Maisie Williams’ Role On Doctor Who Was Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter

Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter

In the run-up to Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams guest-starring on Doctor Who, there were all sorts of rumors about which character she was playing. And a lot of people believed she was playing Jenny, the “Doctor’s Daughter” from the episode of that name. Instead, she’s playing something much more interesting.

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Spoilers ahead...

In some ways, this is sort of a replay of “The Doctor’s Daughter,” except that the Doctor bears more responsibility for the conception of this particular offspring. Back in season four, the David Tennant version of the Doctor had his genes sampled to create a genetic “offspring” who emerges fully grown and indoctrinated for war, and the Doctor has to get through to her and teach her that war is bad.

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This time around, the Doctor has another girl who’s been turned into a reflection of himself, except that this time it was his own doing. And her great shortcoming is actually entirely based on the Doctor’s own immortal disregard for limited humans and our short lifespans, which we’ve seen him struggle with in the past.

Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter

In “The Woman Who Lived,” the Viking girl that the Doctor saved is still alive, and it’s 800 years later. She no longer goes by Ashildr, because what’s the point in having a name when everybody else will be dead soon, and instead calls herself simply “Me.” She is a free spirit, who lives for adventure, but she seems to have lost all of her empathy and connection to other people. And she’s desperate to escape from this planet she’s been trapped on for eight centuries—so much so, she’s willing to make a deal with a naff lion.

“Lady Me” is a creature of pure ego

The notion that someone who’s functionally immortal would wind up calling herself “Me” is a neat one. Because only her name for herself matters—nobody else needs to be able to call her anything, because nobody else is important at all. Lady Me spends her time flouncing around her ginormous house with her sick old servant, when she’s not putting on a mask and disguising her voice and robbing carriages as the Knightmare, a highwayman.

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Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter

But she’s led lots of other lives, too—she fought in the Battle of Agincourt, reigned as a queen, saved a town from the scarlet fever and was drowned as a witch, founded a leper colony, and mastered a ton of skills. She’s also endured unimaginable loss, including a lover whom she had to run away from when the questions about her lack of aging began. And her children, who died of the plague.

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Lady Me has lived so much, she no longer even remembers most of her life. So she keeps bookcases and bookcases of journals in which she’s written down all of her experiences, and she sits and re-reads them. Except that some pages have been torn out of the journals, because some experiences were too horrible to remember, even via journal entries.

Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter
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The most fascinating and original concept in the episode is the notion that she forgets most of her long life, because she’s got unlimited lifespan but a normal human-sized memory. That’s a clever spin on the usual tropes of immortality, and also horribly believable.

Lady Me is a tragic figure, even though she also seems to be having fun and enjoying her adventures—and there’s no hint left of the bright, imaginative, caring girl that the Doctor felt moved to save. Instead, Lady Me seems as though her biggest problem is pure boredom.

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As with the Doctor’s Daughter and so many other characters over the years, Lady Me is primarily there as a foil for the Doctor, who is horrified and maybe a little fascinated by her disregard for the short, meaningless lives of the other people around her. He keeps insisting that her dispassion is just a mask, to hide the deep pain inside her—but no, maybe she’s really just totally “desensitized” and uncaring.

Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter
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This turns into the usual critique of the Doctor—that he’s “the man who arrives for the battle and then leaves for the aftermath,” as the Doctor puts it. Lady Me is just one of many loose ends the Doctor left laying around in his eagerness to move on after an adventure ended.

The thing is, Lady Me can criticize the Doctor’s tendency to disappear after “fixing” everybody’s problems, but her desire to cut herself off from everybody else (and escape with the Doctor in the TARDIS) is more or less the same impulse. And the Doctor doesn’t want to travel with her, because two immortals together “wouldn’t be good.” They would reinforce each other’s disregard for the short-lived ordinary people around them, which is why the Doctor chooses to travel with mortals instead.

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Then there’s a naff lion guy

This episode is pretty much great from beginning to end—except for the 15 or so minutes in the middle, with the naff lion dude from the lion planet, which is called something like Lionus IV or something. The naff lion dude is just sort of there—we glimpse him early on in the episode, and he’s hanging around in the woods (sleeping in Lady Me’s garden) while she procures a magic amulet for him with the Doctor’s help.

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Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter

Basically, the lion dude is from Planet Lion, and he wants to invade Earth or something, but he lost his magic amulet, which inspired all the ancient Greek stories about traveling to the lands of Hades after death. The amulet opens a portal to another dimension or something, to let the lion-people spaceships through. (Sadly we never see the spaceships, so we don’t get to see if the spaceships are also lion-shaped.) But in order to trick Lady Me into helping him, the lion guy lies and says he’s going to leave Earth and go travel the galaxy, and she can go with him.

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The thing is, the magic amulet uses death to open the portal, so someone needs to die. Lady Me almost sacrifices her beloved old servant, but then she hears that Sam Swift the Quick, a rival highwayman that we met earlier, is about to be hanged—which is perfect. The Doctor saves Sam Swift from hanging, but Lady Me kills him anyway and opens the portal—letting the lion-ships in.

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I shouldn’t be too hard on the lion-guy. It was mostly because his costume did not look great, and he felt like a throwback to the Cheetah People in “Survival.” And the plot involving the lion invasion felt sort of shoe-horned in, and didn’t have enough screentime for me to care about it. And this episode was mostly extremely good, before and after the lion-man hijacked it. Also, I was sad nobody made a joke about “Lion” chocolate bars. Felt like a missed opportunity.

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Anyway, to the extent that the “cowardly lion” storyline had a point, it was all about Lady Me seeing other people’s lives as so short, they’re basically pointless—and thus, she’s happy to sacrifice a life or two to escape. And it’s about her desperation to get away from Earth and see more of the universe.

But once she sees people suffering, and realizes she’s responsible, she has a crisis of conscience and finds her compassion reawakening. So she helps the Doctor close the portal—by revoking the death of Sam Swift, using the second “field medic” immortality device the Doctor had left her with.

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“The mayflies know more than we do.”

Sam Swift, incidentally, is set up as being a foil to Lady Me even as she’s a foil to the Doctor. He’s a buffoon, a terrible highwayman who tries to rob the Nightmare early on in the episode and screws it up. And when he’s about to be hanged for his crimes, he tries to keep cracking jokes and amusing the audience of onlookers, because “while you laugh, I live.” He’s sort of a poignantly silly figure, who (as the Doctor points out) makes the most of every moment because it might be his last.

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Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter

The Doctor uses Sam Swift to explain why he can’t take Lady Me with him on his travels—the Doctor and Lady Me both suffer from living too long and losing perspective. The “mayflies,” the ordinary people with short regular lifespans, “know more than we do,” the Doctor says. Because they know how precious life is and how much all of it matters.

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The Doctor may or may not have made Sam Swift immortal—he figures the portal thingy may have drained most of the power of the “field medic” chip, but he’s not really sure.

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The main thing is, by the end of the episode Lady Me hasn’t really had a miraculous change of heart (which would be temporary) but instead has found a new sense of purpose (which might just be permanent). She’s going to cure her own anomie and lack of connection to people by serving as a counterweight to the Doctor’s only carelessness.

Returning to the idea that the Doctor tends to “solve” problems and then disappear, Lady Me vows to be the “patron saint” of all the people the Doctor leaves behind. She’ll protect the world from him—in an echo of the sort of things that Torchwood used to say, back when it was run by British nationalists who saw the Doctor as a threat or problem, before Captain Jack took it over. (Oh, and Captain Jack actually gets a mention!).

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Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter

So how is this going to work? It’s left pretty vague—she’s going to be looking out for the people whose lives the Doctor touches, and helping them get on with their lives. I guess? (What this means, concretely, is there’s going to be a lot of Richard Mace/Sam Swift fanfic. The Doctor pretty much told her to watch out for the Terrileptils.)

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But she says that she’s not the Doctor’s enemy—but it’s never your enemies you have to watch out for, it’s your friends. And she’ll be watching out for the Doctor. To this, the Doctor says he thinks he’s glad he saved her.

Illustration for article titled Maisie Williams’ Role On iDoctor Who /iWas Way Better Than The Doctor’s Daughter
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As another examination of the themes that Doctor Who returns to over and over again nowadays, about immortality and the Doctor’s effect on the people around him, “The Woman Who Lived” is a pretty valuable addition, in spite of lion-guy. Last week, the Doctor suggested the reason why he’s always running is to try and stay ahead of the loss and misery of having people die all around him. And his decision to save Ashildr, in turn, creates someone who sees more than anybody else the consequences of the Doctor’s tendency to run.

And when the Doctor finally meets up with Clara in the present day, she shows him a selfie one of her students took—and there’s Lady Me, hanging out in the background. Almost like Lady Me is stalking Clara. This could get interesting.

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Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books.Follow her on Twitter, and email her.

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DISCUSSION

mortal-dictata
Mortal Dictata

Well that has got to be hands down the best episode of Doctor Who I have seen in years. It was funny without becoming a joke, emotional yet not sappy, and brilliantly acted with memorable characters. Despite a couple of hiccups plotwise it told a great story and stuck to it.

Now before we get into it proper I feel the need to address last week’s comment where I, to put it bluntly, pissed off half the audience. It seems my comments on last week’s episode about it being too much like Stargate weren’t properly expressed on my end. I was never trying to imply that Dr Who was stealing specific ideas from Stargate as a franchise (I am perfectly aware that all shows take tropes and ideas from each other all the time) but rather that last week’s episode was too much like a single specific episode (Season 2’s ‘Thor’s Chariot’) and was very close in terms of tropes, characters, mythology, visuals etc.

Now back to this week’s episode the plot was great. It was a fun whimsical romp through a historical setting without getting too childish, with the first 20-30 minutes being the best with a crime caper set in the 17th century with the Doctor being dragged into robbing an old manor house. The later scenes with Rufus Hound were also particularly good with them focused around using comedy as a means to escape execution for highway robbery. The final tavern scene was very touching with the idea that they keep normals (mayflies) around to not become too jaded coming up again.

Despite the good scenes though there were some parts that I didn’t really like. The ending of the hanging felt like a massive cop out with the Doctor once again being proven right when I just can’t help but think it turning out Maisie really is jaded by her years and not caring being much more powerful, and would probably add to the ying-yang aspect between her and Sam at the end.

The characters and spot-on casting in this episode is what really made it come together. This episode only really had 3 characters; The Doctor, Maisie William (can’t remember her Norse name for the life of me), and Rufus Hound as Swift Sam and all of them were played incredibly well and were given enough screentime, something which Maisie lacked last week, to develop the characters. I think Swift Sam might be my one-off favourite character as he as this fun goofy villain who through his humour ended up playing more of a sad fact of life with his ‘you laugh, I live’ line. Is it weird I now want a spin-off of Maisie and Hound just going through the ages fucking stuff up, though it’s unlikely to happen as we still haven’t got a Vastra and Jenny spin-off either.

There were a few matters in the episode outside of the plot itself that annoyed me slightly. The whole ‘Maisie’s just like the Doctor’ angle they were pushing got a bit tiring after a while, and her journals didn’t make the most sense either with them all being bound in the same books and the fact no other character has ever faced memory problems due to very long age. Also whoever brought back those fucking glasses deserves to be found and shot. But finally I don’t get why they had Clara in the episode at all. It felt like she was there just to pad out the end or to fulfill contractual obligations when in reality the episode probably would’ve ended better with the pub scene or seeing what Sam and Maisie did next.

Also just to quickly mention last week’s episode got 4.85 million overnight, which while the best this season, is still slightly down on this point last year.

Overall this episode was my personal highlight of the season so far with a fun story that didn’t stray too far into stupidity or flip-flop on tone like others have before it, and is currently the only second half episode that I feel has beaten the first (though given my views of the first one it’s not hard to do so). This was an example of Dr Who at its finest and I really wish there had been more like it in recent years. Also next week’s episode looks quite good so far (even if I’m annoyed at it being the aliens who break the treaty rather than the humans for once) which is surprising given it’s written by Mr ‘Kill the Pro-Life Metaphor’.