That question, hauntingly posed in The Highlander theme song by Queen, was addressed Oct. 24 in Doctor Who‘s “The Woman Who Lived.”
The woman in question is Ashildr, the Viking lass the Doctor made immortal, more or less, in the first installment of this story, “The Girl Who Lived.” Played by Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams, Ashildr has spent the 800 years between episodes severing her relations with fellow humans and boiling herself down to “Me.”
The episode raises questions. What is the relationship between creator and creation? Who has the ultimate responsibility for what becomes of the creation, the creation or the creator?
Me has not adapted well. She had initially thanked the Doctor for saving her life, but coping with immortality has proven to be a bit much. She figures the Doctor owes her.
“You didn’t save my life, Doctor,” she says. “You trapped me inside it.”
Backtracking a bit, what brought these two immortals together after all those years? Well, both are in hot pursuit of a piece of alien jewelry, “The Eyes of Hades,” when their paths cross in 1651.
Me, wearing a Boy Wonder lookalike “Knightmare” disguise with matching voice, is practicing her latest ennui-breaking endeavor, highway robbery. The Doctor is following a very steampunk-looking detection device, which leads him directly into the coach the Knightmare is robbing.
“Oh, just ignore me. I’m just passing through,” the Doctor tells the Knightmare, as he is literally going through the coach, “like fish in the night. Not fish in the night. It’s something else. No, ships in the night. Yeah, something like that.”
The Knightmare is not amused. “He” demands that the Doctor cease and desist or face fatal consequences.
“This is my robbery!” the Knightmare declares.
“Well, can’t we share? Isn’t that what robbery’s all about?” the Doctor counters.
While the Knightmare and the Doctor debate the issue, the coach driver takes advantage of the distraction and takes off, with the prize sought by both parties still in the coach boot.
“You bungled my heist!” the Knightmare shouts.
“No, you bungled mine, Zorro,” the Doctor says.
At this point the Knightmare unmasks and says in her normal voice, “What took you so long, old man?
Me is under the mistaken impression that the Doctor has come to rescue her from her immortal boredom. When she learns that he is not, she demands that he take her with him. The Doctor, having previously traveled with another immortal, Captain Jack Harkness, thinks that’s a bad idea.
A pair of immortals tend to lose sight of the of the value of life, the Doctor believes. The solution to his last situation was to spin the captain off into Torchwood, which until then had been just a camouflaging anagram to divert prying eyes from unaired Doctor Who episode scripts. Although Me does seem perfectly suited to a major role in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series, the Doctor does not offer her a spin-off opportunity.
The Doctor’s decision does not sit well with Me. She has come to regard mortal humans as insignificant — mayflies, mere puffs of smoke in their relatively momentary existences.
To be fair, Me has endured much hardship over the centuries as a result of her immortality. She has watched family members age and die. She has lost her small children to plague.
“I am not brave enough to die. To let go of this…wretched life.” she wrote in the library full of journals that serve as her memory.
Knowing pain she would face, the Doctor had provided second immortality chip she could give to anyone she chose. She has never, she says, found someone good enough.
She thinks she has done all she can on Earth and wants off.
“I’m not looking for husband, you oaf,” she clarifies. “I’m looking for a horse to get me out of town.”
When the Doctor denies her demand, Me moves to Plan B. Or, more chronologically likely, Plan A.
She has acquired a new friend, Leandro, the Alien Humanoid Lion. Lenny, as the Doctor nicknames him, looks as if he has wandered off the Broadway set of The Lion King. He doesn’t sing, but he does growl. He also possesses a pair of malevolent, glow-in-the-dark eyes and has flame-belching capability — just to prove he is a very dangerous guy.
Lenny has promised Me off-planet transportation, but he needs the Eyes of Hades and a human sacrifice to open a portal to his world. As proof of her emotional detachment from mere humans, she plans to use her faithful man servant, Clayton (played by another Game of Thrones alumnus, Struan Rodger).
Naturally, the Doctor does not endorse the sacrifice part of the plan. He also does not approve of Me’s partner.
“Look, I don’t know what Lenny the Lion is up to, but I know his type, the Doctor says. “Very first argument, I guarantee, he’ll bite your head off.”
Clayton is saved when another sacrifice nominee is revealed. Sam Swift (played by comedian Rufus Hound), a fellow highwayman, is scheduled to be hung at noon in the village square.
Backtracking again, Me and the Doctor had been accosted by Sam earlier. As it turned out, the pair were able to best the not-so-swift Sam and his associates, but not before a humorous exchange had taken place.
“Well, never knew you were so puny, Knightmare,” says Sam, “or should I say ‘Slightmare?’ “
“No, not the pun,” the Doctor protests. “Line in the sand. No puns.”
“It’s what’s in my brain that counts, Bingo Boy,” the Knightmare responds.
“Well, no brain outwits a bullet, Dandiprant,” Sam says.
“This is banter. I’m against banter. I’m on the record on the subject of banter, says the Doctor.
“Who’s this? Your sidekick? You got your dad as a sidekick?” Sam asks.
Me goes along with the dad-sidekick thing for few ticks. She ends the bit abruptly when the Doctor attempts to impart some the wisdom he has gained as an immortal some 1,200 years her senior with words frequently heard from teenage step-children.
“Shut up!” Me says. “You’re not my dad!”
Sam continues to provide comedy relief in this episode as he prepares to meet his maker. It would seem that Sam can delay his fate for as long as he keeps the village square crowd laughing. Is this where stand-up comedy historically got its start? Great motivation.
“Hey. He’s new at this, Sam says, referring to the hangman. “Someone will have to show him the ropes. Don’t worry, mate, you’ll get the hang of it.”
“When I’m gone, they’ll all say ‘That Sam Swift. He was well hung.’ “
Just when Sam is running out of puns and is about to literally die on stage, the Doctor joins the act from the audience.
“Doctor, Doctor, Doctor! Sam calls out. “I’m a robber!”
“Have you taken anything for it?” the Doctor shouts back.
“Uh, Doctor, Doctor…”
“Quick, man. I’m running out of patience!”
“Have you ever seen a sidekick so old?”
“I’m no one’s sidekick.”
“He’s so old, he farts dust,” Sam says.
“And his nose is so big, that,” the Doctor begins.
“They’ll have to widen the noose,” Sam finishes.
“Or, or bury him in a pyramid,” the Doctor ends.
You know what they say, “Big nose,” Sam says.
“Big handkerchief?” completes the Doctor.
“No, Doctor. Don’t leave me hanging!”
With the impromptu routine apparently at an end, the hangman seizes Sam and is about string him up. Me jumps in and plants the Eyes of Hades on Sam’s chest. Sam begins to die, and the portal to Lenny’s world opens.
Much to my non-surprise, Lenny, seems to have forgotten his side of the bargain. Instead of providing a horse out of town, the portal begins dropping exploding fireballs on the helpless villagers. Me calls Lenny on his apparent memory failure, and he makes a technical point. He is keeping his word. Her escape will be death. Nice.
Me uses her remaining immortality button to restore Sam. Looks like the choice of an immortal mate has been made for her by circumstances. She might have done better had she not dallied for eight centuries.
Funny, how Lenny expects that all the randomly raining death and destruction will miss him. He pleads with his brothers to spare him, as the portal begins closing. No such luck. He is vaporized by a brotherly deathray. I guess his brothers have a “no loose ends” policy.
Me suddenly regains her caring for people as the attack progresses. This seems unbelievable, given that, only minutes earlier, she had no problem with sacrificing the life of her dear, old, devoted servant.
Carnage over, sitting in the village pub, the Doctor has a heart-to-heart with the rehumanized Ashildr. She seems to have retaken the name. At least, she doesn’t object when the doctor addresses her as Ashildr. She also seems to have gained some insight into why she and the Doctor would make a bad team.
“That’s why you can’t travel with me,” she says. “Our perspectives are too vast, too far away.”
Ashildr decides that new her purpose in life will be to look out for the people abandoned by the Doctor.
“I’ll be the patron saint of the Doctor’s leftovers,” she says. “While you’re busy protecting this world, I’ll get busy protecting it from you.”
The Doctor returns to the TARDIS. As he is strumming a few notes on his guitar, the door opens, and Clara makes her first appearance of the episode .She is fresh from a day of teaching and has a selfie taken with a student to show him.
Despite Ashildr’s benevolent declaration, the Doctor appears uneasy when he spots Ashildr in the background. Was her sudden do-gooder turn a little too good to be true? Is she looking out for a future leftover or planning something more sinister?
Backtracking, one last time, Me had questioned why the Doctor had not made Clara immortal.
“Well, look how you turned out,” the Doctor says.
He notes that, although Me claims to remember no one from her life, she knows Clara.
“I take particular note of anyone’s weaknesses.” Me says.
OK, back to the ending scene.
“I’ve missed you, Clara Oswald,” the non-hugging Doctor says as he holds Clara in a lengthy hug.
“Well, don’t worry, daft old man.”Clara says. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The look on the Doctor’s face says he knows otherwise. Something is coming for Clara. Perhaps, during a recent visit to the 21st century, he has read about Clara and a Queen Victoria impersonation?