Doctor Who 'The Woman Who Lived' [TV-EPISODE REVIEW]

Oh man, I am not even going to beat around the bush here as I really loved this. 'The Woman Who Lived' is not only the best episode of the season but I would also have to say it is the best episode written by a woman the show has ever had in its entire 52 year history. 

This came as a big surprise for me as I really did not expect this episode to knock 'The Witch's Familiar' off its throne as my favorite Series 9 episode - but by the end of it I immediately felt the urge to re-watch it. While I do love a great monster of the week story, I will still take a very interesting, philosophical and personal character study any day of the week. While 'Listen' was an excellent insight into the Doctor's character, 'The Woman Who Lived' may be the best character study episode for a non-leading character I have ever seen in the show. I am completely baffled that we have to consider this a "divisive" episode due to all the mixed reactions across the internet. I was more hooked on everything that happened in this episode than I have been for pretty much anything in quite a while. To put it simple for the people in the peanut gallery, this episode is incredible.

I barely talked about Maisie Williams in my review of 'The Girl Who Died' but she is simply a revelation here. Completely nailing every single line of dialogue Tregenna threw her way. The fact that she is apparently coming back later in the season in the episode 'Face The Raven' is really exciting and I cannot wait to see the changes the events in this episode will have had on her by then. While she was a bit too Arya Stark'ish in 'The Girl Who Died', she really shows what she is capable of here and I cannot believe that there actually are people saying she did a bad job.

Catherine Tregenna's debut in 'Doctor Who' is nothing short of brilliant as this is such a wonderfully layered script with some of the best dialogue exchanges of Peter Capaldi's era. The episode naturally has the typical monster plot thrown in there but Tregenna knows where the focus had to be and for me that was lovely to see because my biggest fear was that it would end up being an episode struggling to find its own identity as I could tell it was going to delve more into the character of Ashildr and how this immortal life has affected her judging by how 'The Girl Who Died' ended and all the clips we got this past week - but it also looked like it was trying to be a typical monster of the week flavor. Luckily as I said, Tregenna knew exactly where the focus had to be and the monster of the week stuff is smartly put aside in order for this very interesting character study to fully be able to flex its muscles... and flex them it does. Oh, and a short tidbit, I am slightly annoyed with myself that I did not mention this in my review of 'The Girl Who Died' because in my head I totally called it last week that Captain Jack Harkness would be mentioned here seeing as Ashildr had become immortal - and the only 'Doctor Who' related stuff Catherine Tregenna had written was four episodes of 'Torchwood' - one of whom was even called 'Captain Jack Harkness'.

Ed Bazzalgette returns to finish up this "two-parter" (really not sure if it can be counted as one) as the director and he definitely gets more room to show off what he can do here as he is not just confined to one location for the majority of the episode and simply put, what he does is amazing. This episode looks absolutely stunning and there is a real sense of inspired direction in every single scene. If it were not for Hettie Macdonald's tour de force directing in the opening story then Ed Bazzalgette would get the award for best director of series 9 thus far - but to be fair, we have only had three.

A lot of praise has to be given to the costume department in this episode as everything just looked gorgeous. From the clothes that Maisie Williams was wearing to the look of Leandro (the big cat). They really knocked it out of the park and it makes me so excited because they keep impressing me every single week - so imagine how this show will look in Series 10, 11, 12, etc... 

This is really the first companion-lite story since probably 'Closing Time' in Series 6 unless I am forgetting something (I do not really count 'Mummy On the Orient Express') and it really worked. Of course it could have fallen flat if the guest character did not work at all. Luckily both 'Closing Time' and 'The Woman Who Lived' have great and very entertaining guest characters - even when not counting Ashildr.

The best scene of the entire episode though has to be near the end when the Doctor and Ashildr are talking in the bar. The Doctor gives this beautifully written speech that might be my favorite scene of the whole season at the moment. It even brought back my favorite Murray Gold score from 'Robot of Sherwood'.

Overall, Catherine Tregenna's debut on 'Doctor Who' is the equivalent of Jamie Mathieson's in Series 8. 'The Woman Who Lived' is a triumph of television that puts character over story to great success and it is the kind of episode that we NEED once in a while to shake things up from the usual monster of the week episodes (we will get that in the next episode). I know my ratings for Series 9 has currently been insane but this really has been a magical season thus far. Going from an excellent blockbuster story to an excellent base under siege story and now an excellent character study. The variety and the balls we have seen really elevates this above everything else I have seen on television this year. Series 9's hot streak has yet to be broken...


- Lucas

1 comment: Leave Your Comments

  1. I don't agree with you on this one. While doubtlessly the character parts were as magical, and poignant, and bitter, and arresting as you say, I was frustrated by the half-baked monster plot randomly thrown in. Well, no, I take that back. Not randomly. Because in the Revival era, or really since the Nathan-Turner era, there is this ridiculous obligation to put some kind of threat in each episode. Only Listen, which is probably my favourite Doctor Who episode, has dodged this thus far. But Tregenna clearly obliged. The threat was so poor, and honestly it sat badly with how excellent the rest was. Literally, everything, the production, directing, acting, et al seemed to lose something in those scenes. Well... Scratch that. While Moffat reportedly had to persuade her to write Doctor Who because of its tendency for those kind of sci-fi plotlines, I don't think that's really the reason why. No, as a writer myself, I can see that the plotline, with its Unsatisfying Amulets, is a bridge to get Ashildr, or Me, if you wish, from Emotional Point A to Emotional Point B. But why? It was so unearned. The moment didn't work because the mechanics of the script were so exposed, it was so clear that plot was being contrived just to get Meshildr (as I heard another reviewer address her) to say that she cares. Maisie William is a great actor, but she barely manages to sell this. The Hartnell era didn't need things like this. It did amazing character studies without dropping contrived cod sci-fi in to further its plot. But how to solve this? Well, I'd've made the Leandro a character, not a generic monster. I'd've still had all the stuff with the amulet, except have him actually just want to get out to see the the stars. More drama, furthering the plot. It would just need a few great lines, and Tregenna's dialogue is astonishing, so that would not take too much time. Then, I'd've revealed that the energy from the portal would kill everyone, or that there was a gradually enlargening black hole. It would get Meshildr from Point a to Point B, but without this incredibly jarring inclusion of a morally black pantomime monster. So, yes, it was a great debut, and, yes, of course I loved this, but there's a frustrating good/bad duality to this not seen since The Caretaker, and I can see so clearly a better version.
    Oh, by the way, this is last in my Series 9 rankings so far, with 7.8 stars. Great review as usual, and I agree that this season/series is utterly phenomenal! Not a bad episode, although you could argue for Sleep No More...