Imagine you are immortal.
It is a common enough theme in fantasy and science fiction: especially when you consider Highlander or most modern vampire stories. You die unexpectedly and then get resurrected. And after a time you realize that you just can’t die. Perhaps you can be killed, but your instinct of self-preservation is still strong enough that you really don’t want to test that theory. Now imagine watching everyone else: everyone living and dying all around you. Then consider that for all you may live forever, you still have a human mind with human memory and feelings. You begin to forget things, either through time or trauma. But then it gets worse. The person that made you thought they were granting you a mercy. You see, they thought that by granting you the ability to make another immortal, like you, you’d have at least the potential to never be lonely.
But it’s too late. You already know what it’s like. You know what it would cost someone. Long ago, in a small Viking village, you told the man that made you that leaving your home would be like death. Well, you haven’t been home now for about eight hundred years. Could you do that to someone else? And worse: he only gave one opportunity to make someone immortal. Out of all the friends, lovers, and spouses you’ve had — the children you made — how can you pick just one?
That had been the conundrum of the woman once known as Ashildr by the time of Doctor Who‘s “The Woman Who Lived.” You have to wonder, when you see the person who now calls herself Lady Me — as she is the only one who generally remembers who she is throughout time — if a longer life is always a better one, and just how many times she’s gotten tired throughout the years and centuries of her existence.
And The Doctor did this to her. In my last recap of “The Girl Who Died,” I was disappointed that Ashildr didn’t turn out to be another Time Lady. But perhaps it’s just as well. Instead the writer Catherine Tregenna did something else entirely with the character that Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson wrote. She took a hapless, but defiant girl from “The Girl Who Died” and made a complex character in “The Woman Who Lived.”
Lady Me, played by Maisie Williams, has reached a point where she realized that making another like herself or suffering from loneliness was no choice at all. So she decided to be alone. She distanced her feelings, wrote out the memories her brain couldn’t contain in a vast library in a mansion she bought with her riches, and tore out the pages of the most painful recollections of all. She robs people purely for the entertainment of it, even as she sometimes helps them.
And she wants out. She wants to get away from a world where she would have to watch her children and lovers die: having reached a point where she no longer wants the former. Everyone just seems like shades to her: mayflies already marked for the grave. She wants to go into space and travel with The Doctor. And the thing is: she would make an excellent Companion. Lady Me is realistic, somewhat jaded, but vastly knowledgeable, intelligent, and she knows how to adapt and survive.
But The Doctor will have none of it. And this is where Catherine Tregenna takes The Doctor. She shows us a man who cannot exist with others like himself, long-lived beings, for extended periods of time. He just doesn’t get that sense of … what, youth or vitality that he would from a shorter-lived Companion. His logic is that those with shorter lives value life more. And it’s a damning realization of the character. It shows us that his original aversion to Jack Harkness wasn’t just the strange way he felt in space and time. It illustrates why he left Gallifrey and how he generally avoided spending a lot of time with others of his own kind.
And then you consider the following. It would have been child’s play for The Doctor to get medical healing devices from beings like the Mira. The horrible fact of the matter is: The Doctor could have made any of his Companions immortal. He could have even made Rose Tyler an immortal and made the age-differences between them irrelevant. But he never did. You could argue that he didn’t do this because mortality was what made his Companions so plucky, so … human. Yet Tregenna seems to hint on the fact, at least through Lady Me, that there is a very selfish element underneath even the best of The Doctor’s intentions: something not unlike the stereotype of an older person dating only younger individuals to feel young again themselves. In The Doctor’s case, it has some very masculine connotations: even if he is not sexually attracted to his generally female Companions, or to Lady Me when she’s flirting with him, there is just this moment of realization — from Lady Me’s perspective and the audience’s — where you just know that she’s just not “his type.”
When you consider that The Doctor made Lady Me and that he is essentially rejecting her for being “too old for him,” and that you find out he had actually been watching her for a very long time without so much as helping her or offering to take her on the TARDIS, it comes across as a rather gross character flaw and connotation. Even Lady Me’s darkest actions and thoughts make a lot more sense in this vein: her impetus of loss and desperation giving you this strong inclination to sympathize a lot more with her than The Doctor.
However, it is only when Lady Me almost repeats what was done to her village on another settlement in her desperate attempt to escape the Earth that she remembers the defiant courage of her ancient youth. And after that, he reconciles herself to The Doctor. There is even a hint of a possibility that she might meet Captain Jack one day. But even as The Doctor tells her to keep an eye out for another possible immortal, Lady Me makes her own intentions clear. She will watch the other immortal, but she will also observe The Doctor as well: and protect others from his “good intentions.”
I have to say that this was an excellent episode because it was less about The Doctor and more about Lady Me. The fact that Clara was hardly in it was only a bonus. Indeed, there was one point where — when Lady Me confronted The Doctor about just how many Claras he had lost — I was just waiting for him to state something along the lines of “Three or four, that I know of.”
And what is also excellent is that Lady Me is going to come back at some point. I think that a spin-off with Captain Jack, River Song, and a whole lot of “loose-end characters” like The Doctor’s Daughter Jenny and Susan would be an awesome idea. This episode of Doctor Who was a good one: a worthy follow-up to the story that came before it. Also, the word “Hybrid” came up again during this arc. Missy and Davros had been rather fixated on that word in “The Witch’s Familiar.” You have to wonder just how this might come into play in future episodes of Doctor Who.