Discussing Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died

Doctor Who the girl who died

I’m back again with my friend Kevin Harvey, author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop CultureToday we are discussing the most recent Doctor Who episode “The Girl Who Died.”

Previously, we talked about “The Magician’s Apprentice,” “The Witch’s Familiar”, “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood.”

After an extremely “wibbly wobbly” episode last week with deep philosophical thoughts, the Doctor was back with quips and character as he faced Vikings and a fake Odin.

So with the biggest reveal of the Twelfth Doctor’s run in this episode, what did we think about it all? As always, beware of spoilers.

What did you think about “The Girl Who Died”? 

Aaron: This may have been my favorite episode of the season. I enjoyed the last two-part story. I really enjoyed the season premiere. But this was a great episode that served as a perfect change of pace to the other cliffhanger stories. This had a conclusion of sorts, but, as the Doctor said, the story is not over yet.

Last week, a lot of the humor seemed missing, but this week had the perfect mix of drama and quips. When Doctor Who is at it’s best, it can make you laugh one minute and cry the next. That was this week. This show is really hitting its stride right now, particularly the Doctor and Clara.

Kevin: Did we really need the “To be continued” at the end of this episode that seemed to stand alone just fine, or are the writers just having fun with us, determined to fill the entire season with two-parters? I guess we’ll find out in a couple of weeks if they do it again after episode 7.

“The Girl Who Died” served many purposes in the grander scale of things to come, which we’ll get into in a bit, but I loved that the writers didn’t forget to simply give us a great episode that stands on its own too. Even without the “face reveal,” even without the introduction of a new character, even without the important character arc this episode serves for the Doctor in his search for compassion, “The Girl Who Died” had plenty of wit, humor, and emotion. They should’ve landed the Doctor in Vikings times long ago.

I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but I can see why Maisie Williams has made a name for herself. What did you think of Ashildr?

Kevin: I’m in the same boat as you, not being familiar with her Game of Thrones character either. But I like her fearless fighting spirit, that’s for sure. With the Doctor always being the one to try and find a way out without having to fight, it will be interesting to see what effect they have on each other when they meet up in later adventures.

She clearly has a bigger role coming soon as she begins crossing paths with the Doctor now that she has “lost the ability to die.” What will that be? Will she be a friend or enemy? If she weren’t so young I’d wonder if she was going to be the minister of war mentioned a couple of episodes ago. I saw someone on Twitter say that she guarantees she’s going to be River Song. I don’t get that one. Did she not watch the River Song story unfold? Or am I the one missing something? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Aaron: I loved the Ashildr character and the simple casting of Williams has led to some outrageous predictions at the true identity of her character, with the River Song one being one of the more bizarre. I’m not sure that she does much beyond this two-episode story arc. While I would love to see her more, I’m totally OK with introducing an interesting character for one story.

She played a great foil to the Doctor and his thinking, not to mention undercutting Clara’s negotiations with the Mire. I’m anxious to see how they all interact in “The Woman Who Lived.”

Not to humble brag or anything, but our discussion of Clara has really brought out a lot of the nuance of her character and relationship with the Doctor. What did you make of her this week?

Aaron: In her speech to the fake Odin, we can see it’s not just the rushing into danger that she’s gained from the Doctor, but she’s learned to analyze a situation and use her wit to talk her way out of danger (at least until Ashildr challenged the Mire to war).

But this was Clara at her best this week. She showed bravery and compassion. She pulled the Doctor back down from the stars to care for the village and she pulled him back up when he blamed himself for Ashildr’s death. Their relationship continues to grow and deepen. This is absolutely the most I’ve cared for Clara. Leave it to Stephen Moffett to make me attached to someone right before they’re going to die (which again seems foreshadowed this week).

Clara Doctor The Girl Who Died Doctor Who

Kevin: Welcome to the Clara fan club, my friend. Yes, “the magician’s apprentice” is coming more into her own each week this—sadly, her last—season. And the Doctor is definitely recognizing her value more often, not just to him, but to the mission. You see that in his conversations with her about the “rules,” and what they can and cannot do as time travelers. (Side note: Did you notice that he says “we are time travelers,” not just “I am a time traveler”? They are a true team now, not just a mad man in a box showing the universe to a spellbound companion.) He’s teaching her about the difference in making ripples instead of tidal waves. And he finally, willingly, gave her a hug without her making him!

For all the reasons above you already mentioned, I love how Clara is complementing the Doctor and challenging him to reexamine himself more. You and I were both worried last week about the Doctor becoming less caring for individuals, but Clara has been teaching him about compassion and it’s beginning to show. Many times in the recent past, the Doctor didn’t decide to help others until he actually had a plan. This week he decided to help the Vikings before coming up with a plan. But he had compassion for them, which Clara helped lead him to.

But, boy, do I wish he had saved that extra “resurrection chip” to use on Clara. Because he’s going to need it…

So what do you think about the big reveal about why the Doctor chose this face?

Kevin: I remember reading way back before the first Capaldi episode that one of Moffett’s writers had an idea about how to make sense out of using Capaldi for a previous character during the Tenth Doctor’s reign. So I knew something like this was coming, especially after the tease they gave us in Capaldi’s premiere episode that they alluded to in this episode.

I’m not sure if the character arc that they’ve had the Twelfth Doctor on this past season and a half (with him becoming less caring about individuals and more about winning the overall war, despite the sacrifices) was with intention, knowing the “realization” he would come to when he finally recognized his face, or if it was all a happy accident, but I’d say it worked out perfectly.

The Doctor took this face to remind him to save the one (more on this later, in the question I know is coming about spiritual content). I loved it. But the key will be keeping this up in later adventures. Will he continue risking tidal waves in order to save one, or will he go back to playing it safe, worried about the “rules”?

Aaron: I’m still up in the air about the reveal. In some ways, I thought it was perfect. He sees his reflection and realizes that his calling in life as the Doctor is to save people. It’s why he took that name and why he travels through time and space. If it furthers the arc, as you suggest, then it will be one of the better decisions writer Steven Moffatt has made. It won’t be overdone or blown up into some huge mythic story, but it will be a simple reminder of the Doctor’s true identity.

My worry is that it will not stay that way. Either it will be used as simply an excuse to have the Doctor save Ashildr and nothing beyond that or Moffat will make it part of some gigantic huge Doctor Who mythos that stretches across multiple seasons with a resolution that can never live up to the extended hype. I’m hopefully that those fears will be misguided. 

While they seemed, at least for this week, to be more plot device than anything else, what did you think of the Mire?

Aaron: They were a fun villain and could pop up again in the future. Because they weren’t hyped as much as the Fisher King last week, I don’t mind as much that they were fairly easily dispatched. Using their reputation against them is a beautiful touch. Who wouldn’t be embarrassed if a video of you was put to the Benny Hill theme?

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died The Mire

Kevin: More than any other episode I can recall right now, this was less about the villain and more about the Doctor, Clara, and introducing Ashildr. So I too think it was okay to defeat them pretty easily and quickly. I mean, Doctor Who has to have some kind of bad guy in each episode, right? But they don’t all have to be nearly impossible to defeat. After all, our protagonist is a 2,000-year-old Time Lord who can basically do anything he wants to (that is, if he gets himself some new sonic shades). I found his plan of defeat pretty refreshing actually. 

Favorite quotes from this week?

Kevin: As noted earlier, this episode was the perfect blend of humor and drama. So it makes sense that there are great quotes to serve each of those purposes.

“They took away all your fighters. So, uh, what are you? Farmers, fishermen, web designers. Maybe not that last one.” — the Doctor

“Perhaps you’d like to field this one, Limpy.” — the Doctor (when asked why they’re not training with real swords)

“I’m the Doctor, and I save people!”

Aaron: Yes, in terms of quotes, this was almost the opposite of last week. There are so many great quips and quotable lines.

“You were born for this. Tell them a story they’ll never forget.” — the Doctor to Ashildr

“Who frowned me this face?” — the Doctor

“Everyone knows I’m strange. But here I’m loved. Leaving this place would be death itself.” — Ashildr

What spiritual content did you notice in this episode?

Aaron: While the Doctor said the one thing gods never do is show up, he reminded us of the power contained in a story. The village was saved by a story. The Mire conquer (and are defeated) through a story. So what about the story of the god who actually does show up?

It reminds me, as things often do, of C.S. Lewis and particularly the conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson that lead to his conversion to Christianity. Lewis thought it was a defect of Christianity that so many religions had stories similar to the story of Jesus. His friends pointed out that those myths were actually just pointing to the one True Myth. Jesus was the story come to life.

Obviously, we have a story that brings life. The gospel is the most powerful story in the universe. As it spreads across space and time it grants immortality to those who accept it. We don’t have just one to share with one person. We can share this story with anyone and everyone. That is an amazing and powerful story.

I did think it was interesting that the Doctor essentially claimed omnipotence in saying he could do whatever he wanted. Whether that was bravado or blame for the Ashildr’s death I don’t know, but it demonstrates the need of a God who is not only omnipotent, but also omniscient. The Doctor had the power to restore Ashildr, but not the knowledge to know how that ripple (or tidal wave) would spread.

Ashildr Doctor Who Girl Who Died

Kevin: And staying on that topic of defeating the enemy with a story, I loved that the story the Doctor used to drive away the Mire was done so by using farmers and fishermen, not unlike the disciples Jesus used to share his Story. And the Doctor’s story also had a sacrifice and a resurrection as well.

As I try sharing in my book, these kind of parallels found in Hollywood are certainly not always intentional, but that is the power of the gospel, the Story of all stories. It can’t help but make its way into people’s art. God has created us with a need for his Story, and it will show up in all kinds of places.

But back to the reveal of the Doctor’s face and how it is to remind him to save the one, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Luke 15 and Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The shepherd with 100 sheep leaves the 99 to find his one, wandering sheep. The lady with ten coins turns her house upside down looking for one lost coin. And the father whose son wished he was dead and deserted him looked out for his son every day and threw the part of all parties for him when he finally returned home.

If there’s one thing to take away from the Bible, God’s message to us, it’s that Jesus came for the one. Me. You. Each individual reading this. To Jesus, the one is worth giving his life for. And now, to the Doctor, the one is worth making tidal waves for. Even if the tidal wave ends up destroying others.

For more about Kevin, he blogs at BibleInPopCulture.com, where he talks about the intersection of faith and culture, and you can catch him on Twitter at@PopCultureKevin.

Join us again next week when we’ll talk about “The Woman Who Lived,” when we will wrap up the story of Ashildr and see where the Doctor and Clara are headed next. Here’s some previews to get you ready.


  1. Great review. I too am loving the emphasis on stories again. It seems that Clara has become too dependent on the Doctor, that he owes her. Also will the Doctor be able to bear to loose her? We’ve seen Karn and now immortality chips. Are these hints or clues as to what will ultimately happen to Clara? Do you remember what the Classic series was planning to do with Ace? I wonder.

  2. Excellent, thought-provoking post, Aaron. You always go deep, though not “heavy” — so satisfying! Thanks for your commitment to excellence.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.