Monday, October 19, 2015

Low Stakes And Flashbacks That Steal The Show Mar "The Girl Who Died!"

The Good: Character moments, Good performances
The Bad: Dull plot, Somewhat pointless adversary
The Basics: The next Doctor Who two-parter starts with "The Girl Who Died" and gets the pairing off to a mediocre start.

Before the current season of Doctor Who began, there was a great deal of excitement over the casting news that was leaked. Doctor Who fans were thrilled that one of the two-parters in the season would feature Maisie Williams. Williams is (so far) best known for her portrayal of Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones (Season 1 is reviewed here!). After months of pointless speculation on the role that Williams would play, she was revealed to be playing a guest star in the two part episodes "The Girl Who Died" and "The Woman Who Lived." "The Girl Who Died" has now aired and one has to hope that the second part uses Williams better.

Almost entirely disconnected from the prior episode, "Before The Flood" (reviewed here!), "The Girl Who Died" is one protracted set-up episode that is almost entirely overshadowed by the use of past footage. Peter Capaldi, who has taken up the mantle of The Doctor, appeared in the prior episode "The Fires Of Pompeii" a few years ago, while David Tennant and Catherine Tate shared the TARDIS. "The Girl Who Died" rehashes the epiphany The Doctor had when interacting with Capaldi's prior character and suggests to the current incarnation of The Doctor just why he chose the face he did.

Opening in space where Clara's space suit is infested by an alien parasite, The Doctor distracts Clara long enough to escape the TARDIS's attackers and rescue her. The Doctor has the desire to clean his shoes off after killing the parasite and lands the TARDIS on ancient Earth in a Viking village. The Doctor and Clara are quickly captured by Vikings and taken back to their village. There, The Doctor attempts to impersonate Odin . . . when Odin appears above the village and abducts the strongest warriors in the crowd. Clara and the young woman, Ashildr, are taken as well.

Clara and Ashildr find themselves aboard an alien vessel, where the Vikings are being harvested for their testosterone. Clara and the girl manage to escape and they confront Odin and his armored alien warriors. Clara is about to get Odin to leave when Ashildr throws down the gauntlet with the false god. Odin sends the pair back to the village and gives them a day to ready for battle with ten of his warriors. The Doctor tries to convince the villagers to flee, even listening to a baby's mournful cry to try to change their minds, but Ashildr and her people remain adamant. The Doctor begins training the villagers to fight while trying to come up with a way to defeat the Mire.

It is always refreshing to see character development on Doctor Who and "The Girl Who Died" actually has some character development, even if it is somewhat rehashing the past. At one point, Donna Noble convinced The Doctor to save a single Roman family and the current incarnation of The Doctor suddenly recalls the valuable lesson he once learned, that there is merit in saving even a single human life. The Doctor applies that lesson to Ashildr and the viewer has to wonder what the hell makes he so special. The Doctor explains it to Clara blithely in the episode as deja vu in reverse. But there is nothing particularly special about Ashildr and given how the Doctor's adoring fan, O'Donnell, was pointlessly killed proximate to him in the prior episode, it seems like rubbing salt into the wound that he has the remembered epiphany in this episode.

In fact, outside the big epiphany, The Doctor seems very un-Doctorly in this episode. The entire prior season was peppered with The Doctor loathing soldiers until he begrudgingly took the role of Commander in the season finale. After briefly encouraging the villagers to flee, The Doctor takes up the mantle of drill sergeant with remarkably little internal conflict.

"The Girl Who Died" is further marred by the sudden conceit of The Doctor's Almanac. Out of nowhere (apparently) The Doctor produces a diary of the alien races he's met over 2000 years in order to identify the Mire. Why? Because he is separated from the massive database aboard the TARDIS for the episode (it's a two-day hike/boatride away). From this, we are meant to believe that The Doctor is frantically navigating the TARDIS, rescues Clara and after landing the TARDIS on Earth, while he is fairly desperate to get the dead sprite off his shoe, he grabs his diary and sticks it in his coat pocket, where there is also a yo-yo and his sonic sunglasses.

All that said, "The Girl Who Died" has interesting character development. The episode continues the seeding of Clara as a bisexual or sexually open-minded (in the season premiere, she referenced Jane Austen as a "good kisser" and in "The Girl Who Died" she offers to fight The Doctor for Ashildr), but the more interesting bits come in The Doctor's scenes where he simply talks. He talks to Clara about the value of life and the responsibilities of time travelers, he talks with Ashildr about the impending fight. The current Doctor is written with some incredibly good lines that are well-delivered by Peter Capaldi, even if they do not add up to a good, solid or cohesive story.

Maisie Williams is fine as Ashildr, but in "The Girl Who Died," the character is utterly unremarkable. The longer "The Girl Who Died" went on, the more the viewer wonders just how the hell the episode will be made a two-parter. The answer is in Williams and the constancy of her character. "The Girl Who Died" is not horrible, but it is simplistic and puts a lot of pressure on the second part to justify the use of such an unimpressive character for two episodes. While Ashildr's bland character is not Williams's fault, portraying her does not use much of the actress's talents, which makes one hope that the second part will utilize her better.

For other works with David Schofield, please check out my reviews of:
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Ninth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!


For more television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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