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Monday, 19 October 2015

Doctor Who S35E5: The Girl Who Died.

Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 5
The Girl Who Died.

It's two hours until my usual deadline for these posts, and I am staring at a computer screen wondering what on earth I'm meant to say about this episode. Have you ever encountered something that was just such an aggressive mass of nothing that you have nothing worthwhile to say about it? Because that's this Doctor Who episode. In a way, it almost doesn't feel like an episode of Doctor Who at all - its blandness gives it an oddly liminal quality where it's halfway between Doctor Who and CBBC's entire programming schedule.

Arriving in Viking times, the Doctor and Clara are quickly abducted and taken to a nearby village. The Doctor's gambit to pretend to be the physical manifestation of Odin is scuppered when Odin actually appears, taking away all of the village's warriors. With it swiftly becoming obvious that this 'Odin' is not the god himself, but the leader of a brutal warrior race with its sights set on the village, the Doctor, Clara, and young Viking woman Ashildr must work together to prepare the village for an attack.

So, you know how I said this was like CBBC's entire programming schedule? That wasn't a joke. As a family program, Doctor Who is essentially children's television anyway, and that's fine, but this episode skews a whole lot younger than the show usually does. The sets, costumes, and acting all have this air of unreality to them that I'd usually associate with Raven or Leonardo, and it's actually weirdly distracting. 

Pictured: A brilliant actor who is acting really, really badly for some reason.

It only becomes more so when you add in the fact that this week's villain is actually more comical than anything: The big blocky robots are pretty much standard of Doctor Who, but the tinfoil and cotton Odin costume that the big bad of the episode is wearing is distractingly bad and only serves to underline the hammy acting.

This whole episode didn't feel like Doctor Who. If anything, it felt like The Sarah Jane Adventures if you were to filter it through a 90s CBBC miniseries a few times over. Which is odd: Doctor Who is pitched squarely at an all-ages audience and thus meant to be enjoyable to young children (something that it feels like Moffat often forgets), but it doesn't often feel like it has to condescend to them. This episode was condescending, deeply so, and that grated.

The main draws that the episode was marketed on didn't pan out either. Maisie Williams gives a pretty lacklustre performance as Ashildr, playing what amounts to early-Game of Thrones Arya if you forcibly stripped her of any nuance, and Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman aren't much better. They're doing their usual schtick, but they both seem exhausted, as if all of the scenes for this episode were recorded at the ends of very long days and they both just wanted to go home.

I mean, maybe Fake Odin is meant to look a little silly, since he's quite a comedic character,
but it just doesn't work.

(Possibly the problem is that this is a 'historical' episode, by which I mean that it's set in the relatively far past, and Doctor Who has never been good at those. Pre-hiatus Who wasn't, Davies-era Who wasn't, and Moffat-era Who certainly isn't.)

If the plotting had been good, I might not have noticed these things, but the plot wasn't especially great, either. The idea of training a Viking village to fight aliens is a good one, but the execution is hackneyed, cliche, and not half as clever as the writer clearly thought that it was. The episode tries to end on a tragic and thoughtful note by having Ashildr become functionally immortal, but since the mechanism for that came entirely out of the left field, it just feels like - well, what it is: A very obvious and very unsubtle hook for the next episode.

There were some good moments. Much as I hate Moffat's introduction of 'the Doctor can speak baby' plot device, which is kind of ludicrous and more than a little bit creepy on Moffat's part, Capaldi's acting made its use in this episode kind of sort of work maybe sort of. It wasn't brilliant, but it wasn't jarringly awful, either, which is frankly the best thing I can say about any use of that plot device.

This could have been a tense confrontation. It was not.

Apart from that, I - guess the final few scenes were okay? They were there. Things happened in them. I'll be straight with you, guys, when I say 'there were some good moments', what I really mean in this context is 'there were moments which weren't bad', and that's both not quite the same thing and a fairly damning indictment all on its own.

Overall, an extremely bland and yet actually quite strange episode. Much like last week's episode, I can't really give this one a recommendation, and next week's doesn't look like it'll be anything to write home about either - it's another historical episode, again with Maisie Williams (maybe she'll actually bring her A-game to this one), and in general just looks kind of tired. I'm not looking forward to that one.

This series got off to such a good start, as well.

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