The Woman Who Lived
Written by Catherine Tregenna
Directed by Ed Bazalgette
“Ninja, nun, surgeon, scientist, composer, inventor… it’s a fantastic CV.”
England, 1651. The highwayman known as The Nightmare is plaguing the land. But the Nightmare is not all he seems, and his fire-breathing accomplice who lurks in the shadows is clearly more than human… The Doctor, on the trail of an alien artifact, is brought face to the face with the consequences of his own actions. For once he encounters someone who won’t let him turn his back on the things he has done. But will the Nightmare be his friend or foe? It may well take till the end of the universe to be sure…
England, 1651. A carriage is stopped by a famous bandit known as The Knightmare. While holding the passengers of the carriage at gunpoint, The Knightmare told them he was looking for a specific amulet. Elsewhere, The TARDIS has landed, not far away, and The Doctor emerges, carrying some sort of detector. He follows the detector’s indications and ends up climbing through the carriage while trying to maintain a straight line to his target. The Knightmare begins to tell him that he is interrupting the robbery and threatens to shoot him in the head, all the while, The Doctor isn’t listening to a word that is being said. “Sorry, I really meant to listen that time, but I didn’t.” He states that the amulet is in the chest on the back of the carriage and, again, ignores the Knightmare until the bandit calls him “Doctor”. This catches his attention and makes them both stop long enough for the carriage to get away. After the carriage leaves, The Knightmare removes the mask and hat to reveal the “he” is actually a she. In fact, it is Ashildr, the viking girl that The Doctor saved from death with Mire technology.
The Doctor reveals that this is not the first time he has seen her since that day, and that his running into her at this point was a fluke, which did not please her in the least. She also doesn’t seem to remember the name Ashildr. She says she just calls herself, simply, “me”, because she can’t remember events from too far into her past. The Doctor notices that she seems very different from the last time he met her. She used to have a love of life and humanity and now she seems to not care at all. They head to the large mansion in which she lives. When he heads inside, she speaks with a figure in the hedges on the edge of her property.
Inside the house, Ashildr explains that she has lived too long. She explains that while she has killed people, she has saved a lot as well, detailing multiple situations in which she has saved lives. She barely remembers the viking village where she lived, and she explains that it is difficult when you have an infinite life and a normal sized memory. She only remembers things when she sips wine and reads he diaries, and invites the Doctor to read some of her diaries to get an idea of who she is now. While reading her diaries, The Doctor noticed that some of the pages were gone. He reads about an incident during the time of the plague. While the text is narrated in her voice, we see a room with a row of empty cradles. She describes the unbearable pain she was feeling and that she was still too cowardly to try and take her own life from the pain. She is holding a doll, crying, with the narration explaining that she will push on and endure. But no more children. The pain is too much to bear when she loses them. The Doctor asks her why there are pages missing. She explains that these are the memories she no longer wants to keep.
The two break into the mansion owned by the family that had been stopped on the road. Creeping through the house, they find the amulet that they were looking for, the Eyes of Hades. This stone is said to open the door to the underworld. They are discovered, and as they are escaping, Ashildr mentions Clara. When asked how she remembers her, Ashildr mentions that she takes note of the weaknesses of others, implying that Clara is The Doctor’s greatest weakness. They take the stone and head back to Ashildr’s mansion. On the way back, they are ambushed by a group of bandits, led by Sam Swift. After a bit of a scuffle, The Doctor and Ashildr continue on their way.
Until this point, Ashildr has been begging The Doctor to take her with him on his travels. She wants more than to take the long way around in her slow, painful life. At her mansion, she begs him, again, to take her with him. He refuses again, this time prompting her to admit that she was merely tricking him into helping her to get the amulet so that she could give it to someone else. Just then, the lion-like creature that Ashildr had been speaking to before emerges from the shadows. He says his name is Leandro. He tells The Doctor that his people were destroyed and he crashed onto Earth in an attempt to escape. He needs the Eyes of Hades to return to his planet. The Eyes of Hades open a portal that will take him there. The Doctor doesn’t trust Leandro, while Ashildr sees him as her ticket off of Earth and into the stars. He deduces that they must have kept their true intentions for the artifact hidden because their plans must not be very good. Ashildr admits that the reason is that, in order for the artifact to open the portal, a death is required. Ashildr has been alive for too long without anyone around to help her remember the value of life. She, coldly, tells The Doctor that she is merely “exploiting an abundant resource”.
The Doctor, surprised by this revelation and appalled at Ashildr’s utter lack of humanity, asks who she plans to sacrifice. She is planning to sacrifice her loyal servant Clayton, but when town guards burst in announcing that Sam Swift is to be hanged at noon she has another idea. “A guilty man destined to die – no harm in that,” she says before turning over The Doctor to the guards as the “Knightmare’s sidekick.” Conveniently, the guards already have a wanted poster for the Doctor, but Ashildr says he shouldn’t hang. He should just be locked up. After Ashildr and Leandro rush off to Sam’s hanging in Tyburn, the guards explain to The Doctor that there is a bounty on his head of 20 pounds, which they explain is a lot to them. He tells the guards that if they release him, he will tell them where “Lady Me”, as they know her as, keeps her money. “more than 30 pounds.” They release him, and he makes his way, hastily, to the hanging to stop Leandro and Ashildr.
When he arrives, Sam Swift is performing a sort of stand-up act to keep the crowd laughing, delaying his death. When The Doctor arrives, he helps Swift with his jokes to help delay the hanging. He showed the executioner his psychic paper, making him believe that Sam Swift has been pardoned of the charges. Sam is relieved until Ashildr shoves the Eyes of Hades into his chest, killing him and opening a portal to another planet. Lights flicker into life at the other end of the portal. “What are those,” she asks. Leandro, laughing, tells her that he never planned to take her away with him. That portal was never mean to lead him away from Earth. Those lights are spaceships, and he was meant to open the portal to bring his people to Earth to kill and conquer the people of the planet. The alien ships begin to attack the people in the square. Ashildr seems to have a change of heart regarding her thoughts on the value of life. She tells The Doctor that they have to do something. She tells him, surprised, that she does care about what happens to these people. “Welcome back,” he says to her, smiling, and tells her that if a death opened the portal, reversing it could close it. Leandro scoffs, telling her that no one can reverse death. “I can,” She says, and pulls the other Mire chip off of the string around her neck. She places it on the forehead of Sam Swift, and it absorbs into his skin. The beam coming from the Eyes of Hades turns from purple to gold, closing the portal and disintegrating Leandro. Sam Swift wakes up, amazed at the fact that he has come back from the dead.
After Leandro has been stopped and they have a chance to sit and relax, The Doctor finally gives Ashildr a full reason why he cannot take her with him. He tells her, “people like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other… Mayflies, they know more than we do. They know how beautiful and precious life is, because it’s fleeting.” She understands the explanation. They are both people who will live for a very long time, possibly indefinitely. They are the ones who need others who are not like them to help them remember the value of life. (Note: This explanation reminds me of “The Runaway Bride” when David Tennant’s Doctor had to be stopped when killing the Racnoss. Donna tells him that he has been alone for too long and sometimes he needs someone to stop him.) She tells him that when he enters the battle and runs away, she will be here to pick up the pieces for the people that he abandons. She tells him, “while you are busy protecting this world, I’ll be busy protecting it from you.” The Doctor asks is that makes them enemies now. She said no, it’s your friends you have to look out for.
Back in the TARDIS, The Doctor is playing his guitar, waiting for Clara. She enters the TARDIS and begins to talk about what has been going on with her. They decide on a destination and she shows him a picture of girl that he helped with her studies from Coal Hill School. He zooms in on the background and sees Ashildr, looking out for Clara.