I was told at a press event that this year’s season of Doctor Who would be toying with the idea of the two-part story. Last week, the plot was fully resolved but the audience was left with the mystery of Ashildr. What happened to her? Where did she go? This episode, The Woman Who Waited is set to answer that and provide at least something of a conclusion to that character-driven two-part story. The script was written by Catherine Tregenna.
England, 1651. Deadly highwayman ‘the Nightmare’ and his sidekick stalk the dark streets of London. But when they find loot that is not of this world, they come face to face with the Doctor. Who is the Nightmare in league with? And can the Doctor avoid the hangman’s noose and protect the Earth from a devilish betrayal?
At the end of last week’s Doctor Who, I wondered at the Doctor’s lack of responsibility. He made a young Viking girl immortal … then questioned that act … and then swanned off in the TARDIS. I thought that a bit reckless at the time. It is made clear from the outset of this episode that some time has passed between episodes for the Time Lord and that he has, in fact, been checking up on Ashildr from a distance. All is good again.
The driving plot of the episode is one that works well. The Doctor arriving in seventeenth century England on the hunt of an alien artefact. A notorious highwayman is also after the artefact … the two meet up and adventure happens. The absence of Clara allowed the Doctor and the Nightmare time to develop something of a bantering partnership and I liked the themes discussed between them even though I felt there was something missing from these. Given the amount of screen time involved, I didn’t get the right feeling of tension, anger or regret that was perhaps the intention.
As with last week, the condensed time for story telling proved to be detrimental to the development of characters, meaning that some are introduced out of the blue (this week’s guest star Rufus Hound, for example) and others are just basic caricatures of the gentry of the time. It’s a shame that Hound was introduced so suddenly and featured so fleetingly in the episode as a whole as Sam Swift, charismatic highwayman stole the show every time he appeared on screen. I was unfairly surprised at Hound’s excellence in the role and would love to have seen more of him throughout. Indeed, I think I would have preferred the Doctor and Swift to have an adventure around Maisie Williams’ character.
The main issue I had with this episode was that the character of Ashildr had been made immortal while she was a girl. She does not age. She is very young looking and sounding. Yet she is treated as a woman of high-standing in the seventeenth century. Perhaps the intention was that the character be in her late-teens, but she came across as younger to me. I found much of the episode a little dis-jarred as a result of this and the scenes towards the end (and their implied continuation) were downright creepy. Perhaps the intention was that Williams’ character was older than she came across but the character interactions (and indeed the episode’s title!) definitely implied a younger character.
That said, I think the core idea of an immortal human keeping an eye on The Doctor and cleaning up after him in some ways is an interesting idea. Okay, so my inner voice always wonders with these introductions “but why has no previous incarnation seen her or been told about her?” but then again its one face in a crowd. I’m also intrigued as to potential future appearances of the character. The “are we enemies now” conversation and the character’s nature as a human forced into immortality lends an ambiguous air to their continued relationship … should it be explored.
Once again, the design team have done themselves proud. The seventeenth century leaps to life on the screen and the costume and make up applied to Ashildr’s … other ally is delightful in its realisation. So good is the leonine costume that it is a shame the character is trying to hide away under a cloak. It did seem bizarre that no one ran screaming from Leandro at the climax as the cat-like alien is clearly visible beneath that cloak. Like so many elements this week, I would have liked to have seen more of and learned more about Leandro.
Perhaps the weakest episode so far, The Woman Who Lived suffers from not having enough plot to carry the story through. I believe this is due to the inclusion of the returning Ashildr, but even the development of the Doctor and her relationship seemed somewhat lacking at times. Rufus Hound’s Sam Swift was perhaps wasted in the story as he had the potential to be a charming and charismatic rogue in his own right. A watchable story that would be forgettable if not for the potential of this immortal addition.
Rating: 2.5 /5