This story is about a girl who dies but then doesn’t. And it involves Vikings, two ersatz Odins, big teeth, oh my!
We start off in space with Clara enjoying the sights as something rummages about in her space suit. The Doctor is in the TARDIS, fielding off her phone call while trying to avoid being zapped by a load of angry aliens in zappy shooty spaceships. As starts to the day go, this barely rates as a problem. Yawns: this space battle has them.
The Doctor does a thing and materialises the TARDIS around Clara and they quickly skedaddle back into the time vortex. When they emerge from the vortex, they find themselves on Earth with a bunch of Motörhead supporters about to throw them into the mosh pit. Hold on, no, I make a mistake. These are Vikings! Totally different type of people. Although they do play a mean version of Ace of Spades.
You might notice that these Vikings are wearing bovine space helmets…ahem…helmets with cow horns attached. Contrary to what we may see in Hagar the Horrible, horned helmets were not worn by Vikings. This is a myth. But because we all tend to accept the fact that they have the horns, that is why they have them here.
I love the Doctor’s attitude to the Vikings. You almost feel like he encounters them so often that he has become bored. Not Vikings again! Vikings are the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the Whoniverse apparently.
As unimpressed with the Vikings as the Doctor is, they are equally as unimpressed with his threats of a good old sonicking from his sunglasses. SNAP! This is why you should never tell Vikings what you are about to do. They have a very clear way of reacting. Silly Doctor, he never learns. Doesn’t he recall what the Krotons did when he told them about his sonic undercrackers, they went snap too…
The Doctor and Clara are bundled back to the village of the Vikings. Hah, that sounds so much more melodramatic than I attended. Let me rephrase that; the Doctor and Clara are escorted back to the Viking’s village. In handcuffs. Not the fluffy pink kind but the type which are more accurately called manacles.
One of the heartwarming things about this scene is the sheer welcome of the villagers that their brave warriors have returned safe and sound. When we think of Vikings, we always see them as blood-drenched antisocial nutters with easy access to axes. The real truth is that they were not just warriors but also farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters and owners of cat cafés (these are Viking cats though, they don’t want cheeseburgers, they want blood and axes and skulls and, alright, yes, cheeseburgers as well). It feels gratifying that the Vikings should be seen in this way. They are people too and this brings it all home (pun intended) to us. Vikings weren’t as barbaric as we may think.
The Doctor tries to trick the Vikings into thinking he is Odin but quite wisely they are not fooled. Loki maybe but Odin? Nuh-uh, no way. Even his ability to use a yo-yo doesn’t convince them that he is Odin. Maybe if he had a skateboard? Anyhow, when Odin himself appears in the sky, his ploys are even more thwarted.
Nice bit of referencing to the classic scene where Leela believes that the Fourth Doctor’s yo-yo was magic. Loved that.
Now this Odin is much more impressive than a skinny old Time Lord with a yo-yo. This is the full godly treatment. And yes, nice touch with the Monty Python reference here, production team. I heard that Brian Blessed was meant to play Odin but had to pull at at the last moment, could you have imagined that? I really like the wings on Odin’s helmet, reminded me of Asterix the Gaul.
Odin, instead of splatting the Vikings with a giant foot, wants to invite the Vikings back to Valhalla for a spot of tea and a crumpet or two. He sends down a bunch of over-armoured soldiers to fight with them and pick up the best warriors (or anyone with a sword). The Vikings think they will go to Valhalla but we all know that this won’t be the case. No tea, no crumpets, no Valhalla.
Also taken are Clara and a girl called Ashildr. She was given half of the Doctor’s sunglasses and Clara gets her to unshackle her with it. Not good news. The aliens see the evidence of technology and teleport them up with them and the badly beaten warriors.
When I first saw the aliens in their armour, I thought they were going to be Judoon. Suffice to say, I was wrong. Really wrong.
Do you remember that film series Cube? This is the Doctor Who version. Still no tea or crumpets but plenty of deathtraps and kittens with lasers! Peow! Meow! Peow! Meow! Peow!
The Vikings are harvested and turned into a testosterone smoothie for Odin to chug down. You can tell that this ‘Odin’ is not a real Viking because he manages to drink it all without spilling most of it on the wall behind him. Odin could have got the same effect by drinking Red Bull…
Clara and Ashildr are safe on account of them not being big huge hairy warriors. Clara does her whole confront the alien act and it pays off handsomely. Odin reveals himself to be one of the Mire.
The Mire are violent and merciless. Just like the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Krotons, the Weeping Angels, the Wirrn, the Sontarans, the Drahvins, the Carrionites, the Macra or any other of the similarly violent and merciless aliens that we have seen over the past fifty-plus years of the show. The Mire are different because they pride themselves on their reputation which, yes, maybe some of the others do too but not in the same way as the Mire. Sontar-Ha!
Clara manages to convince Odinesque to return them to the village and to leave in peace now that they have their liquidised Viking drinks but Ashildr, angered by the aforementioned liquidising and chugging, decides to threaten them with the wrath of the village. This amuses Odinesque who gives them twenty-four hours to prepare for a battle. Total omnishambles.
Returned to the village, Clara tells the Doctor what happened. His reaction? Run for the hills! But these are Vikings, they all refuse to leave. Dying in battle means honour and pride and stupidity and they want this because how else would a Viking expect to die?
The Doctor tries to leave but an oddly poetic baby and an unpoetic Clara convince him otherwise. It is good to see the Doctor can still speak baby. He can also speak cat which doesn’t help his resolve when they all leave the cat café and call him a twit before escaping.
The Doctor reluctantly tries to prepare the townspeople to fight. He makes them all jog upstairs to the Eye of the Tiger song, he makes them punch animal carcasses in the freezer section of the nearest warehouse, he makes them all take fighting lessons from…meh, you get the picture. They do a lot of training which ends up with half the village getting burnt down. These butchers, bakers, candlestick makers have no fighting ability. The Doctor needs a new plan. A new plan which will allow a bunch of weedy Vikings to thrash a group of super-armoured aliens with lasers.
There are a few nice moments such as the one I am about to mention but also one where the Doctor and Ashildr are together and talking. She likes making huge puppets and telling stories. It is an understated scene and the young Maisie Williams is almost as powerful as Peter Capaldi in the way that she performs. Wow!
The annoying baby starts screaming out poetry again. This leads the Doctor to a water barrel where the baby likes to watch the pretty sparky electric eels and…
Huh? Electric eels? What? The electric eels, um, where exactly did the Vikings get them? As far as I am aware, you only find them going splishy-splashy in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins in South America. But, hey, who knows. It is a fact that the Vikings got to North America, so it is not entirely implausible that they sailed down the coast and found themselves some electric eels. Still, it is a bit of a reach but if you can accept aliens who pretend to be Norse gods, you can accept anything. So stop looking for plotholes, Whovians!
After seeing these geographically misplaced electric eels and along with the puppets and a certain girl’s story-telling abilities, the Doctor concocts a cunning plan…
The Mire arrive with Odinesque leading them, still in his guise as their god. Does he think they might be cowed by this? Not so. The Doctor distracts them with his unique blend of Scottish bluster and fast-talking while the villagers hook metal wires to the helmets of the Mire. The wires are then shoved straight into the water barrels where the electric eels are residing.
This somehow electrocutes the Mire. I know that electric eels can pack quite a wallop but enough to hurt armoured aliens? Uh, alright… I like how gruesome the Mire look without their helmets though, very much like pinheaded piranhas.
The Doctor pilfers one of the helmets and places it upon Ashildr’s head. Her skills with stories making puppets makes her ideal for this next bit of Mire-thrashing. Using her puppets, the helmet (which has been jiggery-poked by the Doctor) forces the image of a huge dragon into the minds of the Mire (kudos to their dentists by the way). The Mire all teleport away except for the leader who is still disguised as Odin.
While all this has been happening, Clara has been recording the events on her phone. Not for You’ve Been Framed and £250 but for the purposes of blackmail. If the Mire don’t leave peacefully, the Doctor will upload the footage to the Galactic Hub (a space version of YouTube?) and embarrass the hell out of the Mire who rely on their reputation. Odinesque does the usual threats but the idea of a video clip showing his men running away from nothing, well, what else can he do?
With the Mire fleeing, it may all seem that everything has worked out well (besides the warriors getting juiced) but there is one more thing. Ashildr died through the stress of all that power. Her heart just stopped.
The Doctor is angry and hurt by this. All those years of people dying are taking their toll on him and Ashildr’s death brings all those memories back to him. He wishes that he could save everyone.
Way back in Capaldi’s first story, Deep Breath, he wondered why he had the face that he did. His face was familiar to him. Now he finally finds out. He remembers Caecilius from The Fires of Pompeii and the fact that he had saved him and his family despite the fact that he would be breaking the laws of time in doing so (and also despite the fact that the majority of the people in Pompeii survived the volcano in any case). The Doctor had chosen this face to remind him that he could always save people.
With this reminder firing him up, he dashes to the barn where Ashildr has been laid out and wept over. Taking a macro-microchip from one of the helmets, he places it upon her forehead where it sort of sinks in like a bit of sponge into custard. The girl who died lives. His last act is to leave her with a second chip…
Walking away from the village, the Doctor is not as pleased by this reversal. He tells Clara that in saving her life, he may have also made her immortal. If you recall the Doctor’s attitude to immortality in The Lazarus Experiment, then you won’t be surprised by what he says here. Immortality, to him, means watching everybody else die. And this is true. Immortality is more of a curse than a gift. He also says that she is a hybrid, which if you recall Davros’ words from the opening adventure, should send a shiver down your spine.
The last moment of this story shows Ashildr, innocent and smiling, with the stars and days and nights spinning around over her head, with the camera revolving around her to show the span of years passing her by. When the camera returns to her face, she is not smiling anymore. She is not so innocent or happy anymore…
As the story ended, I could not help but think that the outcome was something that I had seen already in Doctor Who. Pretty much the same thing happens in The Road to Hell, a comic strip published by Doctor Who Magazine in 1999. In it, the Eighth Doctor and Izzy visit 17th century Japan. At the end, a character called Sato Katsura is saved from death by the Doctor via, in this case, nano-bot things. Sato becomes immortal and embittered (as Ashildr seems to be judging by the look she gives to camera at the end). In later stories, Sato changes history with a little help from the Master. Now, if the 2015 series ends with Ashildr doing the same, well, I am just saying. It wouldn’t be the first time that the series borrows details from the spin-off Doctor Who.
A lot of people were disappointed that Ashildr didn’t turn out to be the Doctor’s granddaughter or the Master’s child or the Rani or whatever. It seems that a lot of fans were wrong-footed over the role that she played. Just a normal girl with a big future ahead of here. A lot of fans were also angry about her just being a Viking girl with no secret origins, silly Whovians.
Peter Capaldi is great in this story (isn’t he always?). You almost feel as if his character has mellowed out here. His scenes of anguish and sadness, loved that. And the way he solemnly recited what the baby was saying, that was powerful stuff.
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald. She doesn’t have much to do here. This is really the story of the village than of her or the Doctor. But she is very good in all of the scenes that she is in.
But the best actor award must go to Maisie Williams as Ashildr. She really is phenomenal. She is more than capable of matching the performance of master-thesp Capaldi. Yes, she is a little gawky still but wasn’t at that age. I can’t wait to see more from Maisie in the future. She clearly has the ability to be a formidable actress.
This is really a single episode and not a two-parter despite the fact it is ‘To be continues…’, so for the purposes of this unreview I am treating is as such.
Thank you for reading and I hope that you enjoy the episode as much as I did.