Doctor Who Recap: The Ridiculous Fan Theory That Accidentally Came True

Who is Maisie Williams?

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The moment Maisie Williams uttered “What took you so long, old man?” in the season nine trailer, fans immediately started doing what they always do: they tried to guess her identity. Despite showrunner Steven Moffat’s assurances that this was actually an entirely new character, her obvious familiarity with the Doctor meant all the usual suspects got trotted out: “She’s the Rani!” “She’s Romana!” “She’s the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan!” “She’s the Doctor’s daughter from The Doctor’s Daughter!”

Not surprisingly, they were wrong. But very surprisingly, they were also right. Because despite learning in last week’s The Girl Who Died that Williams was an all-new character, this week we learn that she was in fact the Doctor’s daughter.

Picture shows:  Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara

Fun fact: the BBC has not updated the format of its call sheet in over four hundred years.

Not literally, of course — but the metaphor is strong. “I didn’t ask to be born/made immortal!” is the thrust of this story, as Ashildr (now alternating between the aristocratic ‘Lady Me’, and the highwayman ‘The Knightmare’) rebels against the man who is essentially her creator, and searches for purpose in a world that continues to die around her. In the brilliant final moments of last week’s episode, the smile fades from her face as the true cost of immortality becomes clear. Here, we learn of the long and tragic life she’s led, with her loves and children and memories lost to the ages.

The Doctor has been checking in on her over the centuries, but has never let her know. Here, he chances upon her entirely by accident.

He’s tracking an alien artifact in the mid 17th century, and so is she. Dressed as a highwayman, she’s robbing from the rich and searching for a mysterious amulet, largely on behalf of an alien being who claims to be the last of his kind. She resents being left behind by the Doctor, and she wants someone to show her the universe. If the Doctor won’t, then a weird-looking cat person is a suitable substitute.

Picture shows:  Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara

This writer agonised over whether Junkee’s readership was old enough to get a reference to the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton Beauty and the Beast series from 1987.

Writer Catherine Treganna (best known to Doctor Who fans as the writer behind numerous episodes of DW spinoff Torchwood) doesn’t overplay the father/daughter analogy, even in the cleverly-constructed “You’re not my dad!” scene. Nor does she go for the easy black-and-white reveals that are so easy in this genre: Ashildr is neither hero nor villain; she’s familiar but not an ally; she’s sympathetic but the Doctor can’t quite trust her, and he knows that’s because he’s at fault. There’s a lot of layers to this.

But there’s a lot of fun to be had, too. Comedian Rufus Hound is great as the lesser highwayman Sam Swift, and is simultaneously funny and deeply sad as he tells jokes to the crowd before his impending execution, determined to maintain his reputation despite the obvious terror.

A slightly-underwhelming villain is rendered memorable through some great makeup, and minor characters – the two guards who try to arrest the Doctor; Ashildr’s vague manservant; the trio in the coach – all stand out thanks to deft writing, direction and performance.

Picture shows:  Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara

“We need you all to look sad, so try to imagine 1993’s ‘Dimensions In Time’ was wiped from the archives.”

But the episode’s high point is its resolution. Ashildr becomes, in her own words, the Patron Saint of the Doctor: she’s there to clean up his messes. Not in the same way as UNIT or Torchwood, the secret organisations who deal with the alien invasions the Doctor is not always present for, but as someone who picks up the emotional pieces of those he leaves behind. It’s a cracking idea, one that feels like it should always have been. And given this is a show about time travel, it now always has been.

She hints that she’s already encountered many of the people and events discarded in his wake, and she knows exactly what it is he always does: he leaves. The Doctor, now rendered as a deadbeat dad, wonders (somewhat tellingly) if her new purpose automatically makes them enemies. Ashildr doesn’t clarify. Perhaps she doesn’t know.

In the exact middle point of a season that’s examining the blurry line between friend and enemy, we get a new layer to this concept: perhaps opposing the Doctor doesn’t make you a bad guy after all. Let’s see how this plays out in the coming weeks.

Questions To Ponder

  • Which of the Doctor’s adventures do you think Ashildr has observed, or seen the aftermath of? If ‘Girl’ is set in the 9th Century, and ‘Woman’ is set in 1651, she could have encountered the events of ‘The Crusades’, ‘The Time Meddler’, ‘Robot of Sherwood’, ‘The King’s Demons’, ‘The Aztecs’, ‘The Massacre’, ‘The Shakespeare Code’ and ‘The Day of the Doctor’, amongst others. Well, go on, this fanfic isn’t going to write itself.
  • Have you seen the great Blackadder episode Amy and Amiability? If not, seek it out now. You’ll understand why.
  • Who started the Great Fire of London again? When the Doctor warns Ashildr that it’s coming, she wonders if she’s the one who starts it. No, he says, it was the Terileptils (skillfully deflecting the actual blame away from himself). Fans of 1982’s The Visitation all giggled gleefully in unison.
  • Did that Captain Jack Harkness reference feel a bit too pointed to be a throwaway line? Maybe it was just in the delivery, but the way it was presented seemed to hint at a forthcoming return. On the other hand, Catherine Treganna wrote a bunch of Torchwood episodes, so as if she’s not going to mention him.
  • What’s the extra significance of the brief flashback to the Battle of Agincourt? It might not be deliberate, but in Australia at least this episode aired exactly six hundred years to the day since that battle. Amazing!
  • Did anyone else notice the awkward piece of ADR (that’s dialogue recorded during post-production) towards the end? “Purple,” says the Doctor. “The colour of death.” Is this a hint for the final two-parter, whose titles suggest we may not be done with the idea of the afterlife? Is it relevant that Missy always wears purple? Or that the Doctor soon will be? (Before you ask, purple/burgundy/red all looks roughly the same to me: LIKE DEATH.)

Throwback Thalday

ThrowbackDid you enjoy this tale of a Doctor, still mourning his broken sonic screwdriver, facing down highwaymen in 17th century England? Then you should seek out 1982’s The Visitation.

The Fifth Doctor arrives in 1666 to find that some crashed aliens are planning to wipe out all life on Earth by infecting rats with an enhanced strain of the Black Plague. I won’t spoil what happens in the end, because the Twelfth Doctor already did that, the jerk.

Doctor Who screens at 7:30pm Sundays on ABC, before reruns at 8:30ppm Mondays and 12:15am Tuesdays.

Lee Zachariah is a writer and journalist, who tweets at @leezachariah. Read his Doctor Who recaps here.