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The Girl Who Died

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

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The Doctor and Clara have been captured by Vikings and taken to their remote village, but the Mire, the most ruthless mercenaries in the galaxy are coming, and young Ashildr has just declared war on them! With the best Viking warriors taken by the Mire, the Doctor and Clara must train the villagers so they can fight these alien warriors. The Doctor is also preoccupied with a mystery concerning Ashildr, but it is more than a premonition, because this is day where the Time Lord remembers where he has seen his own face before…

The Girl Who Died is the fifth episode from Doctor Who’s ninth series, written by Jamie Mathieson (The Becoming Human & Being Human writer also penned two popular Series 8 episodes of Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline in 2014), and co-written with show runner Steven Moffat. This intriguingly titled episode is directed by Ed Bazalgette, sends the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) back in time for the Time Lords first major meeting with the Vikings (The Vikings were also a major part of the First Doctor’s adventure The Time Meddler from Season 2 in 1965), and this series’ eagerly anticipated appearance of Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams as the Viking tomboy Ashildr.

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Following a deep space adventure involving battle fleets and something nasty from a Spider Mine, the TARDIS brings the Doctor and the space-suited Clara to a backwater of history, where the sonic shades soon bite the dust – well sort of – and they find themselves captured by Odin-worshiping Vikings and taken to their village. The Doctor attempt to convince them he’s Odin by escaping from his chains and using a yo-yo goes awry when Odin’s face suddenly appears in the clouds overhead! The Mire teleport into the village, scanning their victims, before spiriting away the mightiest warriors to feast with “Odin” in the Halls of Valhalla, but because Ashildr has one half of the sonic shades, its advanced technology and the presence of Clara’s space-suit, ensures she is teleported along with Clara and the Viking warriors to the Mire‘s spaceship.

The warriors meet a terrible fate, Clara attempts to confront “Odin” and convince the Mire to leave, but the enraged Ashildr declares war on the invaders, a challenge they eagerly accept before transporting Clara and Ashildr back to the village. When the villagers refuse to heed the Doctor’s advice and flee, the Doctor and Clara must train this band of farmers, fishermen and blacksmiths to defend their village from the Mire, but with only hours to prepare for the battle, the Vikings are outgunned and outnumbered, and the outcome seems unavoidable.

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Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman continue to shine as the Doctor and Clara, their recent adventures have made the Time Lord and his companion seem even closer than ever, and the banter between them is great fun – especially when they are training the Vikings how to protect their village from the threat of the Mire. The opening scene with a space-suited Clara floating in space is another standout moment. The Girl Who Died also features a very special guest star, Maisie Williams, the actress who plays Arya Stark in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Her role as the Viking girl Ashildr in this episode is central to the plot, and her character has a profound effect on the Doctor. Maisie Williams scenes with Peter Capaldi are absolutely brilliant, especially when she talks about always knowing she was different in some way. Likewise, the Doctor also returns to his “duty of care” to Calra in this episode, and it provides another brilliant moment for Capaldi and Coleman as Clara urges the Doctor to figure out a plan that will save them all.

Jamie Mathieson has crafted a beautifully structured adventure with The Girl Who Died (co-written with Steven Moffat), its like a mash-up of The Magnificent Seven and Vikings, and it possesses many of the qualities that made Mathieson’s previous episodes so popular. The story is markedly lighter in tone from the early episodes of Series 9, at least initially, but the mood darkens significantly towards the end, and it leaves us with plenty to dwell over. Two key scenes from the Series 9 trailer take on a whole new context when we see them in this story as well. This unpredictable adventure is full of action, boasting strong performances from Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Maisie Williams, the comedy skilfully melds with the darker undercurrents of the story, and the episode is superbly directed Ed Bazalgete (who also filmed some of Poldark this year).

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The Mire are huge lumbering creatures, their true features are hidden beneath their armoured helmets, these intergalactic warriors absorb the strengths of other war-like species, and they are one of the deadliest warrior races in the galaxy. They are led by the Odin-like figure, played by David Schofield, who gives a brilliant scenery chewing performance as the leader of The Mire, who uses his holographic face of Odin to address the village from the sky, as well as in person, to play on the Vikings belief in Odin. Using the Mire to select only the strongest Viking warriors, “Odin” actually kidnaps them to extract their adrenalin and testosterone, whish he uses to invigorate himself and the Mire warriors. The Mire costumes are very imposing and impressive, their real faces when revealed are quite gruesome, and they make fearsome adversaries.

The Doctor has to become something of a false Odin if he is to get this group of villagers ready to face the armoured might of the Mire, and he’s only got one day to shape them into an effective fighting force. This leads to some of the episodes funniest scenes, as the Time Lord attempts to get the villages, Nollar (Simon Lipkin), Chuckles (Ian Conningham), Lofty (Tom Sourton), Limpy (Alistair Parker), Hasten (Murray McArthur), and Heidi (Barnaby Kay) ready to face the Mire. Fortunately, thanks to some timely baby speak, a few water barrels filled with electric eels, silvery fibres taken from Clara’s space suit, and Ashildr’s skill with puppets and storytelling, the Time Lord soon has everything he needs to turn the tables on Odin and The Mire when they arrive to do battle the next day.

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The Girl Who Died is full of fun references, the Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow (a familiar phrase often used by the 3rd Doctor), the Time Lord now carries a 2000 Year Diary (very reminiscent of the Second Doctor’s 500 Year Diary from Power of the Daleks in 1966) he also poignantly speaks “baby” at several key moment in The Girl Who Died, a skill he used in A Good Man Goes To War and Closing Time (2011), and the line: “Time will tell, it always does…” echoes the 7th Doctor’s words when he was in a similar reflective mood in Remembrance of the Daleks (1988). But after defeating the Mire – with their inept failure to defeat the Vikings on her phone recorded on Clara’s phone and set to the theme of The Benny Hill Show – the Doctor’s threat to upload the clip to the Galactic Hub and ruin the Mire’s reputation, quickly sends “Odin” and his lackeys packing. However, the price is high, and Ashildr dies of heart failure shortly after using the captured Mire warrior’s helmet the Doctor modified to enable her to tell the Mire a story they would never forget – projecting the image of a dragon when in reality they were only facing one of her puppet creations.

This leads to the fantastic surprise ending that makes The Girl Who Died so special. Although he plays the 12th Doctor now, Peter Capaldi actually made his Doctor Who debut as the character Caecilius in the 10th Doctor story from Series 4, The Fires of Pompeii (2008). Ever since Deep Breath (2015) the 12th Doctor has long wondered why his regeneration gave him this face, now in The Girl Who Died the explanation is revealed at last! Following Ashildr’s death, when the Doctor sees his face in one of the water barrels, we briefly flashback to the events of The Fires of Pompeii, and the Doctor finally realises his face is actually there as a very special reminder for him… This is a truly magical moment, one that fans of the 10th Doctor, and perhaps more significantly Donna Nobel, are sure to enjoy; as we discover why the 12th Doctor looks like Caecilius from The Fires of Pompeii.

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Ashildr’s death really affects the Doctor, he’s sick of losing people, so much so he intervenes here to put things right, no who “happens to be listening” (The Time Lords maybe? If indeed they are somehow “listening” in, the Doctor certainly seems intent on making as many ripples as possible to get their attention this season!). The Doctor uses a reprogrammed Battlefield Medical Kit from the Mire’s helmet to heal Ashildr, she recovers, and the Doctor leaves a second chip for her before he departs… When the Doctor and Clara eventually return to the TARDIS and continue their travels, the Time Lord begins to ponder over what he has done. He’s effectively made Ashildr a hybrid (perhaps making the Doctor recall the prophecy Davros spoke of in The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar), an immortal, and as the episode closes with Ashildr gazing at the sky as the years swirl past around her – she never ages because the repair kit / chip keeps fixing her; but her smile gradually beings fading from happiness to an ever darkening expression. Few words can truly sum up the power and emotion of these final moments, it may leave many questions unanswered for now, but it certainly provides one of the most powerful and moving cliff-hangers in the shows history…

The Girl Who Died is an excellent story by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat, the intricate plot is peppered with humour, seamlessly blended with themes of immortality and its consequences, and the though-provoking conclusion ingeniously blurs the edges of time itself with a brilliant cliff-hanger to round off the first part of this most unconventional two-part story. With its great setting, impressive cast, powerful alien menace, and high-production values, The Girl Who Died is another worthy addition to Series 9 and Peter Capaldi’s era as the Doctor.

Image Belong: BBC