This felt like the episode that 'Robot of Sherwood' should have been. It had the same vibe, with its medieval setting, its unrealistic village backdrop, its assortment of hats, and its humour quotient turned up several notches. Thankfully, it was lot less silly. The beards were less ridiculous, the dialogue wasn't as embarrassing, and the characterisation of both the Doctor and Clara was on point. After 'Mummy on the Orient Express' and 'Flatline', Jamie Mathieson is currently three for three.
I loved the cold open. Last week we learned that Clara has been dealing with the pain of losing Danny by throwing herself into adventuring, and tonight saw a continuation of that theme, with her helping save the Velosians, before being stranded in space with a Love Sprite trapped in her red spacesuit, about to suck her brain out through her mouth. Clara's clearly burning the candle at both ends these days, but how her story will end is still pretty much up in the air. Whether she'll live or die is anyone's guess, but whether it comes in eight days, eight weeks, or eight millennia, it's now certain that the Doctor will be left desolate. Tonight he even gave Clara a non-accidental hug. Now that's character development right there.
Despite Clara not having much of a personal storyline this year—the inevitable result of being a relatively late addition to the cast roster—they're definitely advancing her and the Doctor's relationship in a direction that I like. Clara's confidence in the Doctor's ability to solve even the most complex problem has never been higher, and the Doctor's body language and actual language towards Clara has softened markedly since last season. Him telling Clara that losing her would result in a sadness so profound that he'd be unable to breathe was beautifully moving, and led into a section of the episode that was so full of seeming connections, it was hard to tell what was portentous and what was merely colour.
The Doctor's reference to running away in his box, for example, although obviously a general reference to what he traditionally does after losing someone he loves, definitely made me think of him leaving Gallifrey for the first time. But didn't Davros say—despite what we've learned elsewhere—that the Doctor left Gallifrey to escape his part in the coming hybrid? Of course, in 'The Witch's Familiar' Davros also spoke of a prophecy in which the hybrid would be born to two great warrior races—races he seemed to think would be the Daleks and Time Lords—but he was surely wrong about that too? It's looking increasingly likely that the races are in fact the Mire and the Vikings—and that Ashildr is the hybrid.
I also get the distinct feeling that there's more to the Doctor initially recognising Ashildr. Was it simply a result of remembering things in the wrong direction? Ashildr did seem to respond to the Doctor's face and broken sonicwear with an equally puzzled stare. Was she remembering in the wrong direction, too, or do the Doctor and Ashildr have some forgotten history Moffat intends to tie in with the Doctor originally leaving Gallifrey? If Ashildr is functionally immortal, then the Doctor could still meet her again in his future. (And indeed will next week.) What seems less likely is that Ashildr is Susan. So for all the
Can we just reflect on how cool that would have been though? Cooler than a Tennant and Tate flashback? I don't know, I did enjoy that rather a lot. I'd forgotten completely that Moffat intended to explain why Twelve looks so much like Lucius Caecilius. It kind of made sense. It was shorter than anticipated—I guess I was expecting it to be a more prominent story beat when it arrived—but it at least keeps up the show tradition of attempting to explain familiar faces, even if it did serve as a rather weak reminder to the Doctor that he saves people. Had he seriously forgotten? Obviously he doesn't have the BBC in his TARDIS: those bastards have been telling who he is and what he does at least five times a day for the past eight weeks. Joking aside, seeing the dreaded quote in context, gave it far more power than in the season trailer. The Doctor knew that he was doing the wrong thing, but did it anyway because for him, Clara and Ashildr, it was absolutely the right thing. And screw anyone who disagrees.
And can we just pause for a moment to reflect on how funny this episode was? Not only was the Doctor in scintillating comedy form, Mathieson didn't have to annihilate his character to pull it off. The Doctor was as brilliant as he's always been, a feat matched only by Clara, who spoke with the wit, confidence, and sass of a companion totally in love with what she's doing. One of the fears I had about this season was that a lot of her dialogue would be hastily rewritten generic waffle designed to forward the story, and not much else, but there were some beautiful Doctor/Clara exchanges tonight. What a shame we won't be getting many more of them. (Sad trombone sound.)
Maisie Williams seems to have cornered the market when it comes to innocent-looking, pissed off, scruffy-arsed, stick-wielding tomboys with the heart of a lion, and Ashildr feels like a character in which there's still plenty of mileage. Even if the Doctor did make a mistake in resurrecting her, at least his reason for doing so was relateable; it was a mistake any of us could have made. I'd still like to know why Ashildr finds herself so strange. Simply because she occasionally gets mistaken for a boy, likes to make puppets, and has a head full of stories? Was there anything to be gleaned from the seemingly throwaway titbit ('tid' is too American and I don't really know what it means) that Ashildr feared for her kinsfolks' lives because she'd seen them die in a dream? Do her dreams/stories ever come true, I wonder?
Whatever the case, that final 360 degree shot of Ashildr passing through the ages, youthful, alone, and increasingly angry at her own immortality, set up next week's episode wonderfully. Bazalgette's direction felt reminiscent of the final few minutes of Francis Lawrence's Catching Fire, where Katniss' devastation morphs into determination, culminating in a fixed stare straight into the lens. Ashildr clearly hasn't found peace in her longevity. Will the Doctor find peace in his decision to bring her back?
—Who would ever have guessed that babies have such profound thoughts? So why do they speak such utter shit when they learn to speak? What happens to all that poetic self-awareness?
—I loved the Doctor's reaction to Clara using a sword in battle. He kind of frowned, mouthed 'have you', before nodding approvingly.
—I think I'll be downloading the humiliation app for my phone this afternoon.
—'She's nice, I'll fight you for her.' Good old bisexual Clara.
—I like the idea of breaking up the double-episode template with a story where the character is the focus of the two-parter rather than the story itself.
—Since Ed Bazalgette also directed 'The Doctor's Meditation', I'm assuming it was filmed on the same set as tonight's episode. It certainly had the same medieval flavour.
—'He's been at it hammer and tongs.' Brilliant blacksmith sex joke.
Doctor: 'Do not believe this foolish trickery.' [Tries to impress with his yoyo and fails.] 'It's supposed to do that.'
Clara: 'That's not Odin, is it?'
Doctor: 'He doesn't even have a yoyo.'
Clara: 'The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me, it's unbearable.'
Doctor: 'You're Lofty. You're Daphne. You're Noggin the Nog. ZZ Top. And you're, er... Heidi.'
Viking: 'What happened?
Doctor: 'The big bang. Dinosaurs. Bipeds. And a mounting sense of futility.'
Doctor: 'Heidi faints at the mention of blood, not just the sight any more. He's upgraded his phobia.'
Doctor: 'I'm the doctor and I save people. And if anyone happens to be listening, and you have any kind of a problem with that — to hell with you!'
Doctor: 'I'm not a hugger. Ahhh, this is not a hug.'