The Doctor, minus Clara, lands in 1651 in England, meeting a highwayman trying to rob a coach. However, he has met this highwayman before, it’s Ashildr, the Viking girl he gave immortality to in the previous episode.
We learn what Ashildr has been up to in the meantime. Having all the time in the world means she had plenty of time to practice and master many skills. She founded a leper colony, was a medieval queen, fought as a soldier in the Battle of Agincourt, was almost drowned as a witch.
But she barely remembers the Viking village she came from and doesn’t remember the people or even her name back then at all. While she may have a superhuman lifespan, she still has an ordinary human memory. Her name has changed several times, and she can’t remember any of them. The people who knew her by whatever name she has all eventually die, so the name dies with them. Currently she is going by the name of Lady Me. She keeps a journal of her life, and some pages are ripped out and thrown if they are too upsetting and she doesn’t want to remember. She keeps some such as a going back to visit a husband who is now an old man, and he thinks she’s a ghost. Then there’s one from the Black Death, where she had children but they died from the plague. She keeps this entry to remind her not to have any more children, as she couldn’t bear to put herself through losing them again.
The Doctor is searching for an amulent known as the Eye of Hades, which is found in a nearby house. It will open a portal to another world. Lady Me is working with fire-breathing lion-faced humaniod Leaodnro who also wants to get it.
Lady Me has become desensitised. She doesn’t care about killing anyone, because from her perspective, people’s lives are short regardless, even if they live to an old age. Now humans are like mayflies to her. Human nature doesn’t change, they repeat the same mistakes constantly, and it bores her. She has “waited longer than I should have lived, lost more than I can remember”. She calls the Doctor out on the big difference between her immortality and his. “You gad about while I trudge through centuries”. He has a magic box which can take him wherever or whenever he wants, she has go through all history consecutively. “You didn’t save my life, you trapped me in it”.
There are signs she still has some humanity, as she has kept her loyal but sickly servant Clayton with her. But she had considered him as the human sacrifice needed for the Eye of Hades to open the portal. She changes her mind though, as soon as she hears a highwayman is going to hang. Instead of killing her poor servant, why not use a guilty criminal who is going to be hung anyway?
When they get there, she attaches the Eye of Hades to the highway man, Sam Swift. But it turns out Leandro was lying to her. He didn’t want to open the portal as a way to get out and go home , he opened it so his species could come through it and invade Earth. The aliens come and fire at the crowd. Lady Me is shocked and saddened by this, making her realise she does care for the welfare of humans. She uses her other Mire immortality chip on Sam Swift, which heals him and closes the portal. Leoandro is killed by his own species for failing his mission.
The Doctor and Lady Me discuss that two immortals would probably be bad company for each other. They need the “mayflies”, as they know how beautiful and precious life is because it is fleeting.
At the end, Clara arrives back in the TARDIS. A close-up of a selfie Clara shows the Doctor reveals Lady Me is still alive in the present day.
Leoandro looks like straight out of a live-action Thundercats movie. (Actually, has that ever happened? Part of me thinks it should have happened!).
‘The Woman Who Lived’ isn’t the second of a two-parter, as it isn’t really continuing the same story. It’s more of a sequel, but it does fit the tone of ‘The Girl Who Died’ more than ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’/’The Witch’s Familiar’ did to each other and ‘Under The Lake’/’Before The Flood’ did to each other. Even odder when you consider they were two-part episodes, and in each, both parts written by the same writer (Steven Moffat the former, Toby Whithouse the latter). ‘The Girl Who Died’ was written by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat, while ‘The Woman Who Lived’ is written by Catherine Tregenna.
But it does share the way episode titles match and reword the previous one, which seems to be a recurring theme this series. ‘The Girl Who Died’ in the last episode becomes ‘The Woman Who Lived’ in this episode.
It has a similar historical daftness to ‘The Girl Who Died’, this time being a bit like the Blackadder episide ‘Amy and Amiability’ which also had a woman posing as a highway man with a dubbed over male voice. I love Blackadder, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Horrible Histories, but for some reason I’m seldom keen on historical comedy episodes in Doctor Who. I didn’t much care for Sam Swift’s corny joke routine with puns and Doctor Doctor jokes.
But the stuff with Lady Me dealing with her immortality is great. Similar to ‘The Girl Who Died’, it has this introspective and philosophical side, with a fairly light plot that’s there because a plot is needed. I’m all for light and shade, I know you need to balance stuff out, but in this episode the serious stuff was a lot better than the comedy for me.
Clara doesn’t appear until the end, so Lady Me sort of takes up companion role, but she probably works better appearing on a recurring basis rather than a regular one.
‘The Woman Who Lived’ is a decent take on, and maybe even a deconstruction of, the concept of immortality. If immortality were possible, there’s probably a lot of people who would want it, but what would it actually be like? Perhaps it is overall not the greatest episode ever, but it’s based around a good idea.