After last week’s uneven offering, Doctor Who produces one of the standout episodes of the series so far. With Clara taking the back-seat for an episode we get to delve even deeper into the Doctor’s character; examining what exactly two thousand years of time travelling has done to him and how he has arrived in the current form we are seeing. If last week can be filed under historical romp, then this week (although disguised as much the same) can be seen as a complex character study. This is where I’m happy to say Maisie Williams is brilliantly utilised in a plotline only Doctor Who can get away with, where she finds herself immortal and stranded on Earth. Dare I say this episode stands and delivers?
Having Clara mostly absent and Maisie Williams assuming the companion role for the episode is a bold move but it really pays off. I have nothing against Clara or Jenna Coleman’s performance, but her scenes this series thus far have either been her trying to be the Doctor or disregarding danger in a foreboding manner. Having her dropped off and letting the Doctor travel solo gives the series some breathing space and allows Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams to develop some real onscreen chemistry. Williams’ character has undergone a complete transformation. Gone are the days of Viking tomboy Ashildr, as over time she has forgotten her name and old life and become a scheming highwayman. The episode is less of a direct follow-on of last week’s as centuries have passed for Maisie Williams (I guess I’ll have to refer to her as “me”) and its unclear how much time has personally passed for the Doctor. It’s more of the Doctor running into the consequences of his past actions, which have taken a heavy toll on Me.
Last week we saw the Doctor reading his two-thousand year diary as a throwaway gag. This week we get to see glimpses of Me’s tear-stained, centuries-old diary in which she mentions losing her children and the people she’s loved. This is a perfect example of the stark contrast in tone of the two episodes, which is reflected in Williams’ performance. We get to see a wider range of her acting talents as she acts as a mirror for the Doctor. As he tries to save her soul it becomes evident he is also in some way battling for his own. Williams’ character is handled as what the Doctor might become if he travelled alone.
The episode isn’t all serious introspection and reflection however as it’s also riddled with lighter comedic moments. The Doctor dons his sonic sunglasses in a daring robbery in the middle of the night, Rufus Hound is introduced as humorous vagabond Sam Swift and the monster of the week is a fire-breathing lion. The actual plot that drives the episode is just as ridiculous as last weeks, with time portals and more last minute immortality pills but the central performances hold the episode together. It’s by no means perfect but strong character moments always elevate an episode in my eyes.
While the Doctor’s reluctance to allow Williams to board the TARDIS crushes hopes for those wanting to see a Thrones/Who crossover, it allows a nicely ambiguous ending to their meeting. Her being stranded on Earth opens up lots of potential story possibilities. Hey, Captain Jack (name-dropped this week) had a whole spin-off show of his adventures. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing her again and possibly soon as her mysterious appearance in Clara’s selfie indicates. The episode ends with the Doctor and Clara once again united and happy and ready to embark on adventures. The question is how long it will last? As we pass the half-way point of the series, reality is slowly creeping up on the Doctor. As Williams’ character demonstrated this week, one can’t live forever without experiencing heartbreak: “How many Clara’s have you lost?”