“I’m not actually the police. That’s just what it says on the box”
‘The Girl Who Died’ was the wrong kind of fluffy, historical jaunt that Doctor Who creates every so often. It was more ‘Robots Of Sherwood,’ than, say, ‘The Shakespeare Code.’ A poor enemy, a rushed resolution, mostly awful acting from the non-core cast, cringe worthy attempts at comedy…there’s not a lot that this episode did right. It wasn’t truly terrible, just a little offensive in its inanity. The last ten minutes or so of the episode are all it will be remembered for by the time this series is over; or indeed, by the time the story is concluded next week. Welcome to the most disappointing episode of Doctor Who so far in Series 9…
We are rushed from The Doctor saving Clara and the TARDIS from a battle fleet by taking the TARDIS to a Viking village (presumably not intentionally). As The Doctor is pretending to be Odin, the ‘real’ Odin appears in the sky and takes all of the fighting Vikings to ‘Valhalla,’ which isn’t the afterlife by a spacecraft. Clara and a little girl, Ashildr (played by Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams) are taken to an alien craft as well. Thanks to Ashildr, the alien race, called the Mire, declare war on the village. It’s up to The Doctor to save the village…
“The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me. It’s unbearable”
Don’t think of this episode as a two-parter in the sense that the two previous stories have been; this is simply a condensed one-episode story with an ending tacked on to feed into the next episode. Think of ‘Utopia,’ for example, or even ‘Turn Left.’The Mire, a supposedly dominant warrior race who extract testosterone from, are disposed of too easily. Don’t laugh when I say their disposal is thanks to electric eels; that’s just one absurdity of the story. We saw little of their brilliance at fighting. Apparently they have an immortality chip in their helmets, but admitted defeated too quickly. Why surrender a battle if you don’t have death to fear? I can forgive that we have never heard of this awesome warrior race before, but if that’s all they’ve got to offer, then why should we feel that they are a threat?
There were underplayed themes throughout the episode, but few of them played out effectively. One example was The Doctor having no choice but to send people into battle, without having another plan to win the battle that doesn’t involve fighting. But, amongst all the attempts at humour, it was lost in the atmosphere. Another was Clara’s insistence on staying with The Doctor because it’s a hobby, even though it more often than not puts her life in danger (why not take up kickboxing?). But seriously, it’s a theme we have encountered far too often. Clara’s tenure as companion had a natural ending at the end of Series 8; she’s just an annoyance now.
“I’m so sick of losing… I don’t mean the war. I’ll lose any war you like. I’m sick of losing people”
In essence, it’s easy to dismiss the first 35 minutes of the episode as filler. The last ten minutes are the most important, but raise several questions of their own. Ashildr dies during the defeat of The Mire, and The Doctor is very upset about it. However, he seems eager to leave, before remembering his face…yes, the fact that he’s seen his face before was referenced in Capaldi’s first full episode, Deep Breath. It’s one of those Moffat mysteries that has been hanging in the air so long that people forget all about it. In this episode, we even get a flashback to Capaldi’s first appearance in Doctor Who, in Fires of Pompeii. The Doctor chose Capaldi’s face to remind him that he does save people. He then uses an immortality chip from The Mire to revive Ashildr…
So, The Doctor clearly forgot about those Vikings who died at the beginning of the episode. But that’s okay. However, why did he need to be reminded with his face that he saves people? Surely he could just remember? Let’s be honest, he saves people on a regular basis. How can he choose a face during regeneration? Knowing Moffat, that’s the last we’ll hear about Capaldi’s face, so the other mysteries regarding his face will be left hanging in the air. However, Ashildr’s immortality does raise some intriguing questions (rather than irritating ones), and the last scene of the sky and stars swirling above her head was majestically shot. Is she the ‘hybrid’ Davros talked of in ‘The Witch’s Familiar?’ A hybrid of two great warrior races, the Vikings and The Mire?
Even with this admittedly great cliffhanger, it didn’t cause the rest of the episode to be worthwhile. It was presented as a filler episode until the last ten minutes. Capaldi tried his best to make the unfunny lines funny and sometimes succeeded. But it all fed into the Viking setting being wasted. Most of all, it was dull for much of its duration. Capaldi can make translating baby-talk (and what a poetic baby it seemed to be!) work, and the whole episode was made just about bearable by his presence. But, all you’ll remember from ‘The Girl Who Died’ is a girl dying and being brought back to life. Oh, and a pretty good ZZ Top joke as well!
VERDICT: 3/10. Inane, and at times painfully unfunny, ‘The Girl Who Died’ was all about the ending. Even the ending didn’t make the episode worthwhile.
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(Click here for my review of Doctor Who, Series 9, Episode 4: Before The Flood)