By Lewis White
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
'What happened to you?'
'You did, Doctor...'
So this episode was one of the first to be announced and was immediately greatly anticipated for one reason: Maisie Williams. Once she was announced to be in not one, but two episodes, it seemed that we were in luck. But what if we were wrong?
Episode 5, The Girl Who Died, takes us back in time to the Vikings, where we meet a village of unsuspecting brutes, along with a young girl named Ashildr (played by Maisie Williams). As the Doctor and Clara are captured by the Viking warriors and are taken to this small village, we meet the apparent big bad: 'Odin' and his race of warriors known as 'The Mire'. This 'big bad' is, quite frankly, rubbish – but more on that later.
As this false Odin appears in the sky to ask for the village's warriors to dine with him in Valhalla, Clara and Ashildr join them by mistake. This is where the 'evil' sparks in, as Odin kills all the warriors (sparing Clara and Ashildr) to absorb their testosterone and feed The Mire. Ridiculous!
Against Clara's judgement, Ashildr declares war on the Mire and Odin. This leaves the Doctor to come up with a plan to stop this war with only fathers and bakers who have never even held a sword. After creating an intricate plan involving electric eels, one of the Mire's helmets and Ashildr's stories, the Doctor succeeds - but not without a price, as we discover Ashildr is dead.
The highlight here is that we finally find out why the Doctor chose his face, and its connection to The Fires of Pompeii. This was something many have speculated over, myself included, and I was pleased to see that my theory proved right: the Doctor chose this face to remind him to keep saving people. Even better, we get to see a brief shot of Donna again!
With this realisation, the Doctor decides he is not bound by the rules of time, and creates digital immortality to save Ashildr's life. He then gives her the ability to choose another to share her unending life with. This seems like a happy ending - until we see the final chilling shot of a sad and angry Ashildr as the world changes around her, while she stands still.
Episode 6, The Woman Who Lived, gives us part two of Ashildr's story, but is really about the repercussions of what happens to those the Doctor interacts with and how it can change them.
The village-saving Ashildr is now a feared highwayman known as 'The Nightmare' – and the episode begins with her robbing a carriage, only to find the Doctor also intends to steal from it. This makes for a great, strong opening.
We later learn just how much Ashildr – or Me, as she now calls herself - has changed and how sad her tale is. Dozens of journals – explained to be the only way Ashildr can remember her own life - reveal how she's had to suffer through time alone. This scene is spectacular as we get the funny mentions of how she stopped the 100 Year War and was nearly drowned for being a witch, and also the swift change to the heartache as watched her children die of the plague around her. This only scratches the surface of how we begin to empathise with her, as we can only imagine how that feels.
Sadly this episode, like the previous, suffers from having an awful villain 'Leo': a talking, lying, fire breathing lion. His only addition to the episode is to add a motive to Ashildr's antagonistic behaviour and her salvation of goodness.
The episode ends however with the biggest tease yet, as Asildr warns the Doctor that, while he saves the Earth, it shall be her who saves the Earth from him. She swears to look after and watch those whom he effects and leaves behind. The evidence of this appears in a photo taken by Clara of a student the Doctor helped tutor, where we can see a familiar face watching in the background: Ashildr's.
The episodes altogether are incredibly acted, with the best performances yet from Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. It may not be the best sign though that Clara isn't even in the second episode until the very end. Maisie Williams is the best thing about these episodes. She absolutely shines, and she made me come away wanting her as a series regular. Her performance was stellar!
However as a whole these episodes suffer from cringe-worthy bad guys who add nothing of significant value to the story. The Mire and Odin could have been replaced by a rival Viking camp with very few changes, and Leo was just pointless. Thankfully the amazing performances, some great teases, and brilliant name drops (such as Captain Jack) saved them.
Lewis is still recovering from the appearance of Donna in ep 5, and is annoyed at the wait for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the UK.