Mysterious, intimate, atmospheric. This sublime sequel to The Girl Who Died is a pared back reflection on immortality – not something new for Doctor Who – but rarely done this well. I never quite bought the Doctor’s explanation in School Reunion for why he never came back for Sarah-Jane, but I his piece on why he travels with the mayflies was fabulous. It shares the theme of time travel the long way round with my favourite episode – without the ageing.
I think this may be my favourite Capaldi performance to date (maybe Mummy just beats it by a whisker) from his distracted fish-in-the-night entrance, through his incredible focused cross-examination of Ashildr’s character, to his panicky gallows-banter with Sam Swift-the-Quick (despite “I’m against banter, I’m on record on the subject”). Speaking of Sam Swift, it’s an absolutely stunning performance from Rufus Hound who you can’t help but laugh at, despite the underlying desperation that suffuses the scene with sour melancholy.
But it’s Maisie Williams who takes her character from last week, but elevates her status to that befitting a 400 year old. She’s Ashildr without the terrors and triumphs or hopes and hankerings of a youth with a future; instead she has so much of a past she cannot, and wants not to remember it. Despite having every appearance of being an 18 year old. It’s fascinating and absolutely, totally convincing.
(Unlike her ‘Knightmare’ voice which, presumably, was meant to be an homage to Black Adder – but surely Miranda Richardson did actually voice ‘The Shadow’?)
I guess the other factor is that we had a whole episode without Clara – and much as I have enjoyed Jenna Coleman’s post-impossible-girl stint, it was rather fascinating to see Capaldi acting opposite someone else. I did enjoy Capaldi’s expression in the coda as he gazed at his mayfly, but maybe I didn’t feel quite as mournful as he did.
For me, this was this season’s Listen in that after a good run of really strong episodes, we suddenly got something head and shoulders above the rest. An absolute delight.