Thoughts on Before the Flood, The Girl Who Died, and The Woman Who Lived
Episode 4: Before the Flood
"So...who really wrote Beethoven's fifth?"
Framing - I loved the start of this episode! Having the Doctor address the camera is a bold move, but of course Peter Capaldi can pull it off, so why not? He then proceeds to describe a bootstrap paradox - "Google it," which I did, as many other Whovians did, I'm sure - using the creation of Beethoven's fifth as an example. The electric guitar making a return appearance, the Doctor then plays us out to a rock version of that musical piece as the opening credits roll. In a word, fantastic!
(Can we keep this theme music? It matches this Doctor much better than the electronic trills!)
The story - Not as riveting as Under the Lake, but it's interesting seeing the Doctor dealing with the paradox of going back in his own timeline (which you should never, ever do, by the way, unless it's inconvenient, or you forget) and O'Donnell and Bennett becoming temporary companions. The ghost Doctor naming victims also adds some great suspense.
The Fisher King - To tell you the truth, I was expecting a little more from the Fisher King. I know he was supposed to be scary, but mainly I just ended up feeling sorry for the actor who was stuck inside that awkward, easily-overbalanced costume.
|A couple times I was genuinely worried he was going to topple over.|
The ending - It was really cool how they brought it all back to the bootstrap paradox, with the Doctor being inside the stasis chamber all along, etc. However, it also made the ending feel kind of rushed. It was like the writer realized he only had ten minutes left in the episode, so he just wrapped it all up, not bothering to show us how the ending was actually achieved. So, clever in illustrating the paradox, but also maybe a little lazy? In any case, I don't think this episode was as good as Under the Lake, but it still had its moments. Such as:
-O'Donnell: "It's bigger on the inside! It's bigger on the inside!" Oh, O'Donnell, why did you have to die?
-The effect where Cass "hears" by putting her hand on the floor and feeling the vibrations from the ax being dragged by the ghost. The tension in that scene was awesome!
-Clara: "Doctor, if you love me in any way, you'll come back." BAM, right to the feels.
-Even though O'Donnell and Bennett didn't get a chance for their relationship, I'm glad Cass and Lunn got their happy ending!
Episode 5: The Girl Who Died
I'll admit it, I've watched this episode four times now. I love, love, love it. Never thought I'd say that about a story with Vikings!
Here we have a collaboration between Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson, the writer of Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline, both fantastic episodes last year. After another winner with The Girl Who Died, I have to say, Jamie Mathieson would be my vote for next show runner!
Oh, my goodness, where to start? There's so much to love!
-RIP, sonic glasses - was I the only one who cheered when the sonic glasses were snapped? Not that I hate them, I'm just ready for the screwdriver to be back! Maybe Twelve can have his own when it eventually does return - I vote purple!
-Odin - first of all, the Doctor's fake Odin impression is hilarious; it's the very worst imitation of how you would think a god would sound, and funny in revealing just how stupid the Doctor thinks the Vikings are (and he is, of course, very wrong; nice try, anyway, Doctor). And then we have an Odin who looks like God from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
-Clara - Clara was frikkin' awesome standing up to the head of the Mire. This was her shining moment in this episode, and Jenna Coleman nailed it. She manages to intimidate Odin, break down his intention and his own analysis of her and Ashildr, and convinces him to leave Earth. Also, she gets points for this quote: "The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me, it's unbearable."
-Ashildr - Ashildr is such an interesting character. She's a product of her time, so it makes sense she would challenge the Mire even if it ultimately wasn't a great idea. But she's out of her own time, too, telling stories and feeling a bit of a misfit. I love watching her and the Doctor connect - he's a misfit in his own society as well, so to see him listening to her and understanding her is what gives this episode such great heart. She's lost inside her own head, but at the same time she is so connected and compassionate towards the people around her; she's uncertain about herself and her own identity, but brave and passionate when it comes to defending her village. In short, I'm so glad the Doctor saved her, even if the consequences are yet to be seen.
-"I speak baby" - What started out as a line employed for comedic effect in the long-ago days of Craig and Stormaggedon is transformed in this episode into something oddly poetic, as the Doctor translates the crying of Lofty's baby. It's a strange scene, yet in Capaldi's capable hands it's turned into something that I'd say is even beautiful.
-The Doctor's names for the Vikings, lol
-Slapstick comedy - In a surprising moment of hilarious slapstick, a training sequence abruptly cuts to its aftermath, where fires are burning, horses run wildly, and I think even a few buildings lie partially collapsed, lol
-Fire in the water - If you really care that electric eels can't be found anywhere near that particular geographic area, you need to lighten up a bit. It's a brilliant ending to a great story, making it possible for the Vikings to use the Mire's technology against them in a great example of bad karma!
-Warrior juice - The Mire's motivation for invading was a little odd (You really like the taste of mashed-up Viking adrenaline? Maybe there's some green Gatorade in there to give it flavor, who knows), but in any case, it doesn't really take away from the rest of the story.
-When Clara puts her hand on the Doctor's face when he's listening to the baby cry. It's such an intimate gesture, so sweet and caring.
-When the Doctor covers Ashildr's hand with his when he puts the helmet on her. It's such a small gesture, and it only lasts a couple seconds, but I'm so glad they showed that. I'm sure it meant the world to her that he believed in her, and that one gesture said it all.
-The Doctor: (to Clara) "Look at you, with your eyes. Your never-giving-up. Your anger. Your kindness. And one day, the memory of that will hurt so much that I won't be able to breathe. And I'll do what I always do - I'll get in my box and I'll run and I'll run, in case all the pain ever catches up." This, this is what defines the Doctor. So much love and compassion, and because of that, so much heartbreak. If anyone ever says this is just a silly sci-fi show, I'll show them this scene, because it perfectly illustrates both the beauty and the tragedy of the Doctor's life.
-Flashback to Ten and Donna - what a perfect way to explain why Twelve chose that face. Thank you, Russell T. Davies!
-Doctor: "Immortality is everybody else dying. [Ashildr] might meet someone she can't bear to lose. That happens, I believe." *looking at Clara* As Tumblr would put it, I CAN'T EVEN
So now the Doctor has a predicament on his hands: what will happen to Ashildr? How will she cope with being immortal? Can she? I don't know, but that final shot (amazing cinematography, by the way) looks foreboding; those eyes will haunt you:
"They went willingly to Valhalla. As would we all."
"I wouldn't. Well, I wouldn't! I'm not good with heights."
"What are you going to do, raise crops at them?"
"When I say jump, you say how high!...unless it's across a gap of some kind, which of course means you jump horizontally."
"He's actually upgraded his phobia."
"I'm the Doctor, and I save people! And if anyone happens to be listening, if you have any kind of problem with that, to hell with you!"
Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived
Here we have it: our first episode written by a female writer since Helen Raynor in Seasons 3 and 4! The Woman Who Lived is written by Catherine Tregenna, who's also written for Torchwood, and we'll have another female writer, Sarah Dollard, for episode ten, Face the Raven!
So, what did I think of this episode? Overall, it felt very...sad. This episode is preoccupied with Ashildr dealing with her immortality, which of course is mirrored by the Doctor's own brand of immortality. Even though she leads a thrilling double life as highway robber the Knightmare and noblewoman Lady Me, she feels empty; her heart has grown hard across years of tragedy and losing loved ones, leaving the Doctor to try to help her find her compassion again.
The most touching moment was when the Doctor read Me's diaries - it really showed how difficult her life had been, and emphasized the even greater tragedy of her not being able to remember it all. The parts she does remember have fueled this overwhelming anger, masking a deep and awful loneliness, much like the Doctor when he travels alone (Time Lord Victorious, anyone?). While the Doctor is able to run away from his problems with the TARDIS, Me is forced to live through it, and that has made her into someone very bitter and very desperate.
It's that desperation that makes her scheme with Leondr plausible. Although he wasn't fleshed out all that much, and consequently was probably the weakest part of the episode, we can see why she would go with him, even though she knows it may mean her death. At this point she's just tired of living, even suicidal, which is hard stuff for a kids' show.
Ultimately, though, the Doctor manages to show her that she does care about other people. I love her face when she realizes it, like "Dammit, I do care!" Maisie Williams is amazing, in both this and The Girl Who Died; in this episode I can believe she's lived for 800 years. She makes us feel that weight, all that tragedy and loneliness carried around with her for so long. To see her character find the strength and compassion to save the townspeople was a grand transformation to witness, and it made me excited for what else her character can bring to the show in future. I personally can't wait for Me to show up again, whatever episode or season that may be!
-I loved that they showed glimpses of Me's different lives. I wanted that segment to keep going, it was fascinating!
-I wonder if Sam Swift the Quick really is immortal now? Will he stay with Me? Would that even work?
-Are they bringing back Captain Jack Harkness?? Please do! :D
Season 9 Ranking So Far:
1. The Girl Who Died (Ep. 5)
2. The Witch's Familiar (Ep. 2)
3. Under the Lake (Ep. 3)
4. The Woman Who Lived (Ep. 6)
5. Before the Flood (Ep. 4)
6. The Magician's Apprentice (Ep. 1)