Welcome Whovians, to the new incarnation of Who·ology here on Reel World Theology. Unlike the return of Missy to this season of Doctor Who, we have reasons for the regeneration of this weekly feature from podcast to written review, but suffice to say, we still love Who and still plan to bring you our take on it each week to hopefully stir some discussion. So let’s get to it!
I’m just going to get right to it: I have been waiting for this episode for a long, long time. Finally we get to explore the stakes. Finally, we’re back to focusing on the Doctor’s character and what he leaves in his wake. This episode was expertly written, patiently directed, and very well acted. I love Maisie Williams as Arya in Game of Thrones, but she’s never been better than in this episode as Lady Me. It was all so good I don’t quite know what to do with myself.
This is what the show is all about. We live in the era of the anti-hero. So when we have a true hero like the Doctor, depth and exploration of that hero’s true nature are essential. When that happens, we are taught lessons about ourselves in the way that only the arts and entertainment can do. Here we learn what gets left behind in the Doctor’s wake, and in turn, what can become of ourselves when we abandon kindness for indifference as Ashildr has done.
The Doctor’s worst fears regarding his decision to give Ashildr an immortal life have been realized. She is, in fact, his worst fears about himself; weariness towards existence and emptiness growing inside. Excruciating emotional pain over time has caused Ashildr to turn her back on life and focus only on herself, going so far as to refer to herself simply as “Me.”
The Doctor: “I think this is just another mask you wear to protect you from the pain.”
Lady Me: “I think the alternative frightens you- that this is who I’ve become.”
Oh, how often have we worn a mask over our pain? Pain is unavoidable in this life. Unbearable as it is at times, we must endure it. And therefore we are left with a choice of how to react to it. Do we maintain our resolve to be good? Or do we become callous and rebellious? The more pain, the harder it is to maintain any semblance of resolve. In over 800 years, Ashildr has endured so much pain and loss that she has allowed it to redefine her identity. As I alluded to in my previous review, this is the inevitable price of immortality.
Pain can, and most often does, directly influence our beliefs. Who do we turn to in our pain? That can depend on whom we blame for it. The story of Job is the perfect example of reacting to excruciating pain. Job maintained his belief that God is good when all around him his friends were blaming Job for his pain. Job found peace in the truth that all things work together for good for those who love God. But let’s be honest– that just seems so unfair in the midst of our pain.
Lady Me: “I have waited longer than I should even have lived. I have lost more than I can even remember. Please, Doctor, just get me out of this. I want more than this. I deserve more than this… why not? Why not?”
The Doctor: “Because it wouldn’t be good.”
I don’t know if there’s ever been a better picture of my relationship with God in this show than this moment right here. You see I believe that God is good. More so, I believe that any and all good in this world is God. But I still want my way. I want what I see as fair. I want what I think is the just reward for the suffering I have endured. But sometimes it just wouldn’t be good. It can feel paralyzing. But it is freeing. I’m not responsible for good because I’m not capable of it. God is good and therefore will be good.
As we’ve said before, the Doctor is nowhere near a perfect analogy for God, but in this scenario the Doctor reflects God’s nature by recognizing what is good and denying Lady Me her desires for the sake of it. Despite how badly you can see that the Doctor wants to make amends for Ashildr’s suffering, he knows that no good would come of it. And Lady Me isn’t arguing for what is good, but rather, what is right in her eyes. Right and wrong are relative to the person making the argument. What is right for me may be wrong for you. But good and evil never change, and there’s no denying it.
Ultimately Ashildr’s plan is denied when she is betrayed by Lenny the Lion- who, by the way, is a pretty ridiculous character, but thankfully he was not the focus. The sub plot was simply there to provide context to the discussion of these themes. Doctor Who can embrace the ridiculous for all I care, so long as it serves the themes. As Ashildr realizes that the Doctor was right, we get an opportunity to learn more about both her and the Doctor.
Ashildr: “I actually do care.”
The Doctor: “It’s awful isn’t it? You think you don’t care but then you fall off the wagon.”
This is a great moment of transition for the Twelfth Doctor. At the beginning of last season he started out as an apathetic curmudgeon. We see from this interaction that he recognizes the folly of that. Ashildr’s experiences in this episode are a microcosm of the Doctor’s journey away from apathy. Twelve may have chosen this face to remind himself that he saves people, but why he saves them is more important. He saves people because he cares for them. He is fighting to do what is good.
So Ashildr is left in the wake yet again. For now, her version of good is to look after those the Doctor leaves behind. Their final conversation in the episode reinforces the similarities between the two of them. They have both experienced great pain. They have gone on “too long,” as the Doctor puts it, and are struggling to maintain their resolve and hang on to what is good. We know that the Doctor’s nature is to go on caring for people, saving them, maintaining his namesake. But what is Ashildr’s nature? Only time will tell whether what she does will be good or evil.
Next time on Who-ology: The Zygons are another example of a ridiculous character in Doctor Who. And I can’t help but love them. I think it’s the voice. Either way, I hope the show continues to embrace the ridiculous and teach us something about ourselves through a story about ugly aliens covered in suckers that can transform themselves into any shape. As we inch closer to Clara’s exit, what will the Doctor continue to learn from loss? Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it now more than ever.