Reviews: Doctor Who - Series 9 Episode 5 - The Girl Who Died

 Chris Jordan reviews the new episode of Doctor Who, starring Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams.

"You think this will be a tough fight, Doctor?
Have you seen the stuff 

that happens on my other show?"
 As Doctor Who series 9 enters its third story arc, several things are becoming clear – and all of them are good. It is becoming increasingly obvious that we are in the midst of a very strong season, which is making some bold and mature narrative choices. While there is thus far no interconnecting story, like last year's Missy and the Nethersphere mystery, an overarching thematic arc is taking shape: a very interesting one, with its roots in a mystery still left unexplored from Peter Capaldi's first episode, Deep Breath. Series 8 likewise had an abstract thematic arc at work in addition to the Missy saga: the question of whether The Doctor truly does the good that he intends, or if there is more moral ambiguity behind the hero than initially appears. This year's abstract arc once again is examining the deeper implications of The Doctor's actions, but from a different angle: it is concerned with the seemingly-irreconcilable conflict between his desire to help people and his responsibility to not damage the fabric of time. All three of this series' stories so far have dealt with this dilemma in one way or another, but The Girl Who Died is the one which makes it clear that, in an indirect way, this is what series 9 will probably be about.

The story of this episode is fairly simple: The Doctor and Clara find themselves at the center of a conflict between Vikings and aliens pretending to be Norse gods. On the surface there's really not much to it, and one could accuse the plot of being a bit superficial and leaning too much on plot devices to resolve the elements that it doesn't have time to flesh out. But that would be a somewhat unfair criticism, because it is clear fairly quickly that this surface plot is just a MacGuffin, and the episode is really interested in The Doctor and Clara's convictions and anxieties concerning the clash between what is right and what the rules of time-travel dictate must happen. That the show has decided to really delve into this question is both fascinating and long overdue: as Clara herself points out in the episode's opening minutes, this is an area that The Doctor has not explained as thoroughly as he should, and even he seems not entirely aware of the boundaries. Now, we see him not only finding the imposed boundaries, but questioning them. Even the title, which itself sounds like a spoiler, was likely only chosen to make the viewer also question the certainty of what they suspect must happen.

"When I said you should dress for 
Valhalla I was thinking of 
something a little more Mad Max..."
Joining The Doctor and Clara in their questioning is guest-star Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame, in a very strong role. She plays a young Viking, wise beyond her years and rather ahead of her time: someone both The Doctor and Clara relate to in different ways. She forms the third point in the character-driven story that forms the episode's emotional core, while the Vikings-vs-Aliens plot remains largely set-dressing. It should come as no surprise to Game of Thrones fans that she is excellent, bringing a strongly feminist identity to another period role.

Once again it appears that this episode will be used as the springboard to another episode that will be linked by theme, if not by story; a very strong and compelling spin on the two-parter formula. I look forward to seeing what else the show has in store for Williams' character, as it moves in what I can only assume will be a different direction. I can't imagine that she'll actually become a regular, as starring on two TV shows of such scope would be rather a lot for an actor to take on, but she's such a strong character that it would be nice to see her in at least a recurring role. It will also be very interesting to see where the show goes from here, as it continues to explore what appears to be this series' very compelling mission.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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