“The Girl Who Died” is one of the most anticipated episodes of this series of Doctor Who, the episode where Maisie Williams, better known as Ayra Stark from Game of Thrones joins the show as a guest star.
After The Doctor saves Clara from deep space the TARDIS takes the time travellers to the Dark Ages where they are swiftly captured by Vikings and taken to their village. Even worse an alien claiming to be Odin has been taking the village’s best warriors for his once sinister purposes when one girl, Ashildr (Williams) declares war on the aliens. It is up to The Doctor to come up with a plan to train the remaining farmers and fisherman and save the village from the feared, war-like aliens, doing it without the TARDIS or his Sonic Sunglasses.
When Williams was cast in Doctor Who it was met with great fanfare and one of the biggest pieces of news during the season’s production. Williams was solid in her role as a teenage Viking with a big imagination and with certain innocence to her despite coming from a culture that is infamous for raiding and pillaging. This was an introductory episode for Williams and the follow-up should be able to expand on her character.
“The Girl Who Died” is a very light-hearted episode, having well-written jokes throughout. Both The Doctor and Clara are fun, having a great back-and-forth with each other and good jokes during the run time. The Doctor has contempt for the locals and their lack of competency considering their culture, while Clara has a good joke towards the aliens. The Doctor’s interactions with the villagers do raise a lot of smiles, such as the training sequence, with Vikings’ destroying The Doctor’s Sonic Sunglasses, his attempts to impress the villagers and seeing how the whole village react on their day of reckoning. Writers Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat and director Ed Bazalgette do keep a jovial tone throughout the episode despite the threat of annihilation, because the Medieval Era was a happy, jolly time and not a period of war, disease and despair.
The episode truly shines in its final five minutes when it flashbacks to “The Fires of Pompeii”, the previous Doctor Who Peter Capaldi appeared in before he became The Doctor. The scene reveals why The Doctor choose the face of Caecilius and results in Capaldi giving his best speech so far in the timelord. The episode does end on a touching, if bittersweet note, that sets up the second part that is going to be important for characterization in the second half of the two-parter. Going into further detail would lead to spoilers, but it was a vivid scene that had excellent direction and editing to bring out the emotional resonant it needed.
The introduction of Maisie Williams to Doctor Who is the success it needed to be and it does set up for a darker follow-up. “The Girl Who Died” was a fun romp episode that was funny but also had plenty of poignancy and drama.