Once again, real life has gotten in the way of my television watching, but here is my review of last week’s Doctor Who, only a handful of hours before the next one is due to air. One of these times, I’ll get a timely review out (I keep telling myself).
Important Note: Before you continue reading, if you haven’t seen the first part, please don’t read any further. Due to the nature of this episode, I cannot avoid an aspect of the first episode that would be a MAJOR spoiler. You have been warned.
Since the beginning of Doctor Who, the audience’s way into the show has been the companion. In the earliest seasons, the Doctor was this enigma that you were never supposed to understand, and the show’s real “stars” were supposed to be the companions. Then, as the Doctor got younger, funnier, and scarf-ier, the balance of power began to change. Today, coming off the heels of two young and energetic Doctors, we’re accustomed to the Doctor being the real star and the companions being, all too often, either a love interest or the reason episodes take longer than 20 minutes.
In “The Woman Who Lived,” however, we see the other purpose that companions can serve. Because the Doctor is an alien (albeit a very human one), sometimes it’s only through a human that we can truly understand him. Through Ashildr, who from here on out I’ll be referring to as the Lady Me (as she does in the episode) because of autocorrect’s utter hatred of her real name, we get to see a part of the Doctor that we’ve never really brushed up against quite like this.
We’ve always known that the Doctor is extraordinarily long-lived, his age having fairly recently gained a fourth digit, but we’d only barely touched upon what that means for him. During his time with Rose, we saw his reticence to get into a relationship with her, because she would grow old and he wouldn’t, but that’s about it. In this episode, through the Lady Me’s own newfound immortality, we get to see the personal and psychological toll it takes to live so long around people whose lives are so comparatively short.
In the Doctor and the Lady Me, we see two different ways of handling this complex psychological issue. For the Lady Me, life seems so short and so pointless for most people that it seems to have no real worth. Killing a person, after so many years of life, seems almost as easy as swatting a gnat. The Doctor, on the other hand, treats the brief lives of the humans he surrounds himself with as guideposts. Because our lives are short, they mean a lot to us. It’s how he reminds himself, during his travels, that life is precious. In a way, it’s the reason he doesn’t kill.
In the end, the Lady Me begins to come around to the Doctor’s way of thinking (because, after all, this show is supposed to be good for kids, too), but it’s through her that we see the other dark secret of the Doctor’s longevity. Because he has lived so long, life is nothing more than a series of isolated events for him. He swans in, solves the immediate problem, and then wanders away, leaving the aftermath to someone else. Now, it seems, we know who that “someone else” is.
This seems particularly important as the next two-parter is focused on the aftermath of a very risky decision he made during the 50th anniversary special. For once, it seems, the Doctor is being forced to confront the consequences of his decision. As for what that entails, we just need to wait a few more hours.