Dear Steven Moffat: The Woman Who Lived

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Dear Steven,

Last week on everyone’s favourite not-entirely-satisfactory viewing experience, we ended with Maisie Williams’ Ashildr bracing the centuries en route to an uncertain future. She’d been made functionally immortal, thanks to some idiotic sentimentality on the Doctor’s part; an action taken by a considerate and thoughtful 2000-year-old alien who’s seen everything, done everything and had time to ponder every philosophical quandary in depth – apparently on a whim.

Though difficult to accept, and frustrating, for surely the right way to seed the second episode would have been to have the Doctor’s hand forced – saving Ashildr being the only way to save the day (and adding a tragic element to her resentment) – the cliffhanger presented us with the foundations for a potential fascinating part 2, in which we’d catch up with Williams further down the time road and see how eternal life and loneliness had changed her.

Well, “The Woman Who Lived” mostly delivered on that promise, when it wasn’t wasting our time with Rufus Hound or scenes of comically broad home invasion filler. Catherine Tregenna, a woman no less, so the right man for the job, brought some much needed thought and crackle to the Doctor’s exchanges with the now 800-year-old, who understandably was somewhat bitter at being lumbered with more free time than any of us could bear.

An intelligent script explored the consequences of such a long life; half-remembering your formative years, having a blasé attitude toward death and the mayfly character of people’s innings, and substantially, from a psychological point of view, the actions Ashildr had taken to protect herself. We learned she’d lost three children, that she ripped painful memories from the pages of the diaries she kept to document a life too long to keep in a normal brain (though one wondered why the nano-doctor inside her hadn’t kept that part healthy), and that a long spell alone had given her a certain moral flexibility. To put it another way, she’d seen the law for the transient set of values it represents. Lucky, lucky she.

But what we were really interested in was Ashildr’s attitude to the Doctor, and this is where the episode came alive. As expected, she was pretty angry – both wanting his help to escape the dreary 17th century and a lifetime of watching the world go by, while secretly conspiring with the cowardly lion’s evil older brother – a grounded alien – to put the matter beyond doubt and escape through a portal into deep space, where presumably she’d continue to be bored, just on other planets.

If anything this was the flaw in Ashildr’s logic. It would have made sense for her to feel trapped had she known a more advanced life and been, say, stuck in the past. But what is there, but Earth for most of us? She, at least, could travel around it and live many different lives. Is that really the definition of trapped? Geographic and material freedom? I suppose the knowledge of other planets might skewer your perspective, but still. She sounded like a spoilt child to me. Little wonder the Doctor politely told her she wouldn’t be getting Amy’s bedroom any time soon. Only one person gets to go in there and sometimes fall asleep hugging the pillows, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Yet the real aim of “The Woman Who Lived” was, ironically, to portend disaster, the forthcoming Danny Pinking of Clara – just at the point we’d started to like the fucker. In a disturbing coda, the companion, notably absent for most of the episode (foreshadowing things to come), held up a selfie from Coal Hill, only for the Doctor to note the now 1,164-year-old Ashildr hanging by the school gates. The implication was clear; the woman who’d agreed to an uneasy truce with Capaldi in a 17th century tavern (it was likely the ale talking), had become a full-on Time Lord obsessive, and with the benefit of another 350 years of slow-building resentment, was still craving her spot in the TARDIS.

As veiled threats go, we took her presence to mean that Clara was now in her crosshairs….and they were pretty cross. I have to say, Steven, the idea of a companion-denied, ready to avenge herself on the real thing due to a combination of jealously and century-spanning grievance, is a great one, and the hairs on my balls stood on end as Clara signed off with the fate-tempting “I’m not going anywhere” as the director went in close on the Doctor’s pensive puss.

This, Steven, is what we want to see more of on Doctor Who, the Doctor’s actions coming back to bite him on the dick. All too often on this rollercoaster of a show, we’re passengers on a consequence free voyage. Characters die, only to be miraculously revived (see Osgood next week) and threats dissipate before our very eyes. But here was a different kind of enemy – the kind with psychological ballast, whose anger was directly tied to our hero’s choices.

That an innocent should pay the price, a woman who, let’s face it, has never done much but die in various incarnations, seems to me exactly the kind of weighty plot development that we’ve been denied for too long. Will you (I assume it will be you) have the guts to go through with it? Or will Clara have a close brush with mortality and decide to simply call it a day? I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume, because Jenna Coleman won’t be appearing in Coal Hill, that you’ll actually send the mistress of Period 2 and 3 to the grave plot next to Adric’s, and that the spin-off will primarily take place in the new commemorative wing of the school – you know the bit that used to be the English Department Office and Smoking Room.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Kudos to Capaldi for not staring at the carriage woman’s heaving cleavage on camera. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been.

P.P.S: “It takes a day to get to Kent.” Ah, the good ol’ days.

P.P.P.S: Clara’s absence worked wonderfully well as a tension heightener. She now has no idea what’s coming or indeed that the Doctor’s made a new frenemy. Smart thinking. Perhaps Tregenna should take over when you retire?

P.P.P.P.S: “I’m against banter.” Well, you could have fooled me.

P.P.P.P.P.S: I counted two knob gags. Three if you count Rufus Hound.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: John Barrowman’s Captain Jack was name checked. For some reason I found this more disturbing than Ashildr’s sinister transformation or the Doctor’s “it gave a whole new meaning to dying on stage” gag.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

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