Personally, I like to think of writing in a similar manner to how I do of cooking. In order to make a dish, or a story, work, it has to have the correct ingredients in the right amounts. The ingredients themselves are up to the chef, but in order for the dish to function, and to taste good, some things need to be more prominent than others. Now, some things are down to personal preference, but I do think most people would agree that some sort of balance is required. I don’t want to eat a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich with 85% tomato, for example, that would be horrible. It is vital to know what ingredients to use, and how much to use of what. Get it right, and you have a beautiful dish. Get it wrong, and you could have a good dish or you could have a terrible one. It all depends on how much you have messed up.
Balance is exactly what The Woman Who Lived has, which in this case is a problem. While it is a story I rather like and enjoy overall, it does suffer from using its ingredients in wrong quantities. While this episode could have been a beautiful character piece, ala The Witch’s Familiar, it suffers from trying to have a plot. The Woman Who Lived’s main problem is that it tries to be a regular episode of Doctor Who when it shouldn’t be.
As I said, The Woman Who Lived could have been a beautiful character piece, and for the most part, it is. The scenes between The Doctor and Ashildr, especially the ones in her house, are lovely. Tregenna’s greatest strength is her dialogue, and how she manages to make it sound so poetic and yet so naturalistic at the same time. These scenes are also acted wonderfully by Maisie Williams and Peter Capaldi. While Williams doesn’t have the level of chemistry with Capaldi as Coleman does, it is clear that they are enjoying each others company, and I can see why some wanted Willaims to replace Coleman after watching this episode, as the Twelve/Ashildr (or Me, as she now calls herself, in a gorgeous scene in all regards). Their relationship is one which is interesting and has potential. It’s clear that Tregenna knows these characters, and she writes them wonderfully.
This episode also touches on the consequences of the Doctor’s actions, as was teased in the last part. I always love it when the Doctor’s actions are questioned by the script, as I think it always makes the most interesting scenes and stories, and here is no exception. It’s interesting that immortality has been presented as a negative thing here, contrary to a lot of other fiction, and Ashildr’s pain at living so long is what makes this character so compelling. The “you didn’t save my life Doctor, you trapped me inside it” is gut-wrenching, so powerfully delivered, and it makes you think that also the Doctor had good intentions, he has caused more trouble in the first place. What’s also interesting about Ashildr is that despite living for hundreds of years, she still acts like a teenage girl at times, which is because she is. The desire to get what she wants at all cost, the arrogance of her actions, and how she acts without thinking all make the character so compelling. How she should know better, and she does, but still acts her stereotypical age. Williams, as I have mentioned before, is brilliant here, and is the best thing about this episode. So much talent in someone so young, you can tell from this alone that she has a long career ahead of her.
The Woman Who Lived suffers from having a plot, or a plot as prominent as it does. Yes, I could get that watching Ashildr and The Doctor sitting in a room talking for three-quarters of an hour may not be very exciting, but neither is the plot of this one. Firstly, it’s very standard and uninspired, it’s almost like Tregenna typed in “Dr Who Plot Generator” into Google and came out with “Lion man wants jewel for transport”. Secondly, it takes my mind away from all of the character scenes between Twelve and Ashildr. For every scene where Leo the Lion is prating about, overdoing it so much it makes the Shadow-Kin from Class look subtle, we could be learning more about the impact of Twelve on Ashildr. The plot detracts from the good stuff here. Whether Tregenna thought it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without an alien, or whether the BBC forced her to put one in (as they have done previously), I don’t know, but there’s no way Leo the Lion needed to be in this story.
Neither did Sam Swift the Quick either really. I do enjoy the standoff between him, Twelve and Ashildr in the middle, Tregenna is good at fast paced witty comedy, but I see no reason for him to be there. It’s hard to dislike his performance, as the glee which twinkles in Rufus Hound’s eyes is amazing to see, it’s clear as day he’s a fan, but at the same time, I do ask why is he here. The “gallows humour” scene is filler if I ever saw it, and he’s not in it enough to have that much impact on everything going on. He’s not bad enough to knock my opinion down, but not good enough for me to give it extra points, in other words.
Production-wise, fantastic as usual. The costumes, direction and music are stunning, as with the previous episode. The lighting is a tad too dark at times, there are a couple of scenes where I can’t really see what’s happening, though in fairness it does suit the context.
Overall: It’s a lot of fun, and the character work is stunning, but there is quite a bit of unnecessary junk in here too. It’s good enough, though, a decent 45 minutes of TV.
Previous Rating: 8
New rating: 7