Opposed to the sinister feel of the rest of the series so far, “The Girl Who Died” is notable for being much lighter in tone. In many ways it’s comparable to last year’s historical romp “Robot of Sherwood” where a grumpy Twelfth Doctor faced off against Robin Hood. This episode drops the Doctor and Clara into a village of stubborn Vikings, including a young girl Ashildr (played by Maisie Williams fresh from Game of Thrones’ fifth series), where they must all defend themselves against a fearsome warrior race known as “The Mire” lead by Odin himself.
The opening shot of Clara stranded in space, with some form of creepy crawly making its way up her back was chilling and made for an effective pre-titles sequence. After her quick rescue and the TARDIS landing back on Earth, the Doctor and Clara find themselves promptly surrounded by Vikings. “No, no not Vikings!” exclaims the Doctor. A plus point for many fans will be the Doctor’s sonic sunglasses being wrenched from him and snapped before his eyes before the title credits roll. It’s from this point that the episode descends into madness.
We jump to a Viking village, where a captive Doctor attempts to awe the inhabitants with his serious yo-yo skills. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor really seems to be nailing the humour this series so far. Unfortunately he’s upstaged by an apparition of robot Odin in the sky. Several robot aliens appear and abduct the village’s finest warriors, including Clara and Ashildr. You really wonder what was going through the writer’s heads when they concocted such a ridiculous plot. Thankfully besides the silliness the episode provides a few moments of actual tension when the kidnapped Vikings and Clara find themselves in a futuristic grinder, relentlessly pushing them into a chamber where they are to be harvested for testosterone.
Of course Clara and Ashildr escape unscathed, at which point Ashildr proceeds to declare war on Odin and his army. Not so smart. Anybody who’s seen “Game of Thrones” I’m sure as well as myself will be coming to the conclusion that Maisie Williams seems to be playing just another version of Arya Stark. Originally I found this a slight disappointment, but I remain optimistic that next week she will be given a meatier role and a chance to create a compelling dynamic between herself and Peter Capaldi.
The main plot of the episode sees the Doctor (prompted by Clara) attempting to train the rest of the village how to fight off the alien invaders. Again the episode explores the Doctor’s reaction to time-meddling. He starts as unsympathetic to the villagers as they refuse time after time to run. Their stubbornness is extremely annoying, which leads me to sympathise with the Doctor. Thankfully he finds his humanity and comes up with an overblown plan involving electric eels and a giant wooden puppet to save everybody. If you think that sounds silly then how the Doctor saves Ashildr will probably place you firmly in the portion of the audience annoyed by the sudden appearance of a convenient immortality pill.
Something I applaud is the reveal of the Doctor’s face. If not entirely obvious, it made total sense with the Doctor’s character. It was a lovely throwback to the “Fires of Pompeii” and I’m sure had many fan-girls squealing with excitement with a few seconds of Tennant screen time. The Doctor seems to be in a current state of self-doubt and depreciation but it’s nice to see him realise who he is; “I’m the Doctor and I save people!”
There were some serious themes at play this week: immortality, loss and the Doctor’s compassion. It was an ambitious move to bury them within such a silly episode. On the whole the episode holds together and works well, but a few weaker moments detract from the dramatic impact. A positive is how it sets up next week’s episode. If we get a really good episode next week with an impressive Maisie Williams performance it may become apparent that the end justifies the means.