The Woman Who Lived

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257 – "The Woman Who Lived"
Doctor Who episode
Leandro and Ashildr.jpg
The antagonist of the episode, Leandro (Ariyon Bakare), and Me (Maisie Williams)
Directed byEd Bazalgette
Written byCatherine Tregenna
Script editorNick Lambon
Produced byDerek Ritchie
Executive producer(s)Steven Moffat
Brian Minchin
Incidental music composerMurray Gold
SeriesSeries 9
Length45 minutes
First broadcast24 October 2015 (2015-10-24)
← Preceded by
"The Girl Who Died"
Followed by →
"The Zygon Invasion"
Doctor Who episodes (2005–present)

"The Woman Who Lived" is the sixth episode of the ninth series of the British sci-fi series Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on BBC One on 24 October 2015. It was written by Catherine Tregenna and directed by Ed Bazalgette.

The episode is set in England, 1651, featuring a highwayman revealed to be Ashildr (now going by the name of "Me" and under the alias of The Knightmare)[1] and "her fire breathing accomplice", when "The Doctor, on the trail of an alien artefact, is brought face to the face with the consequences of his own actions".[2]


Alone and on the trail of an alien artefact, the Twelfth Doctor interrupts a highwayman known as "the Knightmare" carrying out a highway robbery in 1651 England. The Doctor finds the artefact in the coach's luggage but the vehicle drives off before he can take it. Talking to the robber, he finds that 'he' is in fact Ashildr, the Viking girl made immortal in the previous episode. Over her 800 years of everlasting life, she has lost many of her memories, and has isolated herself in order to avoid the pain of losing loved ones. The Doctor learns that she has renamed herself "Me" due to her loneliness, although he still calls her Ashildr. She begs the Doctor to take her away from this world, but he refuses. Flicking through her journal, the Doctor finds memories ripped out and pages stained by Me's tears. He also discovers that Me previously had three children, all of whom she lost to the Black Death.

Me and the Doctor steal the artefact from a house, flee by climbing out of the chimney and escape an ambush by a rival highwayman, Sam Swift. The Doctor calls the artefact 'the Eyes of Hades' and he theorises that it is linked to ancient Greek mythology as a way of opening a portal to the afterlife or into space. The next morning, the Doctor finds out that by day, Me is "Lady Me" and lives as a wealthy woman with a servant. He then meets Me's ally Leandro, a leonine alien stranded on Earth who was the artefact's original owner. In return for Me tricking the Doctor into helping him, Leandro has agreed to let her come with him to travel the galaxy. However, in order for the portal to be activated, the artefact requires another person's death. Me ties up the Doctor and states her intent to kill her old blind servant Clayton for this end, but the Doctor opposes it. Two pikemen arrive to announce that "the Knightmare" is reported to be in the area and Sam Swift is about to be hanged at Tyburn. Me hands the Doctor over to them, claiming that he is the Knightmare, and sets off to use Swift's death instead of Clayton's to activate the artefact.

The Doctor escapes the pikemen by offering them Me's treasury and pursues Me to the hanging. He and Swift joke with each other to hold up the execution and the Doctor fakes a pardon for him from Oliver Cromwell using his psychic paper. However, Me finally attaches the artefact to Swift's chest, killing him and opening a portal. Leandro then reveals that his actual intent is to assist his people in invading Earth and was using Me all along. Spaceships begin destroying the crowd gathered to watch the hanging. Me, rediscovering her conscience and humanity after seeing the crowds slaughtered, uses the second Mire medical chip given to her by the Doctor to save Swift's life and close the portal. Leandro's people kill him for his failure. Afterwards, the Doctor explains that Swift may or may not have been rendered immortal by the chip as its power could have been drained when closing the portal which the Doctor makes up while talking to Me. He also reveals that Captain Jack Harkness, one of his former companions, is immortal like her and suggests that she should get along with him. Me states that she will remain the Doctor's friend and will look after those that the Doctor leaves behind. Back in present-day Britain, Clara shows the Doctor a selfie taken by one of her pupils, in which Me can be seen in the background, looking straight into the camera.


The Doctor informs Me that the imminent Great Fire of London was caused by the Terileptils, referring to the Fifth Doctor story, The Visitation (1982).[3][4]

The Doctor states that he is "on record as being against banter". This is a reference to "Robot of Sherwood" when the Doctor chastises Robin Hood and his Merry Men for their lighthearted banter.[3][5]

The Doctor informs Me that she may come across Captain Jack Harkness in the future, given that his life, like hers, is indefinitely extended. The Doctor already expressed his dislike and avoidance of immortals in a conversation with Jack in Series 3's episode "Utopia".[6]

Outside references[edit]

The Doctor calls Me 'Zorro' after the masked outlaw created by Johnston McCulley, first appearing in 1919.[4]


Me's costumes for the episode, on display at the Doctor Who Experience.

Cast notes[edit]

Struan Rodger previously provided the voice of the Face of Boe in three episodes between Series 2 and Series 3.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

The episode was watched by 4.39 million viewers overnight in the UK. It received a 20.0% audience share. Consolidated ratings show 6.11 million watched this episode on time shift. It received an Appreciation Index score of 81.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Rotten Tomatoes (Average Score)8.89[8]
Rotten Tomatoes (Tomatometer)85%[8]
Review scores
The A.V. ClubA[9]
Paste Magazine9.8[10]
SFX Magazine4.5/5 stars[11]
TV Fanatic3.5/5 stars[12]
New York Magazine4/5 stars[15]
Daily Telegraph5/5 stars[16]
Radio Times4/5 stars[17]

"The Woman Who Lived" received universal critical acclaim, with many critics labeling it the best of the current series.[18][19][20] On Rotten Tomatoes the episode has a score of 85% based on reviews from 20 critics, with an average score of 9.0, being beaten by Heaven Sent. The site's consensus reads: "The Woman Who Lived" concludes a Doctor Who story for the ages, with a performance by Maisie Williams that is both fun and thought-provoking".[8] Elements of the episode especially praised by critics included the performances of Capaldi and Williams, the episode's dark visual tone and the dialogue between the Doctor and Me.[18][19][21]

Catherine Gee of The Daily Telegraph awarded the episode a full five stars, citing Peter Capaldi's performance as a standout, as well as Catherine Treganna's screenplay: "It was, at times, a beautifully written episode – and less clunky than some of Steven Moffat’s offerings. With an aged, well-read, worldly wise pair to play with, scriptwriter Catherine Tregenna was able to give the dialogue a literary feel."[22] Writing for IGN, Scott Collura gave the episode a 9.2–"Excellent" rating, praising the conclusion of the Me arc and dropping hints for the second half of the season. He called the episode "fun but also heavy", and praised other aspects of the episode including the parallels between the Doctor and Me, the exploration of Me's past and Clara's mysterious absence from the story.[14] Ross Ruediger of also responded positively to the episode, particularly praising "the complex back and forth between the Doctor and Ashildr/Lady Me" as "remarkable". He also praised Ed Bazalgette's direction and ultimately awarded the episode four stars out of five.[23] Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times also awarded the episode four stars out of five, calling it "a dark and beautiful study of immortality and short lives". He especially acclaimed the episode's visual style, saying "The first 19 minutes takes place in the dead of night, the only available light coming from candles or the Moon. It all looks fabulous and is a triumph for the director Ed Bazalgette and director of photography Richard Stoddard". He also stated that "The philosophical interludes between the Time Lord and Ashildr are what make this sing" and praised Williams' performance as "superb".[21]

The A.V. Club's Alasdair Wilkins acclaimed the episode, awarding it a perfect 'A' grade for the second week in a row. He especially praised Maisie Williams's performance, declaring "Her work in last week’s The Girl Who Died was very good, bringing nuance and humanity to what in lesser hands might just feel like just another random historical character with hints of deeper mystery. But her work in 'The Woman Who Lived' is an order of magnitude better, if only because she is asked to do so much more here than she was last week." Though Wilkins found fault with the episode's "quickie" climax resolution, he ultimately believed that: "[W]hatever small deficiencies there might be in the ancillary elements are more than offset by how strong the core of this episode is." He closed his review by stating "The episode's meditation on the sorrow of immortality is more than enough to vault this into the show's uppermost echelon".[19] Mark Rozeman of Paste Magazine also heavily praised the episode, awarding it a score of 9.8 out of 10, the highest of the season thus far. Labelling the episode "first and foremost a character study", he further said that the episode " stands as perhaps the strongest entry of Season Nine thus far". He closed his review by stating "Despite its lavish production design as well as impressive stunts and effects, it’s an episode that ends up feeling highly insular and contained in a way that few Who stories do", and also praising Capaldi and Williams' performances as "compelling" while ultimately calling the episode "a crowning achievement to an already strong half-a-season".[18] Kaite Welsh also lavished praise onto the episode, calling it "legendary" and "a seminal episode for the series". She further stated that it "should be an episode that goes down in Doctor Who history", closing her review by saying that the episode "was so good it defies letter grades" – she ultimately awarded it a perfect 'A' grade.[20]

In print[edit]

Pearson Education will publish a novelisation of this episode by Chris Rice[24]for students of English language reading in 26 July 2018.[25][26]


  1. ^ "More Details on Episodes 5–8 of Series 9".
  2. ^ Steven Moffat. "Doctor Who season 9: Steven Moffat's episode guide". RadioTimes.
  3. ^ a b "The Woman Who Lived: Hints & Teasers (Set #1)".
  4. ^ a b "'Doctor Who': 10 Things You May Not Know About 'The Woman Who Lived' - Anglophenia - BBC America". BBC America.
  5. ^ "12 Great Moments From The Woman Who Lived".
  6. ^ "The Woman Who Lived: Hints & Teasers (Set #2)".
  7. ^ "The Woman Who Lived – AI:81". Doctor Who News.
  8. ^ a b c "The Woman Who Lived". Rotten Tomatoes. 18 November 2015.
  9. ^ ""The Woman Who Lived" · Doctor Who · TV Review The Doctor Who lives forever, and the woman who never asked to · TV Club · The A.V. Club".
  10. ^ "Doctor Who Review: "The Woman Who Lived"".
  11. ^ Will Salmon (24 October 2015). "Doctor Who S9.06 – "The Woman Who Lived" review". GamesRadar+.
  12. ^ Ryan Morris. "Doctor Who". TV Fanatic.
  13. ^ Kaite Welsh (25 October 2015). "Review: 'Doctor Who' Season 9 Episode 6, 'The Woman Who L - Indiewire". Indiewire.
  14. ^ a b Scott Collura (24 October 2015). "Doctor Who: "The Woman Who Lived" Review". IGN.
  15. ^ "Doctor Who Recap: 3 Immortals Walk Into a Bar …". Vulture.
  16. ^ Catherine Gee (26 October 2015). "Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived, review: 'stand-out episode'".
  17. ^ Patrick Mulkern. "Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived review: Maisie Williams' dark and beautiful tale". RadioTimes.
  18. ^ a b c Rozeman, Mark. "Doctor Who Review: "The Woman Who Lived"". Paste Magazine. Mark Rozeman. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  19. ^ a b c "The Doctor Who lives forever, and the woman who never asked to". The A.V. Club.
  20. ^ a b Welsh, Kaite. "Review: 'Doctor Who' Season 9 Episode 6, 'The Woman Who Lived,' Gets Legendary". IndieWire. Kaite Welsh. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  21. ^ a b Mulkern, Patrick. "Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived review: a dark and beautiful study of immortality and short lives". Radio Times. Patrick Mulkern. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  22. ^ "Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived, review: 'stand-out episode'". The Daily Telegraph.
  23. ^ Ruediger, Ross. "Doctor Who Recap: 3 Immortals Walk Into a Bar …". Ross Ruediger. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  24. ^ Rice, Chris. "Level 3: Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived : Chris Rice : 9781292205892". Book Depository.
  25. ^ "Pearson ELT Catalogue 2018" (pdf). p. 173.
  26. ^ "Level 3: Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived - Pearson Readers". Retrieved 6 April 2018.

External links[edit]