The Woman Who Lived is almost unrecognisable as being the second part of a two-episode arc, beginning with last week’s The Girl Who Died. The only real thread tying these two totally and tonally different stories is Maisie Williams’ ‘hybrid’ character. Just because the episode is very different from last week’s episode, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less good; in fact, I actually think it’s much better than the previous episode. This is likely down to writer Catherine Tregenna, who swaps out cheesy, out of place comedy, for quality dialogue and action.
The Doctor and Ashildr (or Me, or The Nightmare- whatever she wants to be called now!) get to spend some real quality screen time together, which I feel was surprisingly neglected in The Girl Who Died. This is a very clever move on Tregenna’s behalf because Capaldi and Williams have electric on-screen chemistry together, making their scenes together a joy to watch and wholly immersive. This dialogue also included some hugely intense discussions about the flaws of immortality, with Williams in particular showing some beautiful anger.
The perfect balance between comedy and drama was found in this episode, with a couple of truly funny moments (Doctor and Williams hiding behind a sofa anyone?) tightly laced with the serious drama that we’ve all come to expect from a quality episode of Doctor Who.
I think flashbacks were used to perfection to exemplify just how long and painful immortality has been for Williams’ character. A particularly haunting scene showed how she had lost all of her children to the Black Death, which brought chills down my spine.
The episode ended with The Doctor and a returning Clara in the TARDIS, with Clara saying “don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere”. This was actually the most gut-wrenching moment in the episode for me, because we all know that Jenna Coleman is leaving, and this just made me realise that she actually will go, and might not go in the most ‘peaceful’ way.
Overall, The Woman Who Died is not perfect- there is some very questionable camerawork at times- but is a very strong leap in the right direction, after last week’s slight misstep with The Girl Who Died. Tregenna’s decision to make this episode with a darker tone than its predecessor really paid off and the episode is much stronger because of it.