Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died (Episode Review)

Truth be told, this one was going to be held off until next week, much like last time. However, seeing how the two stories will be tangentially connected, it seems best to really judge them one at a time.

The story here is set during the time of the vikings, with the Doctor and Clara having been captured. Following the Outlander way of storytelling, they're naturally under attack by aliens with a few problems. The aliens, one of the galaxy's most feared warrior races, have not only managed to kill all of their raiders but are challenging them to battle in one day. Now it''s up to the Doctor to try and find a way to turn the tide, turning a massed slaughter into a victory.

In all honesty, this could have been a good episode either way. It could have been lighthearted - which it repeatedly tries to be- or ultra-serious, but for some reason it keeps trying to find ways to shove serious elements into it. Sure, Doctor Who has been known for handling the two fairly well, but the story seems to keep pulling a tonal one-eighty at the drop of a hat. As a result, it's a very mismatched story.

Now, there's one thing you're going to notice more than anything else quite quickly: The costume and warrior design, is laughable at best. Both are overacting the living hell out of each scene, to borderline Batman and Robin levels, with cringe-worthy parody elements which stick out like a sore thumb. Even if you somehow manage to first overcome the goofily bad design of the vikings and "Odin" with overacting, mismatched horns, winged helms and all, you're then hit by the storytelling. All you need to know about the aliens is that they literally drink condensed and distilled testosterone and adrenaline of squashed warriors. Once you hit that level, you've officially gone to plaid. It hardly helps that they look like a certain Wallace and Gromit villain gone hardcore, but the upright walking fridges are barely a threat.

There's an old saying known as show don't tell. Many of you are likely rolling your eyes at this, fully knowing we've done this to death and it's a bare basic element. Well, we'll stop bringing it up when the writers remember to properly take it into account. Said warrior race in this never gets to prove they're even vaguely good at their job. With a borderline laughable design, a ship which looks like a used car version of a Borg cube and handicapped by parody worthy cheesiness, they have a lot to prove. So, we're only shown their skill after they first trick a mass of feudal warriors into being teleported away and killed, and then lose to a bunch of farmers. Sure, the episode plays up that they look like a joke, but they both start and end as a joke in the audience's eyes, so there's nothing accomplished.

Things are only made worse when it's made clear someone on the writing staff wasn't taking things seriously at all. The Doctor rallying a village to repel an alien invasion? Sure, could be good and could work either way. The Doctor miserably failing, wrecking the whole village because he's trying to train a bunch of farmers to directly fight advanced aliens in power armour with swords? Stupid. Stupid, purely stupid, and inexplicably so. It's done for a cheap laugh, but it's done badly, and it's only made worse once you see where the electricity for their victory plan comes from.

So, there's a lot of bad with this episode, that's clear. Is there good though? Thankfully yes. There's actually a few clever plays on events and ideas which did get a genuine chuckle and play up the drama remarkably well. Foremost among these is the actual introduction of the aliens. Oh, so much the aliens themselves but Clara's moment with them. Having only a scrap of broken tech on hand and an old spacesuit, she start spin-doctoring - no pun intended - and trying to bluff her way to victory. Talking her way through the early stages, she almost manages to end the alien invasion there and then... right as Arya Stark barges in. Insulted and infuriated over the death of so many, she begins bellowing threads, declarations of war and everything she can, inciting the whole thing all over again.

The moment flows naturally, the scene plays out well and it gives Clara a good moment to shine, something she hasn't really had enough of lately. It's humourous in its own dark way, and as it avoids being utterly overt there's some genuine amusement as her carefully stacked pile of lies comes crashing down. The episode has these small moments like this, from the jokey ones to the serious bits - such as Arya meeting with her father again or reflecting upon the Doctor's face - and they are genuinely great. The problem is you're having to pick out these moments from a story which really is unworthy of them.

Speaking of people saddled with a story unworthy of them, we have the actors. Barring Odin and the viking warriors, there's no one here who is truly bad. One or two underplayed perhaps, but they're doing the best they can to pull off the material they're given, especially the traditional TARDIS crew. You already know that Lord Peter of Capaldi can be relied upon to give his all, and Jenna Coleman remains a solid choice when she's given something prominent to do, so let's talk about Maisie Williams. Referring to her character as Arya Stark wasn't meant as any detrimental jab against the actress, it was one against the script. She's effectively just playing a somewhat tamer version of her first season Game of Thrones role, and the story offers little beyond that. For all her skill, there's no dimension or variation here, and the second it offers her anything truly interesting, it's reserved for the next episode.

Yeah, this really wasn't good. If you're going to watch it, you might want to wait until someone uploads the best scenes onto Youtube and just watch your way through those. As a whole, unless the following episode is integral to the events here and proves to be outstanding, you'd do best to just pass this one up in favour of something better.

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