|"That's the worst Halloween costume I've ever seen, Doctor."|
"Keep walking, Hamburglar."
The highlight of the episode, the emotional core, and the obvious bit to praise is Maisie Williams again. Ashildr wasn't all that much, really. Maisie Williams did good with her, but she was a creative Viking girl who died saving the day and then came back. Her creativity is what I loved about the last episode, yes, but she wasn't quite the highlight of the emotional core. Now Ashildr is long gone, and Maisie Williams is playing the Lady Me, an 800 year old who sees human life as a fleeting puff of smoke and seeks out danger and adventure for something to do. Sound familiar? Yes, it's time once again for me to play third-rate Jane Campbell and gargle out some words about mirrors! Lady Me is another dark mirror of the Doctor. If Clara is a dark mirror because she's taken on the Doctorish qualities of puzzling out problems and talking down alien threats, then what Lady Me mirrors is the Timelordish qualities of him; specifically the fact that he's much older than any human. It's a unique prospect, having the Doctor able to relate with someone on the subject of living for a hell of a long time. Sure, there was Captain Jack, but the Doctor looked at him as more of an aberration 'cause of the whole Bad Wolf thing that made him. As for other Time Lords... well, there's Missy, but the relation between those two is its whole other gonzo thing that's got nothing to do with "gee doesn't living longer than humans suck" because Missy guns down humans with impunity. Lady Me even mirrors the name of the Doctor, in a way. She chose to call herself "Me" just because all the people who knew her old name died centuries ago and there's no meaning to it any more. There is only herself across the years, so... Me. Make no mistake, though, she is a dark mirror. Her experiences are at first very Doctorish, trying to help people and do good. Aiding with scarlet fever, trying out being a queen. Then her children die to the Black Plague, and... things change. The grief on her face in the flashback is one hell of a thing, and by the time we meet her Lady Me appears... quite detached from humanity. They're mayflies to her now, a quick burst of life that's snuffed out while she endures. Hence her want for something new, the next adventure; she wants to fly out among the stars, but 1651 is lacking in TARDISes to steal. She'll need another way off Earth, and the way she's chosen is less than good. We'll get to that.
The Doctor is quite good as well. His role in this one is equal parts comedic and dramatic, and it's interesting to see him operate without Clara. Her absence is missed, but it would have cluttered things up considerably so I understand making it a companion-lite. Better her be absent than around and doing jack shit like half the other episodes this series, eh? Hell, there's merit in the argument that the Doctor in this episode is actually the companion, and if so, consider that he spends it caring about human life in the absence of Lady Me giving a shit. He's not just a companion, he's mirroring Clara as companion. Christ almighty, he's pulled some sort of reverse mirror bullshit. One day they'll set an episode in a haunted carnival and the climax will happen in the house of mirrors. Jane Campbell and I will explode. When he's not caring, he's skulking about in his sonic sunglasses (at this point imagine me cackling hideously) or refusing to make banter. Hell, part of the climax is him crossing his own line about banter in order to buy time to save a robber's life. He cares that much about this rogueish shitheel's existence because he's human and human life is a precious thing. That and his attempts to try and save Lady Me from her own uncaring nature. He knows what it's like, and he knows that he caused this. It was his own caring for another human life that made her what she was, and this feels like him trying to make up for that by making her the best she can be; a true mirror of him, rather than a darkened one. It's lovely and uplifting and sweet, as is her declaration to look out for the people the Doctor left behind after he moves on. (New headcanon: Lady Me helping Sarah Jane get home from Aberdeen at the end of The Hand Of Fear.) It's really beautiful and I love it.
And then there are things I don't love. The villain being one of them. He is an utterly ineffectual lion man whose name I don't even recall and don't care enough to look up because he's that inconsequential. He exists in the story to give Lady Me a temptation to do bad things and to create the exciting climax. It could just as easily have been a human villain but then this is Doctor Who and we don't do shit without evil space aliens, so throw some actor in lion makeup and have him breathe fire because this is a space show god damn it. I mean, look, the Mire were joke villains as well, yes... but the Mire were actually funny jokes. A bunch of lampreys who sit around tricking strong people into getting evaporated into liquid testosterone and are scared of dodgy CGI snakes. Lion man is just... ineffective. He tries to betray Lady Me and take over the world or something. She stops him from doing so and the lion people disintegrate him. The end. He doesn't even properly kill anyone in the end! Sure, he does motivate Lady Me and make her realize that she does care about human life and whatnot, and thus spurs her on... but I just wish he was more imposing. Even the Fisher King, for all his faults, was imposing as fuck. This guy does nothing beyond move the plot beats forward.
One more thing before we're done. I've been praising Series 9 so far because it doesn't have a big arc thing that keeps popping up at the end of episodes as a big neon SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN sign. It has been very subtle about things. I'm afraid I have to take some of that back now, because The Woman Who Lived has gone too far with a certain thing. It's not even the fault of the episode specifically, it's just the breaking point. There are little things that hint at Clara suffering a nasty fate. The cliffhanger of her getting zapped in Magician's Apprentice, the Doctor motivating himself to action in his own paradox with the threat of Clara dying... and now the one-two punch of Lady Me's "How many Claras have you lost" bit followed by Clara at the end telling the Doctor that she's not going anywhere. Okay. We get it. You're going to kill Clara at the end of the series and we're going to feel really bad about it. It's going to be tragic because she had more than a few chances at graceful exits in Series 8, but she stayed on the TARDIS and it's her addiction to adventure that gets her killed. We get that. You've officially seeded it too much, show. Now you're starting to sound like a mafia visitor trying to threaten us. "Gee, that sure is a nice companion the Doctor's got there! It would be an awful shame if anything were to happen to her!" You pulled the same shit with Amy and Rory. They had their chance to leave, they decided to keep going, and they ended up becoming Angel food cake. We get it. The redemptive reading here is that they're building up a sense of dread over Clara's fate, but it doesn't quite work. If they do kill Clara (and it's looking likely), we know when it's going to happen. It'll happen about 10 minutes before the end of the finale. Unless those "Clara is already dead" rumors are true, but I think that's way too gonzo for even Moffat. Then again, this is the man who made a continuity goof into an arc clue, so... Who knows?
The Woman Who Lived was very, very good. It has one or two rough spots that I've bitched about with passion, but Maisie Williams kills it. Bring her back, she's quite good. Though not on the same level as The Girl Who Died... this is still solid. Really solid. It'll be interesting to see how I rank this at the end of the series, when Clara's fate is sorted out. Maybe they'll be awfully clever about it. Maybe they won't. Who knows? Time will tell.
Next time: The big bombastic Zygon episode we never knew we wanted.