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The Girl Who Died: From Valhalla to Immortality

I don’t know about you, but if I almost had my brains devoured by a Love Sprite and came near to asphyxiation, I think I would have needed a moment or two to regain my equilibrium. Clara, however, pops up immediately and proceeds to natter on without so much as a thank you to the Doctor for saving her life. This may be considered typical Clara, but have we ever really known what is typical for Clara? Her personality has the propensity to be all over the place. When the Doctor steps outside the TARDIS to wipe the Love Sprite goo from his boots, she follows him outside questioning outcomes and complaining about not having been told the rules. The Doctor is prompted to say that he does as much as he can to resolve dangers and he warns her about making tidal waves, rather than ripples. This is an early foreshadowing of his mental struggles later in the episode. But for the moment, the more pressing matter is the arrival of a group of Vikings. When the Doctor attempts to dazzle them with his impressive technological sunglasses, one of the warriors takes them from his head and snaps them in two. Now, truth be told, weren’t we all waiting for something to happen to those infernal glasses? The opening sequence to “The Girl Who Died,” the first of a two-parter co-written by Jamie Mathieson (who also wrote “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline“) and Steven Moffat, gave us an adrenalin rush and then another glimpse into the anguish the Doctor carries with him always.

In the Mix

Two days later the Doctor and Clara arrive, in chains, at the Viking village via boat. The Viking who broke the glasses, strides in wearing half of them and tosses the half to Ashildr, who has joyously greeted the arriving warriors. Ashildr is played by Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and is a self-reported worrier and creative eccentric. The Doctor takes notice of Ashildr as he passes, and at Clara’s query indicates “People talk about premonition as if it’s something strange. It’s not. It’s just remembering in the wrong direction.”

And then he’s back to crowd-dazzling as he tosses the chains that had been around his wrist back to his captors. We’re left to figure out how a yo-yo can be used as an escape tool. The yo-yo has been a useful item for the Doctor since his second regeneration and has been used intermittently throughout classic Who and by the 12th Doctor. Launching into a personification of the god Odin, the Doctor attempts to scare the Vikings. Maybe he could have come closer to pulling it off if he didn’t toss out the silly yo-yo again and call it the sign of Odin. While intended to be a serious attempt to save himself and Clara, the yo-yo/Odin bit provides comedic effect for viewers. His antics are eclipsed by a hologram in the sky also claiming to be Odin. This projection serves to be far more impressive and effective than the Doctor’s ploy. Many of the fearful Vikings drop to their knees in homage. While the Doctor as false god did not intend to cause harm, typically false gods are nothing but trouble. The false god in the sky promises to bring the mightiest warriors to Valhalla and it isn’t difficult to see that the monster aliens have been introduced. His soldiers arrive to teleport the warriors, and Clara and Ashildr are teleported to the ship as well. The Doctor, shaken, leans on a wooden horse, another foreshadowing for later in the episode. Throughout this episode there are glimpses of foreshadowing allowing savvy viewers to have their own premonitions, which isn’t strange.

The Belly of a False Valhalla

It’s not a stretch to say that we knew the soldiers would meet an untimely end, which fits a template for Who. It would be rare that any or all would come out alive. Though there was that one day during the 9th Doctor’s regeneration that everyone lived (“The Doctor Dances,” Series 1, Episode 10). Ashildr and Clara are spared because of those silly half-glasses and Clara begins her communicative plan for release. She has clearly picked up some things from traveling with the Doctor, but Ashildr intervenes, headstrong and driven by emotion. Prior to her intervening it is revealed that the Odin impersonator’s mission is to collect the testosterone from warriors in order to become more powerful. “Warrior juice,” Clara says and then delivers a great line: “The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me, it’s unbearable.” Is this scene a showcase for both feminine strength and maturity? Ashildr is clearly not willing to back down, but has not yet seen (or been indoctrinated to) the power of verbal persuasion. Verbal persuasion doesn’t always work, but when it does it may save a few headaches. Two women, both passionate: one seasoned and wise, the other impulsive and full of heart? What say you?

War is declared for the next day and the pair is tele-dropped back on earth. The Doctor, unable to contain his joy that Clara is safe, runs toward her, stops to offer a thumb’s up, then breaks this regeneration’s no hugging rule and lifts her from the ground in a bear-hug. Can we consider this further evidence of the Doctor’s evolution within this regeneration?

To Battle or Not to Battle: Using the Old Noggin’

Discussion surrounding the upcoming battle ensues and it is surmised that all will perish. Initially the Doctor plans to leave them to their own demise, indicating that the battle will not affect the universe at large, so he has no actual reason to intervene. He has told them to run and that is all the help he is willing to give. However, he remains because of a baby. The 4th and 11th incarnations of the Doctor spoke baby, and now the 12th Doctor reminds us that the Doctor does, indeed, speak baby. It is the baby’s impassioned words that change the Doctor’s mind and, ultimately, inspire the plan to defeat the warring aliens.

Teaching the Viking villagers to battle proves to be both difficult and hilarious. The baby’s message “fire in the waters” triggers the Doctor to take note of the fish – electric eels. He puts the eels to good use once the warring aliens arrive and is able to force the retreat of the soldiers. The piece d’resistance is Ashildr’s use of the alien helmet to project the wooden horse as vicious dragon. Clara has caught the leader’s fear on iPhone and the Doctor threatens to upload the video to the Galactic Hub, humiliating him. As the leader threatens future punishment, the Doctor flips the teleport switch and he disappears.

The great tragedy is that Ashildr has died. Given the title of the episode, it wasn’t surprising and yet, caught up in the emotion of the moment, it was. The Doctor surmises that the holographic elements of the helmet used her up, draining her of her life force. Her death causes the Doctor to turn to the mirror in an effort to understand. Within the water, used as mirror, he realizes the reason he has this face and he remembers that it relates to Caecilius from “The Fires of Pompeii” (Fourth series, second episode). He remembers that he can choose, at times, to save people, and he decides that he will save Ashildr. Today, one person will live.

Immortality

In the process, however, he realizes that there is the possibility that she will no longer be able to die. This, the doctor does not necessarily feel is a good thing. After all, multiple regenerations later, the Doctor has come to understand that whoever he gets close to will eventually die and he must live on – alone. He has given Ashildr another repair kit to keep and when Clara questions why, the Doctor’s reply comes from a place of knowng: “Immortality isn’t living forever, that is not what it feels like. Immortality is everybody else dying. She might meet someone she can’t bear to lose. That happens.”

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor reflects on the action of saving Ashildr and the way his emotions came into play. Could this action trigger the tidal wave that he warns Clara about in the opening sequence? Insight into our actions comes through the processing of events and it appears that the Doctor is struck by the fact that he has created a hybrid in Ashildr by implanting an alien repair kit. What ramifications will that bring? If the closing scene is any indication, Ashildr’s being an immortal hybrid will bring her anguish, just as the Doctor carries anguish with him.

End Notes

During much of this episode we see the Doctor placing himself on the proverbial therapeutic couch, processing life, actions, regenerations, and his relationship to his companions. He, again, makes reference to the “duty of care” that he has for Clara. Again, he attempts to dissuade her from further travel with him. We know that Clara is leaving Doctor Who this season. In some part, this spoils our ability to climb down into the Doctor’s inner turmoil and see where and/or who has prompted these affirmations. I am left to wonder if he is trying to convince Clara that he has a responsibility for her care or if he is working to convince himself. After all, this is the regeneration of the Doctor who began by asking if he were a good man. A good man would certainly feel that duty of care.

The episode provided elements of suspense and humor, but overall, this writer took away the reflection. Water is the earth element said to represent emotions. We see water as electric and as a mirror in “The Girl Who Died.” Despite the integral part that Maisie Williams plays in her role of Ashildr, it appears that a great deal of this episode is about the Doctor. We do know that Williams will be back next week in “The Woman Who Lived,” but what part will she play in the future of Who if any? She is immortal and the Doctor made reference to her seeing him again when she woke from her deathbed. But, then again, we have never seen the Doctor’s daughter again, after she regenerated and flew off into space (“The Doctor’s Daughter, Series 4, Episode 6). “The Girl Who Died” is worth the viewing. Next week will bring an interesting conclusion: the two trailers that this writer has seen for “The Woman Who Lived” are empty of Clara and focus on Maisie Williams’ part. Hmmmmmmmm.

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