Doctor Who has always instilled a silly excitement in me that I struggle to explain to others. The long-running show displays a set of flaws that are often off-putting to viewers more accustomed to American dramas. Disorienting tonal shifts, gaping plot holes, and the Doctor’s constant reliance on last-minute deus ex machina resolutions can rankle even the most dedicated fan; and so far Steven Moffat‘s season 9 has been an uneven and directionless effort.
Show-runners have always attempted to imprint each incarnation of the eponymous hero with a distinct identity. Russel T. Davis wrought his Doctors with post traumatic stress and survivors guilt; whilst Moffat has portrayed his heroes as young men, attempting to rediscover what they love about life through romance and heroism. This latest embodiment of the Doctor, played by a wonderfully eccentric Peter Capaldi, seems to be suffering a mid-life crisis.
Replacing the traditional sonic screwdriver with some questionable sonic shades, Capaldi slams on an electric guitar as his once meaningful anger dwindles into teenage angst. The highlight of the season so far has been the two part instalment The Girl Who Dies/The Woman Who Lived. Spoilers ahead; starring Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams as a young viking girl whose settlement is attacked by an advanced warrior race of aliens.
The episodes offer up a series of moral complexities that the Doctor struggles to solve ethically, once again foregrounding the destruction that can result from the best of intentions. The Girl Who Dies focuses on the that which keeps us attached to the world; family, friends, love and adventure, whilst The Woman Who Lived centres on the things that cause detachment in our lives; loss, grief, trauma and memory.
Williams’ character suffers many things that the Doctor has suffered, and through her psychology we begin to see how difficult it is for our hero to keep travelling this path he has chosen. Great news came with this weeks London Comic-con, as Who writer Sarah Dollard announced that Williams will be returning to the show as the immortal Ashildre. Dollard confirmed the character would be featured in a later episode of the current season of Doctor Who, expected to air later this year.
With Williams’ character forming an antagonistic friendship with the Doctor; one that can only lead to further conflict, and the final scene of The Woman Who Lived showing Ashildre alive and well in contemporary London, we could be in for some interesting material to come. I truly hope Williams‘ role in the show will shape a cohesive arc in the season, something that has been lacking so far, and without it my excitement of Doctor Who‘s silliness will continue to dwindle.