I’m the Doctor, and I save people. And if there’s anybody listening who has any kind of problem with that, then to hell with you!
Every so often, the question of who the next showrunner will be comes up. Mark Gatiss, Chris Chibnall and Toby Whithouse tend to be logical choices; Neil Cross looked like a possibility at one stage, and Peter Harness seems like he might be putting himself into the running now.
Another name that tends to come up is Jamie Mathieson – which is understandable really. His two episodes last year, Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline were amongst the best of series 8, and I think it’s fair to say that his first two episodes comprised the strongest debut of any new writer across the whole of the Moffat era, and perhaps the RTD era as well.
And, typically, I’m not so inclined to agree with that crowd – Jamie Mathieson is great, but he’s not got any showrunning experience, so he seems an unrealistic choice – but after this episode, to hell with what’s realistic. I think Jamie Mathieson would be a fantastic choice to replace Steven Moffat, when the time comes, because he really clearly gets it.
The Girl Who Died is a very funny episode – which is what you’d expect, really, given that Jamie Mathieson used to be a stand up comedian, and Steven Moffat used to be a sitcom writer. So, two writers with a background in comedy, and you get one of the funniest episodes we’ve had across the entirety of Peter Capaldi’s tenure. Lots of things to appreciate here; the introduction of our alien Odin works very well, especially just after the Doctor’s dismal attempt at convincing the Vikings he’s Odin. I was also rather fond of the cut from “you’re ready to use swords” to the village in total disaster. That was quite effective as well. Honestly, very funny episode.
Oh, and the Benny Hill theme! That was rather wonderful as well.
The cast all did very well here too. Peter Capaldi is excellent. I don’t single him out enough, do I? It feels unfair, honestly. But it’s difficult to properly analyse his performance, particularly in a review like this. One day I might have to do a video review, picking out and commenting on every facial expression he pulls; for now, though, I’ll have to just refer to them more generally. Essentially every line he delivered was pitch perfect; the Odin jokes, translating for the baby, and his weariness after Ashildr’s death. Extremely well portrayed; once again, you’re reminded of how skillful Capaldi is, and how lucky we are that he’s the Doctor.
Jenna Coleman finally got something substantial to do this week, which was nice. You could really see Clara’s development into a quasi-Doctor figure (was it just me, or was Jenna Coleman imitating Matt Smith’s body language during her confrontation with Odin?) and Jenna Coleman did a great job of portraying that. Very strong episode for Clara, there, both in terms of the writing and Jenna Coleman’s acting. Which is nice!
And, of course, Maisie Williams. There is something a little odd about watching her acting, because she’s very close to my own age. I feel like it contravenes some natural order that she is out being a successful actress at this age. Probably she should just have a blog or something. (Or maybe I should be a successful actress!)
But, yes, aside from my own slightly ridiculous hangups, Maisie Williams is really, really good. I understand the hype now – I’ve never actually seen her in anything before (at least not acting – I’ve seen her vines, and she has a great sense of humour) but I am inclined to search her other work, like Cyberbully and whatnot. She gave an excellent performance. Clearly, she’s a skilled actress. I’m looking forward to her return next week quite a lot!
My favourite part of the episode, though, aside from the jokes and the acting and the direction and the clever plot resolution, was the way it handled the Doctor, and his approach to the “rules”, as it were.
It was really, really well handled; the Doctor’s rejection of the rule that he can’t save Ashildr is fantastic, and Jamie Mathieson did a great job of writing the Doctor weary, tired of the death. In many ways, it felt like a rejection of the problems of Before the Flood, too – the Doctor isn’t just accepting a death because of “the rules”, he’s driven to actually do something about it. Because he’s the Doctor. And he saves people.
That is a rather wonderful vision of the character, and I’m glad it’s something that we saw front and centre this week.
(Also, on the topic of David Tennant and Pompeii: On the one hand, I’m inclined to question the conventional wisdom of using flashbacks to a seven-year-old episode in conjunction with a plot point that no one really cared about… but on the other hand, it must be said that they did use it rather effectively, and we probably saw the best possible use of it that there could have been. So, you know, I’m happy enough to forgive it, but it does make me wonder about the how close we’re skirting to the ‘too much continuity’ line.)
[And! I guessed the hybrid line, before Capaldi finished it. I wonder where that might be doing? The concept of the hybrid is clearly the series arc, though to what it’s building up to it’s hard to say. Something to do with the War Lords? The Doctor, half human? Perhaps Maisie Williams will return in the finale as the season big bad? Probably not that last one.]
So, yes. I’m extremely pleased with this episode. Honestly, it may well be the best of series 9 so far; funny jokes, a clever plot, excellent performances, compelling writing, and a fantastic depiction of the Doctor and Clara. And on top of that, it more or less manages to tell a full story in and of itself! Certainly, this is my favourite of Jamie Mathieson’s three episodes.