This week’s episode, “The Woman Who Lived,” explored themes of what makes The Doctor tick. It was an insightful look into the psyche of someone who can live forever and just what that does to a person.
Picking up where last week left off, The Doctor arrives a thousand years after he last saw Maisie Williams’ Ashildr, now simply calling herself “Me.” The Doctor finds that in the years that have passed she has become a master of many arts, mostly in combat, and now thievery. Known, in addition to Lady Me, as “The Nightmare,” a masked thief with a flair for the theatric, she disguises her voice as a man’s and has cultivated a legend around herself.
Excited as “Me” is to see The Doctor, she becomes almost equally disheartened to learn that he isn’t there to take her away on grand adventures. Instead their meeting is pure happenstance. The Doctor is there tracking an alien amulet that has no business being on earth. Though let down by this, the girl formerly known as Ashildr volunteers to help The Doctor retrieve said amulet.
This episode was one that is more about the interactions on the journey rather than the destination. The plot itself, the amulet and the inevitable alien involvement, were actually quite forgettable. Where things got very interesting was when we learn what “Me” has been up to the last several hundred years and what immortality does to someone.
The fact that the sweet girl we met last week has become so hardened and callous that initially she has forgotten her given name and even the village she was born in is a real punch to the gut. The Doctor reminds her that everyone in her village would have died for her, and as “Me” points out, they all have died. She goes on to compare humanity to mayflies, living brief lives filled with fornication and repeating the same mistakes over and over. Now after seeing this cycle repeat itself time and again she is sick of humanity and yearns for bigger adventures and a companion who is as timeless as herself.
The Doctor brushes off all her requests to be his companion, much to her confusion. Wouldn’t the perfect companion be someone who understands what it is to live so long? “Me” has become much like The Doctor over the years, selective memory, cavalier attitude, and becoming the best at a number of skills. How ironic when The Doctor tells her that being desensitized to the world is no way to live your life. After having so many companions tell him the same thing for so many years.
Eventually we find that “Me” has ulterior motives for retrieving the amulet. She has been working with its original owner, a cat like alien from a race of Lioneans (insert eyeroll here). Yes a humanoid cat race named after Lions, who have glowing eyes and breathe fire. This part of the story is the lowest part and almost pulls down the episode, luckily there is plenty of enjoyable material surrounding this weak premise to pull you in.
We also meet another thief/scoundrel from this time, ”Sam the Swift,” a brief role that becomes quite memorable as he is pivotal to the episode. I must confess, I love puns. Good puns are good, and bad puns are great, so imagine my glee when “Sam the swift” and The Doctor have a pun-off. So dumb yet so funny, it was one of my favorite moments of the week.
This moment happens during the final act of this week’s episode, during which “Me” is trying to use Sam’s execution as a catalyst for the amulet they tracked down. We find out death is a catalyst the amulet uses to open a portal to another world. The former Ashildr has been promised by her feline friend that he will take her with him to explore the stars. Of course this ends up being a ruse and the Zoobilee Zoo reject has a sudden but inevitable betrayal. You just can’t trust an alien anymore.
Luckily our heroes have a way to reverse death. The second immortality chip The Doctor gave to Ashildr last week, the one intended for her to create a companion, is still unused. Since she could find no one who was “worthy” she has simply held on to it all these years. Deus ex machina to the rescue! They reverse Sam’s death and close the portal. But wait, does this mean Sam is immortal? Well we don’t really know. The Doctor claims that the energy drained by the portal probably means he will just live a normal life, but Ashildr catches on very quickly that The Doctor is just making things up as he goes along. So we could see more of “Sam the Swift” in the future.
Some other highlights of this week were another appearance of the Sonic Shades, fixed after last week’s breaking and used to light a candle, just cause The Doctor is a showoff. Also Ashildr calling The Doctor dad and a sidekick was a cute little twist on the normal dynamic. Also the idea that humanity or “the mayflies” remind the immortal how life is fleeting and that makes it precious is a real insight into how The Doctor survives. The companions are his tether to humanity, or an inoculation against inhumanity. Kudos to Maisie Williams this week, a great job playing a weathered character trapped in a child’s body.
With Ashildr popping up in the back of Clara’s photo at the end of this episode we can be sure we’ll see her again. We also get a nice little callback to Captain Jack Harkness this week. Normally by this point in the season there’s been at least one complete throwaway episode but so far every week this season has had something interesting to say. If they keep this up this could be a banner year for the show.