I truly believe that the best episodes of any television show, whether it be live action or cartoon, are not ones that are flashy or have heavy action, but ones that allow characters to show who they are to one another, and do it in a meaningful way. In that respect, “The Woman Who Lived” was a testament to how good storytelling doesn’t need fluff.
As the conclusion to the most recent 2-episode arcs this season is doing, the Doctor found Ashilda (played by Maisie Williams) in the mid-1800’s, except she was very far from the young woman he “gave” immortality to. No, this was a much harder individual, one who had lived over 800 years, and was showing the signs that come from it. Bitterness, apathy, and a desensitizing nature. Now to be fair, there was a “plot” to the episode outside of the Doctor and Ashilda trying to get the better of one another or understand one another, but it was moot.
The scenes between these two were absolutely fantastic, as each got to show off a wide range of emotions and made you believe every word of it. From Ashilda now calling herself “Me” so that there wasn’t any attachment, to the Doctor trying hard to prove that the young Viking woman he saved was still in their, and more, each scene between the two was amazing. And for that reason that this episode sticks with me.
But now only that, through Ashilda we got to see what the Doctor could (and in a way has) be if the pain became too much. Instead of being someone who saves people (which he proclaimed last episode), he could be a man who simply watches them die, just as Ashilda had resigned herself to. Seeing how he reacted to what could be seen as a reflection in the mirror was great. As was his constant rebuffing her to become his companion on the Tardis, the reasoning of which was pure Doctor Who, and spoke strongly to the character we all know and love. Then, to see it all flip around, and have the Doctor rejoicing as Ashilda felt what the Doctor felt about humans was pure bliss, showing that he has felt more than we can possibly imagine.
The ending scene with Clara was also touching (and a bit scary as Ashilda showed up once again…) but it reaffirmed that time is fleeting to the Doctor, and to us as the audience. For when Clara said, “I’m not going anywhere” we know that’s not true.
There were a few down moments, the hanging scene (though important to the plot) dragged out too long in my mind. And really took away what was going on. And the “enemy” for the episode was honestly wasted despite being rather well done visually. Aside from that though, “The Woman Who Lived” was in my mind one of the best Doctor Who episodes this season. And possibly another personal best for Capaldi’s run.