*This review has been slightly revised due to mind-blowing/latent realizations.
In “The Girl Who Died,” the Doctor and Clara find themselves captured by Vikings. The Doctor tries to turn the tables on them by claiming to be Odin (with a yo-yo), but finds that he has already been beaten by a face projecting from the sky claiming the same thing. The giant face takes all of the warriors in the village, including Clara and girl named Ashildr (played by Maisie Williams) because of the sonic sunglasses. They are taken onto a spaceship owned by a warrior alien race called the Mire. On the ship, everyone but Clara and Ashildr are killed. Clara is almost able to make a truce, but Ashildr jumps in and threatens to kill the Mire and instead the Vikings have to prepare for war. The Doctor and Clara try to prepare what is left of the village now that they no longer have warriors, and end up using Ashildr, who seems to have some precognition. Using the helmet of one of the Mire, Ashildr is able to project the image of a monster into the heads of the Mire, forcing them to flee. However, she dies while doing this. While thinking about what he could do to save Ashildr, the Doctor remembers why he gave himself the face he did; it is a throwback to the time that he and Donna Noble traveled to Pompeii and Donna convinced to save at least one person. This realization compels the Doctor to show compassion (even if against his rules) and he ends up giving Ashildr a healing chip from the Mire, one that will never stop repairing her and making her immortal. He has the foresight to give her another chip so that she won’t have to be all alone once everyone she knows dies. The Doctor and Clara leave the Vikings then, though the Doctor is worried that he made a mistake in making Ashildr immortal.
I think this is my favorite episode of this season so far. It wasn’t even the fact that Maisie Williams was the guest star (though that didn’t hurt). Even though this episode is the first of yet another 2-parter, it ended almost as a stand-alone. Usually in the two-parters things are left unresolved, but this time everything was wrapped up other than the small cliffhanger of the Doctor making Ashildr immortal; they could have easily had the Doctor make her immortal/heal her and then have him and Clara leave and leave it at that. Instead, they made him regret what he’s done, giving you the sneaking suspicion that Ashildr will appear again (though at this point we know she will, given the preview for the next episode). The episode felt very much like a classic episode, where the Doctor and Clara land in the past (with Vikings this time) and find that they have an alien problem. In the beginning, Clara is separated from the Doctor and this time we get a less heavy-handed illustration of how she’s becoming more and more like the Doctor when she is (almost) able to make a truce between the Vikings and the Mire. Later, we have the Doctor coming up with a plan to get them out of having to fight the Mire, per usual, and we get a fun little look at the non-warrior Vikings that the Doctor and Clara have to help. This episode also finally addresses the fact that the Doctor has the same face as a Roman from the time when he and Donna traveled to Pompeii (in Season 4) and in his remembering of that face, he remembers Donna and her compassion. In this season, one of the things the Doctor is struggling with is the idea of him being the only person in control of time. It reminds me a lot of The Waters of Mars, when the Doctor becomes angry and tries to change history. There is a direct connection between this Doctor and the Tenth Doctor, and we even get clips of Tennant in this episode which made me happy because he is my favorite. Even more, Donna essentially saved Ashildr. Her plea for him to save “just one person” in Pompeii reminded him much later that he still had the power to help even when he didn’t think he did. This theme of tidal waves and messing with time in a way that the Doctor shouldn’t is very interesting and I’m curious to see where it goes; I’m sure something big and terrible will happen that puts the Doctor back in check, but I think it’s interesting that every once in awhile he becomes tempted to disregard the rules of the universe, and even more interesting that Clara is enabling him to do it. I also loved the destruction of the sonic sunglasses and hope they stay dead (even though they still used the broken version, ugh).
I was traveling last weekend and unable to watch episode 4 in time for a recap, this allowed me to watch the episodes back to back though the episodes were unrelated it really changes the way I viewed the episodes. I think by the time I started “The Girl Who Died” I was in the rhythm of the show and did not have to ease into the cadence like I do most weeks. If this episode is an indication of where the show is going this series, I am very excited. This has easily been my favorite episode of the season, though a large part of that may have been the inclusion of Maisie Williams as Ashildr. The reason this episode was so enjoyable, however, was because it brought back the lighter feel of Doctor Who that I think has been missing. While Missy brought a sense of levity and joy in her character the overall tone of the show has been quite dark and depressing. Even the last two-parter, while starting out as a fun mystery, went to a darker more melancholy place by the second half of the story. I realize that as we are nearing Clara’s departure from the show there will be more deep moments that establish her connection to the Doctor but it is still nice to have episodes that are light and where “everybody lives” (well, most people lived). I am hopeful that next week’s episode reaches the high note of this week’s and also that it’s not the only episode Maisie Williams appears in this season. Ashildr meets Missy? A girl can hope!
Also, I agree with Bayana, I hope we’ve seen the last of the sonic sunglasses – I’d rather have nothing than the Doctor’s “wearable technology”.