Upon landing, the Doctor and Clara are captured by a group of Vikings. The sonic sunglasses are unceremoniously snapped in half, and cries of joy can be heard from fans across the Universe as the bloody things finally get their just desserts. Unfortunately, their demise is short lived, and they pop up later in the episode, albeit in a somewhat monocular condition. It becomes clear, very quickly, that this is going to be a much more light-hearted story; a "romp", not dissimilar to Robot of Sherwood, than the previous four episodes.
Having attempted to fool the Vikings into believing he is Odin, the Doctor's plan to assert authority is short lived when the "real Odin" makes an appearance in the sky, in what is, arguably, one of the most laughable moments I have ever seen in Doctor Who, and not in a good way. Aside from serving absolutely no purpose, the effect looks cheesy and would feel much more at home in a Monty Python film. Of course, this isn't Odin, merely a projection by an alien race known as the Mire. Why they need to masquerade as a Norse deity is somewhat baffling, given they arrive, take what they need, and bugger off again.
Clara and Ashildr, played by Game of Thrones star, Maisie Williams, are whisked aboard the Mire's ship, when they detect their use of the sonic sunglasses. Clara is immediately commanding and assumes the role of the Doctor to a degree, speaking with authority to the leader of the Mire. However it is Ashildr's speech which inadvertently provokes a war with the alien race, who have only stopped by to plunder the testosterone and adrenaline of the strongest Vikings. As alien plots go, it's a pretty naff one, by any standard.
With war declared, Clara and Ashildr are returned to earth, and the Mire announce that they will be back the following day, which seems an unusual way to conduct a war. The Doctor imparts some words of wisdom, advising the villagers to pack up and leave, and promptly prepares to take his own advice and leave them to their imminent demise. It is only the cries of a baby which change his mind...
I've never been keen on the Doctor "speaking baby"; I find the concept perfectly ridiculous, given how much we know about human development. And yet, somehow, Capaldi actually manages to make it work, considerably more so than his predecessor, even if the baby does appear to be extraordinarily articulate, poetic and even philosophical.
The Doctor, in a particularly lighthearted scene, trains the would be warriors, and prepares them for the oncoming war. He holds little hope for them, as they are particularly inept, until he recalls the "words" of the baby; "fire in the water"...
Inexplicably, the Vikings appear to have acquired a barrel of electric eels, from the local lake, a species which not found anywhere in Europe. This is simply lazy writing. Earth set stories need a modicum of realism, and glaring errors such as displaced eels, and Vikings with a knowledge of corn, which has yet to be discovered, do the story no favours.
The Doctor uses the electric eels to form an electromagnetic current, which disorients the Mire and removes one of their helmets, which the Doctor fits to Ashildr, who then uses it to project the image of a serpent-like dragon. It is slightly odd that, given their technology, the Mire seem unable to work out that this is an image being projected into their eyes. As a side note, it's interesting that, once again, eyes are an important part of the story, although considerably less so than in the previous stories from season nine. The Mire's humiliating defeat comes courtesy of Clara's phone and the Benny Hill theme. The less said about that, the better...!
The Girl Who Died weaves humour and a serious tone much more fluidly than the aforementioned 'Robot of Sherwood'. The scenes with a "dead" Ashildr are quite moving, and lead to a particularly intense scene in which the Doctor postulates that he is tired of losing people. It also addresses the long awaited question first posed in 'Deep Breath'; why the Doctor chose to wear the face of Caecilius. It serves as a reminder, and to hammer the point home, we are treated to a flashback of 'Fires of Pompeii'. It isn't necessarily the most satisfying of explanations, however the use of the flashback sequence and Capaldi's passion lend it a credence which could have easily been otherwise lost.
The hand of Resurrector In Chief, Moffat, is clearly at work here, as Ashildr doesn't stay dead for very long. Reviving her with a piece of alien technology, is, I suppose, better than a "timey-wimey" resurrection, but the notion that this will make her immortal falls a little flat. The Doctor elaborates that Ashildr is now a hybrid...
After much speculation as to the identity of Maisie Williams' character; could she be Susan, The Rani, Romana, or another long established character, it seems plausible that her mythology harkens back a whole three weeks, to The Witch’s Familiar, in which Davros tells the Doctor of the Gallifreyan prophecy which states that two great warrior races would be ‘forced together to create a warrior greater than either’.
The main strength of the story lies, once again, in Capaldi's portrayal of the Doctor. Seemingly channelling previous incarnations, most notably the Third, Fourth and, particularly, Seventh Doctors, he is on fine form, capably juggling humour, weakness, strength and authority with ease. Unfortunately, his presence isn't enough to save this story from mediocrity.
The constant foreboding of death is starting to get rather tiresome. It's clearly attempting to assure us that Clara is about to shuffle off her mortal coil, so much so, that I fully expect it to be a double bluff, with Clara living happily ever after. Similarly, the glib references to Clara's sexuality feel forced and unnecessary. Using sexuality for cheap laughs is exactly that. Cheap. Cheap and crass.
"The Girl Who Died" isn't a bad story. It just isn't a very good one, and certainly isn't up to the standard of Jamie Mathieson's earlier work. It's hard to believe he was the writer, given the shallow, almost non existent, plot. Having been hyped to oblivion, Maisie Williams does surprisingly little, aside from spending most of the episode looking like a startled fawn, caught in the headlights of a particularly large truck. Her scenes with Capaldi work well, however, and are clearly key in building a bigger storyline, both next week, and perhaps later in the season.
Purely as a story, I wouldn't normally rate it any higher than a 4/10. Glaring errors which could be resolved by a cursory glance at Wikipedia, the Python-esque Odin, and an absence of plot all do the episode no favours. It is only a stellar performance by Capaldi which lifts the episode to a generous 6/10. A mediocre effort at best.
I thoroughly enjoyed the episode. But, I think your review was fair. I too would like a little more fact checking by writers. Capaldi does dark well.
Thanks very much! Capaldi is absolutely superb, and as you say, does dark exceptionally well. Cheers for stopping by!
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