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Recap / Doctor Who S35 E6 "The Woman Who Lived"

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The Woman Who Lived
"People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other."
Click here to see the Radio Times magazine poster for this episode:
Written by Catherine Tregenna
Directed by Ed Bazalgette
Air date: 24 October 2015
Part 2 of 2

"You didn't save my life, Doctor, you trapped me in it."

The one where the Jack Harkness treatment is gender-inverted.

And as a result, the victim subjects herself to the Doctor treatment... detaching herself from everything and discarding her real name.

England, 1651. A carriage is travelling along a road in a forest at night, when it is accosted by a highwayman on a rearing black horse — the infamous Knightmare.

At the same time, the Doctor arrives in the woods. He's looking for some kind of alien artifact, and he has a gadget to detect it. It's somewhere nearby.

The Knightmare demands the valuables of the carriage's passengers, especially a particular amulet that the young woman in the carriage, Lucy Fanshawe, especially treasures. As the valuables are being handed over, the Doctor suddenly appears, scanning for that alien artifact. The Knightmare is not pleased that someone is interfering in his robbery, and even less pleased that the Doctor doesn't even realize that there's a robbery going on at all. The carriage takes the opportunity to escape, making the Knightmare even more annoyed. The Doctor, having realized that the person he's talking to is a robber, is also frustrated, because he didn't get what he was looking for either — something called the Eye of Hades.

It's at this point that the Knightmare reveals something that catches the Doctor by surprise — "he" is actually a "she", specifically the immortal Ashildr. She takes him to her house, where she has artifacts from her eight hundred years of life, and hundreds of diaries to compensate for the limited space in her brain. She doesn't even remember her original name anymore, and has taken to calling herself simply "Me". The highway robbery is to stave off boredom.

The Doctor doesn't know it, but she's so desperate to get off Earth that she's teamed up with an alien who's promised to help her leave, no matter what the cost...


  • Action Girl: Ashildr/Lady Me, many times in the past and present, and especially in her Knightmare persona. She fought in the Battle of Agincourt!
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Sam Swift gets a laugh out of a woman whose name he doesn't know after her husband says, "That's Mrs. Baxter!" and Sam replies that it's an odd name for a fella.
  • The Ageless: 800 years later and Ashildr hasn't aged a day. 400 years after that and still nothing's changed.
  • All There in the Manual: To find out more about what happened to Ashildr between the two episodes, as well as details as to how her children died, one has to read the official tie-in book The Legends of Ashildr.
  • Artistic Licence - Space: Leandro claims to be from Delta Leonis, which is a star — it would make a lot more sense for him to declare which planet he is from.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Ashildr claims to have helped end the Hundred Years' War by fighting at Agincourt- except, of course, the Hundred Years' War ended nearly forty years after Agincourt.
  • Badass Boast:
    Ashildr/Me: Ten thousand hours is all it takes to master any skill. A hundred thousand hours and you're the best there's ever been. I don't need to be indestructible, I'm superb.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Over the previous eight centuries Ashildr has been around for significant historical events, including being a medieval queen and taking part in the Battle of Agincourt.
  • Big Bad: Leandro.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ashildr is brought back to the side of good, but the Doctor cannot bring himself to make her a companion because as immortals (or near enough in his case) it would be too easy for them to lose perspective on mortals and life itself if they traveled together. She decides she will protect the Earth from him the way he protects Earth from its enemies, by looking after those he leaves behind in his eternally lonely existence. This is much the way his companions keep him from losing perspective and going too far. Upon returning to the present day, the Doctor realizes she's currently hanging about Coal Hill School upon seeing her in the background of a selfie on Clara's smartphone, but he chooses not to tell Clara (who hasn't noticed) about this. The Doctor also has a fresh reminder that his adventures with Clara won't last forever when she gives him an affectionate hug.
  • Blatant Lies: When Ashildr asks if Sam Swift will now live forever, the Doctor asks her what she wants the answer to be before giving her a plausible reason it could be true.
  • Breath Weapon: Leandro can breathe fire. It has a short range so he mostly uses it to intimidate.
  • Burn the Witch!: More like drown the witch — peasants tried to drown Ashildr as a witch for saving them from scarlet fever.
  • Call-Back: The Twelfth Doctor's lesson to "Lady Me" on the nature of immortality as having the ability to make one lose sight of the little things is a lesson he's imparted to many over multiple regenerations; the most recent example was Eleven explaining to Amy just why he takes on his mortal companions: his Jade-Coloured Glasses don't allow him to see the universe with awe anymore — but his companions still can, and when they do, so does he.
  • Cat Folk: Leandro is a humanoid lion. And his species is called the Leonians.
  • The Cavalier Years: Takes place in 1651, during the English Interregnumnote 
  • Character Development: Clara hugging the Doctor marks the first time we have seen both the Twelfth Doctor and Clara enjoying a hug together. Prior to this, either the Doctor objected to being hugged (or looked uncomfortable the one time he gave her permission), or he caught Clara by surprise by an awkwardly-timed one.
  • Character Title: It’s twice in a row for this with Ashildr, as she’s ‘The Woman Who Lived’
  • Chekhov's Gun: The second medkit is reintroduced at the start of the episode and becomes crucial to stopping the Evil Plan.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The energies which open or close the rift are given different colors, which the Doctor describes: "Purple, colour of death," and gold, "The light of immortality."
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The Doctor briefly mentions another immortal he traveled with, Captain Jack Harkness.
    • The Doctor tells Ashildr about the Fire of London.
    • Purple is called "the colour of death" in this episode. In "The Empty Child", mauve was the colour of danger amongst most advanced species, though not humans.
    • Clara is still taking the Year Seven students to after school Tae Kwon Do lessons. She first mentions doing this in "Robot of Sherwood".
    • The Doctor arranged for one of Clara's students to have a personal interview with Winston Churchill. His friendship with Churchill was established in "Victory of the Daleks".
    • Ashildr asks the Doctor "How many Claras" has he lost? She means companions in general, but the Doctor has already lost two Claras, in "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen", as a consequence of the fragmentation Clara underwent in "The Name of the Doctor" — not to mention untold others through his timestream.
  • Corrupt Cops: The watchmen who arrest the Doctor are looking forward to the £20 reward, but let him go when he bribes them with the £30 that Lady Me has in her mansion.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: With Part One, "The Girl Who Died".
  • Deal with the Devil: Ashildr agrees to help Leandro because he promises to take her with him once the portal is opened, allowing her to see the universe — something the Doctor isn't willing to do. The Doctor instantly recognizes this arrangement for the devilish deal that it is, but she's unwilling to heed his warnings, partially because she resents him so much for making her a lonely immortal, and partially because she thinks that even if Leandro betrays her, she'll at least know real happiness again first.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen:
    • Ashildr starts off the episode having virtually no empathy, but regains it with some help from the Doctor.
    • Ice King variant: For the first time on screen, the Doctor accepts an unsolicited hug from Clara without any discomfort.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Ashildr is very insistent on being called and referred to as simply "Me", since all those she ever loved by any name are now dead.
  • Enhance Button: The Doctor is able to zoom a photo on a smartphone to a sufficient degree that he can make out Ashildr behind a distant fence with decent resolution.
  • Every Man Has His Price: The Doctor is insulted to learn that the bounty on his head is only twenty pounds... until he learns that the lawmen holding him consider that to be a small fortune. He then points out that he knows where "Lady Me" keeps a fortune of thirty pounds. They let him go for that.
  • Evil Plan: Ashildr works with Leandro to steal the Eye of Hades and escape the planet to see the universe. This is evil because the Eye of Hades has to kill someone to work, and Leandro is actually working on an alien invasion.
  • Field Trip to the Past: When the Doctor and Clara talk about the Doctor helping one of Clara's students with her history project, it's implied that this is how he helped.
  • The Fog of Ages: Ashildr mentions that she sometimes reads through the many journals that she has written through the centuries because her memory remains finite even though her lifespan is now infinite.
  • Foreshadowing: There's quite a bit of this for the three-part Season Finale storyline.
  • Forgot About Her Powers: Ashildr's had eight centuries to learn how to do a pitch-perfect man's voice. So why doesn't she do it when she and the Doctor are accosted by Sam Swift and company in the woods? (Although they don't take notice of the Knightmare's suspiciously high-pitched voice.)
  • For the Lulz: Ashildr's moonlighting as a highwayman simply for the adrenaline rush.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: One for viewers of later episodes: Because it's against a black top and because actions on the screen (like the hug) distract the eye away, Clara is wearing the raven necklace first seen in "The Bells of Saint John".
  • Gallows Humour: Quite literally with Sam Swift, who exchanges jests with the crowd while standing on the gallows waiting to be hanged. "So long as you laugh, I live."
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: Leandro has no character development or personality; we never get an explanation for why his kind are invading Earth, or any true information about them. In fact, he barely features in the episode; he's just a plot device advancing Ashildr's character development and adding a little more tension to the story.
  • The Glomp: It doesn't exactly knock him down, but Clara's sudden hug is enough to make the Doctor bend forward a little; reflecting his Defrosting Ice King persona towards her, he melts into one of her hugs (pun intended) for the first time on screen.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Leandro can make his eyes glow.
  • Go Through Me: When he learns of their plan, the Doctor tells Ashildr and Leandro to kill him then and there, because otherwise he'll stop them. Ashildr isn't willing to kill him, so she sells him out to a pair of guards who happen by.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Ashildr starts this episode as a friend, albeit one bitter from being abandoned to an extremely lonely fate. Then she is revealed to be an antagonist, but when her accomplice betrays her she returns to being an ally, albeit a prickly one. She then says that she is not an enemy but "a friend he has to watch out for".
  • The Highwayman: Ashildr's alter-ego, the Knightmare, is infamous for stealing from stagecoaches.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Sam Swift milks having literal Gallows Humour to work with for all its worth.
  • Immortality Immorality: Ashildr planned to kill her butler to open the portal, considering it trivial that his short existence will be ended a bit sooner than it otherwise would. Her change of plan to use Sam Swift (already condemned to hang) seems to be a (failed) attempt to assuage the Doctor's objections, with no indication that she herself cares one way or the other.
  • Kick the Dog: Ashildr planned to sacrifice her ailing butler to open the portal, but she changes her mind when she learns Sam Swift is going to hang for his crimes.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: The Doctor is able to get Sam Swift pardoned by claiming his psychic paper is a pardon signed by Cromwell.
  • Last of His Kind: Leandro claims to be this, but it's only to make Ashildr more sympathetic to his goals.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: Though both of the immortals in this episode speak harshly of immortality, the alternative is never discussed. Indeed, Ashildr never considers using the Eye of Hades on herself! The goal of her Evil Plan is to escape the planet and see more of the universe, the way the Doctor does — since he won't just make her a companion, what else is she to do?
  • Longing Look: The Doctor gives Clara (who doesn't see it) a heartbreaking one at the very end of an episode in which her ultimate mortality is discussed.
  • Lovable Rogue: Sam Swift, for a highwayman, is a fairly amenable sort.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Leandro the lion-man's species is called the Leonians. Of Alpha Leonis.
    • Ashildr can't remember her original name, so she calls herself me. She has become so self-centered due to her detachment from humanity that It's All About Me.
  • Mirror Character: Explored. The Doctor knew at the end of "The Girl Who Died" that an immortal Ashildr would not be much different from him: "barring accidents" she would be doomed to lose everyone she loves, hence his leaving her the second medkit so she could have an immortal companion if she so chose. In this episode, he realizes upon catching up with her that there is a tragic difference between them: She is trapped on The Slow Path and doesn't have the means to explore all of time and space as he does. Having lost all meaning in her Earthly life, she's thus embarking upon an Evil Plan to erase this difference, but the Doctor has to stop it to save both innocents and her. In the denouement, he explains that he cannot make her his companion and grant her wish because they would only grow more and more detached and heartless; they both need to be around mortals rather than each other. She decides she'll protect people from him the way he protects Earth from alien forces as a result.
  • Monster of the Week: Leandro's "alien invasion" plan and presence merely adds action to a philosophical, talky story of the Doctor and Ashildr's reunion.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Before the Battle of Agincourt, Ashildr left a soldier Bound and Gagged and donned his armour.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Ashildr cries "What have I done?" as the spaceships of Leandro's people begin to attack the town.
  • Mythology Gag: The Doctor mentions the Terileptils... the first group to destroy the sonic screwdriver, which happened again earlier this series when the Doctor abandoned it with Davros.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The first Series 9 trailer ended with the Doctor greeting Ashildr with a surprised "You!", giving fans the impression that Maisie Williams was going to be playing a returning character from the classic series, with Susan being a particularly popular speculation. Nope, she's a completely new character to the series, and debuted in the preceding episode.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • We get only the briefest of glimpses at Ashildr's activities in the centuries between "The Girl Who Died" and this story, with one particular tragedy — the death of her children in the Black Plague — standing out but not entered into in any great detail.
  • Note to Self: Ashildr keeps journals of her adventures knowing that, as an immortal without infinite memory, she will eventually forget them otherwise. She sometimes reads through her own memories as a form of entertainment and the Doctor finds a section of ripped pages in one journal, presumably of memories that she wanted to effectively forget.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: "The Woman Who Lived"; this episode is the second in a row to follow this naming convention, since the episodes are part of one whole story.
  • Obviously Evil: Leandro is a snarling lion man with glowing eyes and the ability to breathe fire; he angrily shouts for Sam to hang when the crowd is cheering the highwayman's joking on the scaffold.
  • Open Secret: Once again, neither Clara nor the Doctor appears concerned about the fact her students are aware of the Doctor's unique abilities, given he helped one student complete a history assignment by arranging for her to meet the real Winston Churchill.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Once the portal is open, starships begin raining down energy blasts on the town.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: An expected consequence of being immortal anyway, but Ashildr's children died in infancy from bubonic plague; she swore off of having children ever again as a result.
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: Ashildr uses this to break into a mansion — using one of her own wanted posters as the paper, no less.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Ashildr puts on a marvelous period gown as her civilian identity "Lady Me".
  • Plague Doctor: The Doctor finds a medieval plague mask in Me's library. A Deleted Scene has Me telling a doctor wearing one of these how to prevent the Black Death (which has just killed her children) only for a Dramatic Unmask (after she's gone) to reveal it's the Doctor. In the finished episode, he notes that last time he saw her she was founding a leper colony, which he thought meant she was all right.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Eye of Hades can open a portal to another universe, but has to drain the life of a living person to do it.
  • Public Execution: Sam Swift is sentenced to hang for being a highwayman. The Doctor convinces the executioner that Cromwell has pardoned him.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: After Sam is pardoned and rescued, the hangman who was to execute him is shown talking with him at the inn.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Ashildr is an aversion of this trope. She was granted immortality by the Doctor; however, she still possesses a human brain that cannot retain her memories of her adventures spanning centuries. As a result, she refers to herself as "Me" (having long forgotten her true name) and keeps her history documented in journals. She also takes damage as a normal human, and the Doctor scolds her for getting involved with wars for this reason.
  • Reverse the Polarity: Faced with a device which uses Sam Swift's death to open a portal, the Doctor and Ashildr reverse it by using the second Mire medkit to save his life, thereby closing the portal with life energy.
  • Scheherezade Gambit: Sam Swift knows that the crowd will get angry if he is executed while he's still being funny, so he literally tells jokes like his life depends on it. The Doctor winds up getting in on the act when he arrives to stop the villainous plot. Leandro is forced to heckle the crowd into getting on with it several times.
  • Sequel Hook: At the end of the episode, the Doctor learns that Ashildr is still alive in 2015, with a sighting in the vicinity of Coal Hill School. Coincidence, or has she taken an interest in Clara?
  • Shaped Like Itself: The Doctor's curioscanner. It scans for curios.
  • Shout-Out: The Doctor plays the Pink Floyd song "Wish You Were Here (1975)" on his guitar.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Clara doesn't appear in the Next Time trailer at the end of the previous episode, because this story focuses on the fallout from the Doctor's actions and his and Ashildr/Me's relationship. In the actual episode, Clara only appears in a coda at the end, where it's revealed that one of her pupils has taken a selfie... with Ashildr in the background!
  • The Slow Path: Ashildr is now an immortal. She has no means of time travel and the Doctor won't take her on as a companion, so she must wait to keep up with him; at the end of the episode, she decides to trail others whom he has left behind.
  • Sunglasses at Night: The Doctor chooses to don his shades over a more practical mask when Ashildr asks him to disguise himself when stealing the Eye of Hades.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Ashildr disguises herself as a highwayman; previously she disguised herself as a soldier during the Hundred Years War.
  • That Man Is Dead: "I am not Ashildr any more."
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Doctor looks disturbed when Ashildr brags of fighting in the Battle of Agincourt.
  • Too Awesome to Use: The Doctor left Ashildr a second medkit, so she's had the power to make one single person into an immortal companion all along. Hundreds of years later she still hasn't found anyone good enough for something so awesome.
  • The Unreveal:
    • It never is revealed what incident could be so painful that Ashildr would tear the pages from her journal so she'd never relive them, even though she kept the notes on her three dead children.
    • Ashildr is evasive on how she learned more about the Doctor than she would have known from their previous encounter, in particular his tendency to show up, save the day, and leave without seeing through the consequences of his actions. It's implied she may have encountered someone (or multiple someones) whom the Doctor had interacted with previously, or possibly that she was merely speculating from what she saw when he was helping her protect her village, but nothing is confirmed.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Even after betraying her and confirming that he's planning to kill her, Leandro begs Ashildr not to close the portal as his own people won't tolerate failure. Quite rightly, she ignores him.
  • Voice Changeling: Ashildr/Me can perfectly imitate a male voice. When asked how she does it, her answer is lots of practice.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: There are wanted posters for the Knightmare (Ashildr), the Doctor, and Sam Swift.
  • We Are as Mayflies: The Doctor and Ashildr both feel this of humanity. For Ashildr, she has come to see their lives as meaningless, wisps of smoke that vanish in a blink. For the Doctor, he sees this quality as a necessary counterpoint to immortals like himself and Ashildr, without which they would be incapable of seeing the beauty in life. This is why he can't make her a companion — it would be too easy for both of them to become distanced from that beauty, leaving them with nothing but hardened hearts. It's brought into sharp relief with Clara as Ashildr forces the Doctor to consider Clara in the same vein.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Sam Swift is never seen or mentioned again, despite having been saved with the second Mire medkit. The Doctor says that since his lifeforce was being drained by the Eye of Hades before he was revived, the medkit probably wouldn't have been able to make him immortal. So Ashildr decides to forget him and the Mire medkit immediately.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ashildr/Me delivers this to the Doctor over his reviving her with Mire technology and making her immortal, thus "trapping" her in life, and then just leaving for elsewhere. The Doctor tried to ensure her immortality wouldn't be so lonely by leaving her that second medkit, but she found it Too Awesome to Use, and he won't take her on as a companion. What's tragic about this was that his actions were the good side of To Be Lawful or Good, since his only other option at the time was letting her die and not making ripples in the sea of time... which is not the choice of a doctor.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Catherine Tregenna revealed in Doctor Who Magazine that the story takes place in Hounslow.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Ashildr demonstrates several aspects of why immortality would be unpleasant: 1) She's lonely. She outlives people from those that gave birth to her to those that she gives birth to. 2) She's bored. After eight hundred years she has done everything from medicine to ruling to thieving to war and more. 3) The medkit repairs her body but her mind doesn't change so she loses memories of her original home and family, and as a result, she loses touch with her identity.
    "From now on it's Me against the world."
  • Written-In Absence: Clara's off taking her students to tae-kwan-do lessons, only showing up at the end.
  • "You!" Exclamation: When the Knightmare does a Dramatic Unmask to reveal herself as Ashildr.
    Doctor: You...
    Ashildr: Yes, it is me.
  • You Have Failed Me: Leandro is vaporized by his people when the Doctor and Ashildr foil the invasion.