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Friday, October 23, 2015

DOCTOR WHO "Died"

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - "The Girl Who Died" on Blogcritics.

In this week’s installment of Doctor Who, “The Girl Who Died,” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) land on Earth in Viking times. The Doctor claims to be Odin, but is quickly exposed when another false-Odin shows up. When this alien creature kills all the able-bodied fighters in the local clan, a story-telling girl (Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones) declares war on them. Can The Doctor rescue a village from certain death?

Before I get into this episode, I would like to briefly mention the past two weeks, “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood,” since this is a weekly column and I neglected to cover those installments individually. “Under the Lake” is a solid monster-of-the-week mystery with a number of clever lines, which makes it a good, but not great, hour. Thankfully, it is improved upon by the timey-wimey craziness of the second part, “Before the Flood,” which explores a known paradox concept and some cleverness. While not my favorite episodes of Doctor Who by any means, they are enjoyable, and it was only my own busy life that kept those columns from being written. They are both better than a lot of last season.

So, on to “The Girl Who Died,” which also starts as a monster-of-the-week installment, but evolves into something else near the end. The villain who appears is scary and the situation seems dire, but the plot is relatively straight forward. It doesn’t require a great deal of concentration to watch the hour, but it’s mostly uplifting and entertaining.

Ever since Capaldi took The Doctor’s face, he has struggled to care about life as much as previous incarnations have. The Doctor helps people, and this one continues to, but he’s now a little more cavalier about those he doesn’t save. The Doctor is alien and has bouts of time where he withdraws and stops caring as much about those around him. He has been going through one of the worst periods of this lately.

Then the girl at the center of the piece, Ashildr (Williams), dies and changes everything. The Doctor suddenly remembers what his purpose is, and what he does best. His drive to be a force of good is reignited. Even were this revelation not tied into Capaldi’s guest starring role in a season four episode, it would be great, but using this to explain The Doctor’s current look, expanding the mythology, is absolutely brilliant. The Doctor has let people die in the past, but it should always be as a last resort, never an acceptable sacrifice to let go. His current incarnation is crafted to remind him of that every day.

And it’s really cool to glimpse the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), even if only for a moment in flashback. Donna is my favorite companion of the modern rebooted Doctor Who, and I’d love to see her appear again some day.

So The Doctor revives Ashildr and gives her immortality. Even The Doctor isn’t immortal, as one day he will run out of lives and pass away (or so he believes; I don’t know if the BBC will allow it). This ‘gift’ might help Ashildr now and make her loved ones feel better, but next week’s preview, set nearly 1,000 years later from Ashildr’s perspective, promises consequences. The Doctor’s intentions here are noble, but are they right?

Being a time traveler, The Doctor always has to struggle to balance what he can do and what he should do. “The Girl Who Died” makes him face this head-on, and doesn’t give an easy answer. It is a masterful piece of a larger puzzle, one that gets to the essential core of the title character in Doctor Who. I look forward very much to the next part, and hope Ashildr’s story goes far beyond two hours, at least as far as it concerns The Doctor.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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