara (JENNA COLEMAN), Ashildr (MAISIE WILLIAMS) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Simon Ridgway

For some reason the idea of killing off a companion doesn’t seem as unthinkable as it was in the Russell T. Davies era. Despite teasing the deaths of Rose and Donna, it never seemed like a credible possibility. In Steven Moffat’s darker, more adult, take on Doctor Who it seems both more likely that it could happen. Her boyfriend has already been killed, and Clara has said that the Doctor gives her something to live for following Danny’s death. The Doctor has twice now warned her about the dangers of their lifestyle.

I found on second viewing that the resolution of the Mire threat didn’t quite ring true. The Mire don’t rely on their reputation; they rely on tricking superstitious primitives into thinking they are gods. In fact, it’s not really clear why they bother with the deception at all, as the vikings pose no threat to their raiding parties. Neither are their victims are unlikely to subscribe to the Galactic Hub. It’s an enjoyable enough adventure though, and the usual one-parter quick resolution is undercut by the unsettling nature of the final shot of Ashildr. The Doctor making a mistake like this always feel momentous, and this has shades of the Eighth Doctor’s first two seasons with Big Finish. In Storm Warning he saves Charley Pollard’s life, which has huge repercussions for the Web of Time.



Order Series 9 on DVD:

Doctor Who – Series 9 Part 1 [DVD]


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