Doctor Who - Series 9, Episode 5

Shields up

Taking up his sword (keyboard) in the name of Odin (/G-f), does Reece Morris-Jones mourn or celebrate The Girl Who Died...

The Girl Who Died is an episode that would be easily forgotten by Doctor Who fans, except it's bolstered by a strong guest performance and some powerful scenes, that then gets undercut by the ending. So, a usual episode of Doctor Who these days then.

Sorry, sorry, I've promised to be a bit more positive about this series. To be fair to the episode as well, it's not particularly bad or even terrible. It happily sits on the continuum of silly one off stories like A Town Called Mercy. The problem comes with how co-writers Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat try to make the episode bigger and more important than it needs to be.

Set in a little Viking village where all the warriors have just been slaughtered, The Doctor and Clara have 12 hours to free themselves, train farmers into warriors and defeat the Mire when Ashildr (Maisie Williams) accidentally declares war on them. From that comes an odd mix of fatalism and comedy as long as you don't mind no bearing towards historical accuracy. Tone was excellently balanced so one never overcame the other, even if some of the extras brought me back crashing back to earth after any scene where Capaldi and Williams interact.

Talking of Williams, she makes an excellent addition to the cast, her guest appearance allowing her to play a slightly wiser and multifaceted character than her other big role in the show Game of Thrones. Scenes where it's just her, or her playing off against Capaldi, are electrifying, as two perpetual outsiders meet.

Whereas Ashildr has found a place she calls home, which bolsters her strength and determination, the Doctor is still running looking for his place in the universe. This is conveyed well by Williams, her small but strong movements showing how at ease she is to the flighty and unsure Doctor, who only seems in charge this episode when he clearly has the upperhand and is basking in the attention it gives him.

It's that cracking of the fa├žade that gives the episode its strongest moment as, for a moment, the Doctor wavers and lets the toll of who he is and what his actions cause bubble to the surface. I didn't even mind Clara standing around gormless for most of the episode when not uttering phrases that make no sense. Her under development is a continuous bugbear to the show, one that probably won't be addressed in time for her departure in the latter half of this season.

It's the latter half of the episode that proved the most frustrating, as the writers choose to undercut what has just come before for the sake of setting up next episode and the rest of the season. What could have been a fun episode with a bitter sting at the end, the likes of Gridlock from the Tennant Era.

Instead we get long stares into the distance and the promise of Williams looking silly as a highway robber next episode. At least the sonic sunglasses got shattered this episode. Small mercies do exist in this world!

Overall, as someone not expecting historical accuracy or much in the way of depth to an episode of Doctor Who when it gets silly, I was entertained, if disappointed by the ending. The strong character acting more than made up for a lacklustre story and villains. But your own enjoyment will depend on how much you can overlook these flaws.

Image - BBC
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