Maisie Williams returns for her second and final Doctor Who episode in Season 9 – suffering the curse of immorality, continuing 800 years after the events of “The Girl Who Died”. Though the episode suffers from jarring shifts between deadly serious and swashbuckling comedy “The Woman Who Lived” is the best episode in this ninth season of Doctor Who.
The Doctor arrives in 1651 searching for an alien artefact that has found itself in the possession of a noble English woman. Ashildr (Williams) has now renamed herself Lady Me, having few memories of her previous life and currently operates as the notorious highwayman Knightmare. The pair work together to find the artefact, but Me is actually in cohorts with a lion like alien.
“The Woman Who Lived” is at its best when it focuses on The Doctor and Me, their relationship and how Me perceive The Doctor abandoned her. Williams’ character has turned from Ashildr, the young girl with a big imagination to Me who has suffered pain and loss over the centuries of her life. Me has lived to be a Medieval Queen, fought at the Battle of Agincourt and seen the horrors of The Black Death. Due to her experience Me has turned into a harden, bitter character with a more carless attitude towards life. Though Me is a smart woman with the ability to adapt, she is human, making her flawed and her memory limited. She only remembers what is vital for her existence.
Williams’ is given more weighty material then in her previous episode and her performance was better for it. She was fine in “The Girl Who Died” but she did not have much to work with. In “The Woman Who Lived” we see a more of a range as she debates with The Doctor about how everyone she has ever love has disappeared and that is why she became emotionally distant. But it is not all misery and despair from Williams, she does have fun with Peter Capaldi as they bicker during their robbery, being the most funny moment of the episode.
“The Woman Who Lived” is the first Doctor Who episode written by Catherine Tregenna, although she has written episodes of Touchwood so has experience with the Doctor Who universe. Her teleplay works best during the character driven moments debating about the people they have lost over the years, Me seeing them IN puffs of smoke who blows and questions how many people The Doctor has lost, how many Clara’s he has had as companions. Elements of the story have shades of the original screenplay of Highlander that gives “The Woman Who Lived” its darkest moments. When the episode shows Me as a queen and a soldier I could not help thinking that it is a reference to Williams’ role as Ayra Stark, being more tomboyish and a girl of action.
Although “The Woman Who Lived” works best as character drama it is also very reliant on jokes and humor. The episodes starts by The Doctor interrupting The Knightmare’s robbery and continues with the pair avoiding a man who has just woken up; also stand-up comedian Rufus Hound being allowed to say one-liners. The Doctor complains that he hates banter when with Hound’s Sam Swift – yet he was just having a banter session with Me in the scene beforehand. The humor was more consistent in the preceding episode.
Despite the weakness of the comedy “The Woman Who Lived” succeeds because of its character drama and development – explaining the effects of immortality on an individual and the relationship between The Doctor and Me. It also gives us a hint of a post-Clara Doctor Who, who only appears at the end of the episode. Hopefully we will see more from Maisie Williams as Ashildr /Me.