Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Preview Review: Series 9 Episode 5 The Girl Who Died [Spoiler-Light]

Note: While this review doesn't include any of the major details, it is quite detailed in places so please read at your discretion. Apologies for this being later than planned.....again.

The Girl Who Died brings together writers Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson (both of whom contributed to all the successful stories previous series) and, if that wasn't exciting enough, popular Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams is also included! Oh, and Vikings, a popular historical topic yet something that Doctor Who has somehow barely touched upon. For many, this is the episode you've all been waiting for.

But despite these facts, the episode has a rather bumpy ride. The inclusion of this series' arc feels about as subtle as The Doctor's boot stomping that little pesky creature in the opening scene (which the nitpick inside me has to point out that it must have invisible/TARDIS-floor-coloured blood....). The sort-of return to the single-episode story format has confused some people, most likely due to the very strong linking of Maisie's character. This might have even worked out better split across the series (perhaps episodes 3 and 9 instead) to further emphasize the it is not the same story.

The confusion may be further raised since this story answers the two big questions posed in the run-up to the series. Why is the Doctor's face the same as 'that guy' in Fires of Pompeii? Who is Maisie Williams playing? Neither reveal is all that surprising and several people have previously guessed both of them correctly, which is not all that surprising given the publicity has been pretty open about it. Nonetheless, they still manage to perfectly entertain the viewer, although one is slightly drawn out. It feels like these are much more aimed at the more casual viewer than the first two episodes of the series. (Funnily enough, despite all the publicity, the episode titles and the sheer obviousness, we're not allowed to comment on what happens to her character or her nature. Make of that what you will.)

So aside from a couple of things the episode simply overlooks, this leaves very little to speculate about when it comes to the pretty flat cliffhanger for the following episode, along with the rather dull To Be Continued tagline (so wait, officially this is a two-parter? Moffat wasn't kidding about it being unclear). However, that doesn't mean it doesn't leave you excited for the next episode.

Viewers cannot help but be strongly reminded of Robot of Sherwood when going into this episode, be it from the tone, the melodrama, the setting, the references, or the rough story placement, it almost feels like the show is still using the same formula, even if it isn't the same episode. The Vikings also feel very stereotypical, constantly portraying a sense of aggression and bravery to the point of stupidity and it can get on your nerves after a while, especially when they're not that stupid! However this is greatly redeemed by the writers using this as a plot point as well as the subtle hints that peer pressure has a role in the attitude.

The Vikings are also not the most historically accurate creations Doctor Who has come up with, but this neither ruins the story nor is surprising as Moffat has gone on the record in the past stating that he hates historical episodes because of the research.

After the previous dark episodes, it's also good to have a script that has a witty funny start, with Capaldi's obvious fun at playing the character infecting the viewer, even if this remains somewhat spotty with a depressing moment here and there. For example, The Doctor speaking baby has always been used as a humour device, but here, we actually see it used dramatically and it works very well. Although it's a much smoother transition this year as compared with Robot of Sherwood.

As usual, the Capaldi/Coleman duo is on fine form again, with Capaldi clearly heading directly towards a straight up comedic side of the Doctor from being dark. However, one of my main complaints about this episode is Clara's role is almost entirely pointless at best and at worst, causes the threat at the beginning. I'd have expected the secondary protagonist would at least do something positive (making me happy I wasn't arguing the case against "Clara is the worst companion", and in particular her intelligence, after this episode aired!). In addition to this, Clara's ever-growing lack of empathy (despite what she likes to say) is bringing her character into places unusual and somewhat unwanted for a companion.

Guest star Maisie Williams seems to almost entirely replace her role in the episode, in more ways than one, and does so fantastically. But then, as a head-strong tomboy character in a non-technological age surrounded by bearded fighters, it's not all that different from her Game of Thrones role.

David Schofield also guest stars as Odin, but there's not much to say from the miniscule screentime although the melodramatic acting makes me wonder if the director forgot to tell him that he's not on stage at the time. His underlings, the Mire, are a 'roboty' race, with practically nothing unique about them. They just fit the role as a token character and so feel rather unimportant.

Murray Gold's new contributions are much more prominent in this episode, after being a little hit and miss of late.

The Girl Who Died's biggest problem is the buildup and, even more so, the fans' anticipation (primarily caused by Maisie Williams' appearance). It's a good episode, but not great and I see a lot of fans will be disappointed (because that never happens!). 7/10.

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