Sunday, 1 November 2015

"The Woman Who Lived"

Catherine Tregenna was the writer "Captain Jack Harkness", unquestionably the best story of the first series of Torchwood and she makes her debut writing for the mothership here. Amongst the writers who have worked on the programme since its return, Tregenna is unusual, in that she has never professed to be a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, which immediately gives this story a fresh feel. The influences are a bit more esoteric. Ashildr’s life (including times spent as a man) bears shades of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and, of course, a woman highwayman disguised as a man and putting on a man’s voice immediately brings to mind "Amy and Amiability" which I would call a hilariously classic episode of Blackadder the Third if that wasn’t a complete tautology.

Ashildr’s journey is funny and tragic at the same time – unlike Captain Jack she isn’t a unique space-time event, which means that she can only remember a fraction of her 800 year life. Her diaries may record the rest, but they might as well be someone else’s. Maisie Williams, so strong in the irresistible Game of Thrones is wonderful – sweet, yet steely as Ashildr, detached, yet not too remote to be brought back as Me. There is great support from Rufus Hound, who is very likable as Sam Swift; as with Frank Skinner last year, he is clearly having the time of his life. The alien invasion seems to be over egging the pudding a bit, but Ariyon Bakare lends his commanding authority to Leandro. Our leading man is on fire in both parts of the story whether channelling Tom Baker with his bad Odin impersonation or channelling his previous iconic role when assigning the Vikings their nicknames. Capaldi continues to impress in fresh ways as he goes on.

However, in both parts of this story there is a considerable handicap. The direction by Ed Bazalgette is, in my opinion, the worst since the programme came back. There are some good sequences, most notably CGI used in handheld shots. However, Bazalgette fails to keep track of the small things and the editing is clumsy. If you are showing a rider passing a milestone, it is a good idea to clearly show what is on that milestone, for example. Other sequences fail to make sense on first viewing because of choices Bazalgette has made, most notably the gag concerning the Vikings’ first use of real swords. Possibly linked to Bazalgette’s inconsistent helming is the fact that Murray Gold’s score is a disappointment. However, the production team is so strong that it can paper over most of Bazalgette’s cracks and the design is first rate, despite being completely inaccurate, historically – the horned helmets are understandable, but the sense of period in "The Woman Who Lived" is non-existent – the costumes and iconography are from the eighteenth century, yet the setting is unambiguously the Commonwealth Interregnum a century earlier.

Despite these flaws this is a hugely enjoyable story and I look forward to seeing more of Me(!).

NEXT: "The Zygon Invasion"/ "The Zygon Inversion"

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