Doctor Who: 905 “The Girl Who Died” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Despite my somewhat lack of faith in Steven Moffat of late, he certainly added some interesting elements for this unique two-parter. Sadly, most of the cool stuff has been reserved for next week. ‘The Girl Who Died’ stood as an introductory story to greater things but, as a stand-alone episode, it was lacking.
For the most part it is fair to say many things were wasted. The Mire, the Vikings and any sense of blockbuster elements. If any episode so far needed some big explosions and more action it was this one. Instead it appeared to be quite slow in places and when it came to the main battle we had an underwhelming spectacle. However, it wasn’t all bad news.
This episode shared its greatest moments through its character arcs and dialogue. Sometimes this can deliver a greater story, similar to the Doctor/Davros confrontation in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’. Sadly, like with my example, these magnificent moments can be ruined by cheap story extensions that don’t flow with the slower paced narratives. With ‘The Girl Who Died’ it was the Mire threat.
Comedy can be seen as a flaw in this episode, and this entire series, as it detracts from the important developments. Some might even say that the silliness doesn’t feel natural to the Twelfth Doctor due to his stern and harsh tone. I don’t fully have a problem with this because I loved the Eleventh Doctor for being both childish and manipulative. The Twelfth Doctor is letting himself loose and getting into the flow of things. His darker nature is still apparent but is put to the side slightly by his brighter attire. I like to think he’s now a nice splice of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.
The story arc of Clara is shaping up nicely as the Doctor slowly tries to get across his feelings about Clara’s change because of his interference in her life. He is worried for her and doesn’t want her to fall down the wrong path. Also he worries for her safety. It was fascinating to see this older Doctor become weakened by the thought of his destructive nature; all the lives he has put in dangers way and have met the price because of this. Imagine the strain on his soul? This is a true burden and the Doctor constantly moves forward because he can’t ever bare to look back.
For those hoping for historical accuracy you best be prepared for a stereotypical Viking tale. This doesn’t necessarily dampen the narrative and instead delivers a fun tale. Though it would have been nice to have a similar tone to ‘The Time Meddler’ which featured Vikings in a serious way. But I suppose because they weren’t the enemy, and instead the victims, it was necessary to have them appear more heroic. Though I enjoyed the episode I do have to question the cartoonish style of writing for the Vikings. It’s nice to have a bit of fun but sometimes the tone didn’t fit with the rest of the episode. We had moments that were serious, moments that were emotional, moments that were threatening and then we had moments of utter stupidity. We were a little all over the place and the ending didn’t quite fit.
I believe my disappointment mostly lays with Ashildr. I found myself not bonding with her character as I should’ve done. This was because I felt her character wasn’t anything special. She felt too generic at times. This, and, Maisie Williams didn’t exactly blow me away with superb acting skills. Not saying she isn’t talented, because she clearly is at her age and has a good career going for her, but this particular story didn’t allow her to shine. But judging by what happens to her character in the end, and from what we’ve seen in the “next time” trailer, Williams will get her moment to shine.
I suppose it was disappointing we didn’t get much out of Ashildr because I was under the impression that the episode was about her. Instead it was merely an introductory for the following episode. Not entirely a bad thing but due to the importance of her character now we should’ve seen more of her. There were some moments that I felt her character was unique, especially through her kindness, her love for her father and her village, as well as her imagination. Alas these were skimmed over in the wake of other plot-points.
The Mire were a massive disappointment. Yet another well designed monster, only to be thrown aside like a piece of rubbish. I think sometimes promotion can be a bad thing. A while back the production team went out of their way to publicise the Mire and to what end? Look good, do nothing. And don’t get me started on Odin. He was a pantomime villain and a rubbish one at that. There was so much potential here. Sadly, their entire presence was a waste of time and really did drain vital time away from more important developments, such as Ashildr as I mentioned above.
I think the Mire were wasted because of the light tone in the episode. They weren’t taken seriously enough by their creators, Jamie Mathieson and Moffat, which therefore meant that I was never going to take them seriously. What ‘The Girl Who Died’ needed was a better written enemy, or one that more matched the stories tone. Or failing that, changed the tone to suit the Mire.
I think the greatest moment in this episode was the Doctor’s poetic speech about his frustration over the loss of life. You could see the sadness in his hearts bleeding out and Peter Capaldi sold it perfectly. He is a truly wonderful actor and never misses a beat, especially during intense scenes such as this. I loved how he even spoke of the chaotic aftermath of him simply wondering off in his TARDIS alone, unable to look back. It almost echoed Davros’ speech in ‘Journey’s End’. We have already seen similar affects through the 2009 Specials and ‘The Snowmen’ where the Doctor wallowed in self-pity over his inability to save the ones he loves. Could this perhaps foretell Clara’s departure? Will she meet a horrible end and send the Doctor, once again, into a dark place? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Also it was nice to see a conclusion to the mystery of Twelfth Doctor’s face. It has been teased since ‘Deep Breath’ that Moffat had an answer as to why the Doctor resembles Caecilius from ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, based on an idea by Russell T Davies. The truth behind the mystery was that Caecilius’s face reminded him of his purpose; the meaning of his name even. The Doctor helps people. He saved Caecilius in the midst of chaos, despite the laws of time being against it. Though this revelation wasn’t as grand as I hoped it would be it wasn’t exactly bad either. I found it satisfactory. In many ways it held great meaning, especially at this point in time in the Doctor’s life. I guess sometimes simple is better.
It was disappointing to see yet another vital character returned to life after dying, a cheap trick on Moffat’s end which showcases his inability to let characters go. But, in this case I’ll let it slide because the resurrection served to be important. It was a continuation of the Doctor’s strain on losing life. He took it upon himself to bring someone back from the dead using the Mire’s own technology. The downside to this was the consequence. Ashildr will now live forever, like Captain Jack Harkness. This is something I’m looking forward to within ‘The Woman Who Lived’. I can’t wait to see how immortality has changed her character, how she deals with it and also how this affects the Doctor who now doubts his decision to tamper with life and death.
Sadly, ‘The Girl Who Died’ isn’t as perfect as I hoped. It’s certainly an entertaining episode but with all that was promised it isn’t what I was expecting; again showcasing how too much hype can be a bad thing. It had some great moments but overall it didn’t shine. The tone was all over the place, the Vikings were silly, the Mire were abysmal, and I really didn’t care much for Ashildr. The latter spoiled it even further when her death scene came and I simply wasn’t shocked, nor bothered. But say, I am looking forward to seeing where things go next week and believe that that will be the better part in this tale.