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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Doctor Who: Stand and Deliver

That's the scariest 800-year-old-teenage girl I've ever seen.

Things are going to get very awkward, very fast, if I continue to gush over Maisie Williams the way I did last week. That said, her performance did save last week's episode, and this week's episode serves her performance much moreso than the previous one.

The Woman Who Lived explores human immortality in a way unique to most science fiction: the issue of what immortality would do to a human mind is rarely addressed in such a personal way, and Maisie's voice and facial expressions portray that perfectly. She flows from cocky arrogance to thousand-yard stare in a moment's notice, all the compassion and kindness worn away, only to be replaced with superb self-confidence and self-interest.

And anger. A great deal of long-brewing anger. Ashildr isn't aging like Captain Jack Harkness (name-checked in this episode as well) did due to the repair tech powering her, but her mind still grows and changes. Compare this to Captain Jack, another near-human granted immortality, who lived so long that his body gradually changed to a giant head in a jar and his mind grew so far beyond regular human comprehension that his identity had long been lost. 
She's allegedly 5'1. I don't believe it for a second.
As for the story, it stands in stark contrast to the previous Ashildr episode. Where The Girl Who Died was full of flash and noise and farce, The Woman Who Lived has tons of quiet, introspective moments that I cannot imagine being carried more effectively than with Maisie and Peter Capaldi. Her stony demeanor as all of five-foot-nothing of her advances on his lanky scarecrow, making him back away; 12's uncertainty of just what he's created with last episode's gift of immortality; their back-and-forth of his gentleness and her hostility in the quiet moments, and their bickering with each other as equals in the more tense moments, are fantastic. For a a guest star. Williams and Capaldi have incredible chemistry.

The Chekhov's Gun motif makes a return yet again, as the series continues to set a firearm on the table in part 1 and effectively use it in part 2. Back in the Davies years, this sort of resolution wouldn't have been telegraphed from so early in the story; it would have been some manifestation of Clarke's Law as the Doctor pulled a piece of advanced tech or energy reversal out of his second ass (Time Lord – two hearts, two assholes, right?) to save the day. Instead, we get a small-scale finale of Marvel's Avengers with a rift opening in the sky pouring out hostile aliens and resolved with something set up in the previous episode, which feels much more satisfying than something introduced minutes earlier.
Immortals Assemble!
It wasn't perfect, though, for no episode is.
  • The musical score was curiously light on my favourite piece, “A Good Man?” and the score that was used was a little too whimsical for the grim and serious dialogue. 
  • Those sunglasses. I'm starting to get the Moffat hate that Tumblr constantly and uncontrollably spews. I swear, if those sunglasses aren't retired permanently and soon, I'll start a hashtag campaign claiming that sunglasses are misogynistic. I'll see if I can get Jezebel in on it, too. 
  • The bumbling guards that came to arrest the Knightmare in Lady Me's house annoyed me.
  • I was on the fence about Sam Swift's trial, but I think they pulled it off, if only barely, because of the performances of Capaldi and Rufus Hound – probably one of the few times a comedian guest stars in an episode of Doctor Who and doesn't fall flat on his face. I suspect it's because he's not playing against type, as Swift is a comedian as well as a highwayman. Contrast with Peter Kay as one of New Who's most reviled characters, the Abzorbaloff.
  • The implications of Ashildr's warning to the Doctor at the end, about how she'll be there to clean up his messes, makes me suspect that she'll be the previously hinted Minister of War. She's immortal, so she's got a great deal of knowledge and experience and has fought in wars throughout history. Her ominous photobombing of Clara's selfie (bordering dangerously close to duckface there, Clara) all but guarantees she'll return. And much like Torchwood, there are no shortage of people left bitter and broken in the Doctor's wake. No shortage of people recruited to oppose him, if it should become necessary.
Although it had its problems, I was much more satisfied with this episode than I was the last. It looks like next week we'll get the answer to a very, very important question. Was that Osgood or Zygon-Osgood that Missy vaporized last year?  

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