Doctor Who: “The Woman Who Lived”
If anyone had any questions about Maisie Williams’ acting ability, this episode put them all to bed. Tonight’s second half of our third two-part episode in a row this season featured her front and center, going toe to toe with Peter Capaldi. Now, there are some who dislike Capaldi’s brusque version of the Doctor with his Scottish accent, and his silly sunglasses. But what you can’t deny is that his acting ability and his performance makes him one of the most formidable Doctors to play against who ever held the role. And Williams was more than equal to the challenge.
The Doctor: “Humans need shared experiences.”
Lady Me: “I’m regretting sharing this one.”
Much has been made of the two-part finale featuring the Doctor companionless for the first time since Tennant’s Season 4. but though she made a cameo appearance at the end of the episode, this too was an adventure where the Doctor is off alone, chasing a random artifact while Clara is off teaching her daily lessons. His running into Ashildr, excuse me, “The Knightmare” or as the credits actually name her, “Lady Me.” Anyway, it’s quite by accident. Not that the Doctor hasn’t been checking in on her over the last 800 years or so. Last time he saw her, she was founding a leper colony. She seems quite taken aback to realize this too.
For those who wanted to see Maisie play the Doctor’s companion, this was your chance. The Doctor and Me, like Withnail and I. if this were set in the 1980s, they’d be in a car making time, and demanding the finest wines available to humanity. By the end of the episode, the show has worked out the reason these two can’t travel together ever. But for one glorious night only, we get the two of them making every moment together count. And the pun count was high.
The Doctor: “I know their lives are short. but they still matter.”
Lady Me: “Shut up. You’re not my dad.”
The theme of the episode, though wrapped in puns, and swaddled with bad angry choices by Williams, was that of discovering the person you made is far too much like you, and yet a disappointment to you. There were far too many references for it to be missed, including one where Williams, as, in her Knightmare guise, she snaps straight at Capaldi: “Shut up, you’re not my dad.” Oh, but he is. Lady Me believes herself to be the only one on the world to outlive everything and everyone she loves. She’s watched her children die, her families fade away. “Smoke” is how she refers to the human lives around her. “They blow away, like smoke.”
But what she’s forgotten to write in her endless diaries, or was unable to remember, due to her fantastically long life, but normal sized memory, is that The Doctor actually knows what this is like. She may be 800 years old, but the Doctor hasn’t been that age since, oh somewhere during the time of Old Who. He’s already 900+ at the reboot, and Moffat has aged the hell out of him in the last four years, putting him somewhere around the 2000 year mark. He knows from smoke. And he knows from loss. “How many Claras have you lost?” she inquires as they escape together up a chimney. (Well, Me, if you were in 2015, you could check Wikipedia, which lists 47 official ones, not including said Clara, who has not been lost yet. Forty-eight if we count you.) In a way, this is the Doctor meeting a younger, more bitter, more hardened version of himself. The thing he knows that keeps him from being this same hard, cold character is to remember that even if these human lives only exist for more than an instant, they’re worth something. Each and everyone. Me is like a teenager who thinks she’s got it all figured out after 800 years. But she still has growing up to do.
The Doctor: “This is banter. I’m against banter. I’m on the record on the subject of banter!”
Speaking of rebellious teenager behavior, much of the plot that isn’t focused around the Doctor and Me and their adventuring exploits, is focused around her rebellious behavior. She sounds like a petulant teenager too. “This planet is boring.” She’s perfected everything she might want to do, and participated in more moments of human history than she can remember. (Nice Malcolm Gladwell Outliers reference by the way with that 10,000 hours it takes to perfect any skill.) “Who cares about these people?” she demands to know. (Other than the Doctor that is.) “I just want to make something happen.” But her choice to help Leandro, the evil Little Lion Man alien, “get back home” only serves to open this planet up to attack and destruction. And like any good coming of age of immortality story, the moment she’s put the planet and the people in danger is the moment she realizes how much that mattered to her, and how much she loves and want to protect them.
Luckily, she’s not used that other chip to make herself an immortal companion yet. And just as luckily, the man she killed to open said rift is actually one she seems to have quite good chemistry with. So in terms of picking herself a nice companion to spend eternity with, or at least a good long time (The Doctor can’t say if he’ll really be immortal, since some of the chip energy was redirected to close the rift), is one who might be worthwhile. At least we know from his scenes tonight he can bring the puns and banter with the best of them. Sam Swift, as he is called, may not be the Swiftest in a fight, as Williams proves earlier, but he knows which side of the crowd to butter to keep himself alive as he stands at the gallows. As long as he keeps them laughing, he’ll live another minute. His back and forth with the Doctor was now the third time in three two-part episodes that the show has used the extra time to provide some sort of fan service performance. In this case, is not virtuoso monologue, or a rock and roll fantasy. It’s all the puns, everyone, all at once, all of them equally terrible and yet all of them equally hilarious. At least Sam Swift will certainly keep Lady Me entertained. And he might even make The Knightmare a pretty good sidekick. The only question is if he’ll start a companion library to rivals her walls and walls and walls of historical diaries.
Lady Me: “Enemies are never a problem. It’s your friends you have to watch out for.”
But it’s that last scene between Capaldi and Williams that was worth the price of admission in this episode. The two of them over a table, equals in nearly every way. Too much of equals to travel together. Too much of equals to be friends. Much like Missy, Lady me sits before him and says that if he thinks he’ll be keeping on eye on her, he’s wrong. She’ll be keeping an eye on him–and more importantly, the ones, like her, who he leaves behind. “I’ll be the Patron Saint of the Doctor’s Leftovers.” She sounds a lot like Missy when she tells him that it’s his friends not his enemies he has to watch out for. (What was that line Missy said? “A friend inside and enemy, an enemy inside a friend”? Looks like the Doctor is collecting those.)
And moreover she seems to mean it. When Clara finally turns up at the end of the episode, it to show a cute selfie of herself and a student…and standing in the background, watching, waiting, is the Patron Saint who will be there for her when the Doctor finally loses her too.