Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Diamonds and Guns: An Overanalysis of "The Woman Who Lived"

She looks like Zorro, if Zorro was a little girl.  Then again, so did Antonio Banderas.

Sorry about the lateness again.  I started a new job last week, and it requires a lot more mental energy than my last one.  On top of that, my new "companion" and I had the best Halloween weekend of our lives, so I was quite busy having fun.  But I'm here, and it's time to play catch up.  So, on with the show:

I've seen every episode of the classic series, and I love the classic series, but it never dove into the heart of the Doctor's character  the way that the new series does.  In fact, I would argue that the classic series's one and only real attempt to do a strong emotional character arc failed so spectacularly that it ultimately killed the show.  Well, okay, it wasn't the only reason the show was cancelled in 1989, but it was a big part of it.  (I could literally write an entire paper about the very complex confluence of factors that came together to cause the show's original cancellation, but its failed attempt at a Sixth Doctor character arc is certainly one of those factors.)  Some call it a sign that the classic series wasn't very good or that the writers didn't know how to write, but actually using very shallow characters to examine a fascinating scientific concept, thus putting the focus on the concept first and foremost, is kind of what science fiction has traditionally been all about.  Isaac Asimov is still considered one of the greatest science fiction authors of all times, and with very good reason (the Robot series notwithstanding), and his books featured virtually no depth of character whatsoever.  Getting deep into character like this is more of a characteristic of post-Star Trek science-fiction, a fusion of science-fiction with drama and melodrama.  Thankfully, Doctor Who's current writing staff are very good at what they do (yes, even Mark Gatiss, as mixed as my feelings are about him) and know how to blend that character depth and conceptual science fiction without sacrificing either side of it.  No, Doctor Who isn't hard science, as little real theory ever appears in the scripts, but it proposes some truly classic science fiction concepts, from 2-dimensional universes to the bootstrap paradox to the very concept of immortality.

"The Woman Who Lived" isn't the first time that the new series has shown us an immortal character.  As if conceding that, the episode even goes so far as to point it out in dialogue.  That Torchwood writer Catherine Tregenna penned this episode feels like another tip of the hat.  It's almost as if the show is specifically asking permission from its audience to do this again, which I appreciated.  However, the fact that they had done this before made me wonder about Ashildr's moments of forgetfulness.  The explanation given was that Ashildr has the Doctor's lifespan, but a human brain, making it difficult to retain all of her memories.  Yet, Captain Jack never had a similar problem.  Yes, it's true that Jack is about 1/8 the age of Ashildr at this point, but he can remember every detail in startling clarity, from his childhood on another planet through the entire 20th century until the present.  But Ashildr also has a child's mind, which might be a part of it.

Speaking of which, wasn't Ashildr a child when she was made immortal?  This made for a few terrifying implications when you think about it.  She lost three children to the Plague, but the stork didn't bring those babies to her.  Someone clearly had sex with her at some point, and most likely those weren't triplets, so it happened at least three times.  Furthermore, everyone seems to be flirting with her current incarnation, Lady Me, in a way that seems very inappropriate considering that she's trapped in the body of a child.  I did some research, and it looks like Maisie Williams was 17 when these episodes were shot, and yes, as anyone who had to read any Victorian literature in school knows, in past centuries dirty old men married teenage girls and it was treated like it was completely normal.

"You're almost 14 years old, it's high time I sold you into a marriage to one of my 50 year old business partners!"
But Maisie Williams was chosen for this role because of the fact that she looks a lot younger than she really is.  I don't think the character she plays on Game of Thrones is supposed to be anywhere near adulthood.  And Ashildr was referred to as a young girl in "The Girl Who Died." Hell, look at the title of that episode!  "The Girl Who Died"!  The follow up episode became "The Woman Who Lived" because, after 800 years, she certainly is a woman mentally, but physically she still looks like a child.  So...ew.

Ashildr is an interesting character to throw into the Doctor's path, because she understands him on a level that no other companion ever really has, other than possibly Romana.  Some of my friends thought it was a tortured logic that the Doctor uses to explain why the Doctor can't take Ashildr with him as a companion.  To me, it made perfect sense, he was just phrasing it more delicately than he phrased it in his head.  Perhaps this was another one of Clara's cards about how to be polite.  What the Doctor really meant to say was "I don't want to bring you with me because, if you're as immortal as I am, you'll never be that impressed with me, so I have no use for you."  Again, the only companions that even approached the Doctor's longevity were Romana, who was forced upon him, and Jack Harkness and River Song, both of whom he has refused to ever take on as full time companions (although, in a moment of weakness, he did ask River).  He has little use for an equal in his TARDIS.  He needs someone very different from himself.

The Doctor prefers companions that are weak and can die.  Preferably ones that can die often.
Speaking of companions, this was a weirdly companion-lite episode, to the joy of millions of Clara haters around the world.  It's obvious that Clara is gearing up for a really sad exit from the show, as a lot of the discussion about Clara is mirroring the discussions about Amy and Rory from their final handful of episodes in Series 7.  The Doctor is worrying about how close he's getting to Clara, and how hard it will be to lose her.  Moffat has hinted in interviews that her departure is going to be very big, very heartbreaking, and very final.  Will she become the first full-time companion since Adric (not counting expanded Universe) to actually die while travelling with the Doctor?  Because, if so, that's going to send shockwaves through his character, and take us to a darker place than we've ever gone before with the Doctor.

"Sam Swift the Quick," also known as "Sam the Redundant Who Always Repeats Himself" is saved in much the same way that Ashildr is, but the Doctor implies in dialogue that Sam may or may not have the same immortality as Ashildr.  This leaves a lot of potentiality open, or perhaps this was just Tregenna trying to explain away why Sam Swift will never be coming back.  But there's one thing I'm sure of that I said in the last write-up:  this is not the last we will see of Ashildr.  No way.  I don't think that she's The Hybrid that we keep getting hints about, but as soon as we saw her become immortal at the end of "The Girl Who Died," I was sure we were going to see her again after "The Woman Who Lived," and her brief appearance in the 21st century at the end of this episode confirmed that for me.  In fact, much of this episode felt like the enemy and the crisis in it was perfunctory, just thrown into the background while we spend most of our time chatting with Ashildr to set up her presence and her immortality so that we can bring it back around and use it again later.  Mark my words, Ashildr will be back.

And now, this!:

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