The Woman Who Lived continues the tale of Ashildr, a Viking girl made immortal by The Doctor in the previous episode, The Girl Who Died. In 1651 The Doctor is in search of something and comes across a Highwayman robbing a passing coach. The object The Doctor was looking for gets away but he finds something far more interesting… Ashildr!
It’s a long way from the time of the Vikings and Ashildr has changed quite a bit. Although he has been checking in on Ashildr throughout her long life, he is surprised to see her hardened, and as The Doctor puts it, with a rusted heart. The thing is, Ashildr scarcely remembers who she is, even less where she comes from. Her long life has become repetitive and boring. She has taken to thievery purely for the entertainment.
Ashildr is quite interesting in that her psychology closely mirrors The Doctor’s. She finds such a long life difficult to keep straight, and a deep sense of wanderlust becomes her driving instinct. At one point she begs The Doctor to take her away with him on the TARDIS, to which he sternly refuses.
The Doctor does a little light reading before they set off in search of the object they were both looking for. Ashildr kept journals throughout her life, detailing her sadness from loss, and being alone. It seems that while The Doctor kept an eye on her, Ashildr held a fascination for him, the man who made her and left her without a word. She even appears to know a few details about The Doctor she couldn’t possibly know. Ashildr is mysterious to say the least, now more than ever, and the Doctor loves nothing more than a good mystery.
Ashildr knows what it’s like to be immortal and stuck without a ride more than any other companion, save one. She is similar to Captain Jack Harkness, who gets a brief mention in this episode. Now more than ever there is a great reason to bring Captain Jack back. The Doctor, Jack, and Ashildr could travel time and space as an immortal trio. Just imagine…
The pair resume their search. The Eyes of Hades is a fabulous jewel that both The Doctor, as well as Ashildr, was looking for. During the heist the duo struggles to find a happy medium. Their methods vary in the application of violence, and The Doctor tries to change her for the better. He feels the need to correct the thinking of an immortal who forgot the value in mortal lives.
It’s interesting that The Doctor resists taking Ashildr with him despite her sincere pleas. His ever present fear of loss seems to be getting the better of him lately. As much as he wants to help her, he won’t take her. Their conversation gets cut short by the arrival of a large fire-breathing cat-man whom Ashildr had been working with the entire time. He is an alien searching for The Eye of Hades, which is really a device to help them open a portal in space. Ashildr has been searching for a way to escape the slow passage of time stuck on Earth, and she’ll do anything she can to ensure that trip.
Ashildr is a good example of the wreckage The Doctor leaves in his wake. Even when trying to do good or to right a wrong, his good intentions don’t always lead to happiness. He desperately wanted to save Ashildr but in the end she feels as though she’s been trapped in her life, quite the opposite of saved. She lost the ability to die, lost children, and lost her very life thanks to The Doctor’s kindness. He has moved on from making people into weapons. Now he turns people into Time Lords. Clara first, now Ashildr.
The Doctor fails to stop Ashildr from using The Eye of Hades, but as the portal opens she finds that not all aliens are as well-meaning as The Doctor. Her cat-faced friend was never going to help her escape Earth, he was using her to help him bring his people to Earth for a good old fashioned invasion. The betrayal is eye-opening for Ashildr, who in turn remembers her honestly and compassion. Her first instinct is to stop the invasion at all costs. With The Doctor’s help, of course, they do just that.
When the dust has settled The Doctor explains to Ashildr the reason he won’t take her with him is because immortals shouldn’t ravel together. They forget what it’s like to die, to be fleeting. They need someone with them to remind them of that fragility, that inherent value in mortality. While this unfortunately keeps Ashildr trapped on Earth it’s a touching look at the very core of Doctor Who. The Doctor always needs someone with him to keep him grounded. Again, we get a little more foreshadowing of how badly things might get when Clara departs. Perhaps Ashildr might travel with him for a while, since the very end of the episodes holds a very interesting tease. One that will leave you with a lot of questions.