Back in 2011, Matthew Graham or Ashley Pharaoh (co-creators/writers of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes) was kind enough to give me some advice on writing a TV review. In a nutshell, it was ‘judge the work on its aims and ambitions rather than on what you want it to achieve’. This seems an excellent time to hold myself to this higher standard…
We’ll start with the superficial – the opening scenes of The Woman Who Lived are beautiful. The road is a ribbon of moonlight, even if the moon is not quite the galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. And I liked the dummy we’re sold with the little red lights in the darkness. Generally speaking the episode looks fabulous. (The Doctor on horseback sequence the major exception here – the trouble with making everything else look so good is that when something clunks visually, it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.)
Which leads us to the meat of the story – how does one live an immortal life? The Woman Who Lived certainly lives up to its aims in exploring what it means to live when everyone else dies. My problem is that it seems to ignore the fact that the Doctor acknowledged this at the end of the last episode, not to mention the blink and you’ll miss it reference to our favourite DW immortal, Captain Jack. If you’ve accidentally made someone immortal, surely one of the first things you do is say “I knew this other immortal chap, he’s doing just fine”? (I loved the “He’ll get round to you,” line, though. God, I miss Jack Harkness…) Also, I haven’t come away feeling I’ve learned anything new, despite all the discussion. That last lingering look as the Doctor clearly contemplates Clara’s inevitable ‘turning to smoke’ feels like nothing more than manipulation. We know that he already knows this. He’s told us plenty of times and we’ve lived through his loss as many times as he has. But, here I am judging on what I want the show to achieve, not on its own ambitions… Am I being too harsh? I’m sure you’ll let me know.
Finally, the story moving everything along too often felt contrived. I have yet to master the White Queen’s ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast, but I’ll believe a man can travel through time in a spaceship that looks like a police box. And that someone thought sonic sunglasses were a good idea (they’ll go the same way as Google Glass, right?) I’ll believe in the Judoon, and the Sontarans and lion-headed, fire-breathing aliens, but even in sci-fi not anything goes… I could have let the climbing up through the chimney go if it hadn’t been immediately followed by Sam Swift ambushing the Doctor and Me. Equally, Sam’s arrest didn’t feel even the teensiest bit inevitable – and the gallows stand-up felt horribly awkward – more filler to get us to a place where Me discovers she does have a heart.
Catherine Tregenna does hit the bullseye for sinister and foreboding with that last conversation in the inn, though. If you could get clearance for it, you’d be playing Every Breath You Take over that scene. By the time we zoom in on the selfie, you can feel the tsunami starting to suck the ocean away from the shore.
Anyway, having run the Monastic Productions’ rule over the episode, I can only conclude that ‘it’s not Who, it’s me’. Here’s hoping the return of Osgood (hip-hip-hoorah!) next week will be the equivalent of some effective relationship counselling. (Also, so far, I’ve been enjoying the odd-numbered episodes better than the even, so there’s that in its favour too.)
Jo the Hat