Some of the appeal of Doctor Who is that a single episode can unfold in unexpected directions. A straight Vikings vs Aliens episode was made more frustrating and then heart-felt by its twists.
I know it’s a family show, and I know it’s story, not history, but if programs are going to have a play at Vikings with realistic-ish sets can they also drop the unhistorical stuff – like the horned and metal helmets. Evidence suggests they never wore horns, or certainly no soldier did, especially one on a boat. Basically, they wore leather and wood helmets with a bit of metal – because metal was expensive and took a lot of effort to make.
But all might be forgiven, because he’s messing with timelines and history. I mean he said the words everyone: reverse the polarity.
Most of all, what I thought was done well was that Storytelling saved the day. Again, the outsider Storyteller puppet string puller girl/child/woman/hybrid/dead/alive person sacrifices her life to save her people, and returns, something more than she was. Because stories.
A storyteller, because of her imaginative power is an outsider, and, already possesses a kind of immortality, because she carries the memories of her people and the land with her and passes them on. In this episode, the analogy is made reality. The Storyteller becomes immortal through her imagination and the intervention of The Doctor. This, in turn, changes the entire story of the Vikings, since this intervention creates in Ashildir a hybrid warrior race, which the episode alludes could be the source of their fearsome reputation as warriors and conquerors. Yet again the Doctor is putting history aright, throwing stones in the pond of time, that make ripples that become tidal waves – full of electric eels.
Of course, the writer of a TV series or episode also enjoys a kind of immortality too. If the stories last. Steven Moffat’s main sub theme since he took over has been examining how the writer is god/puppet master/creator/destroyer of worlds. In this episode, the Viking story turns reflexive and The Doctor realises the story he was trying to tell himself with his face, about a different doomed town confronting aliens (Fires of Pompeii). In the same way, writers mainly tell stories to tell themselves something. Does Ashildir, with her puppets and stories, become the story she has always told? And what does that mean for the rest of us?
The Doctor says gods don’t turn up, but also says he can do anything, except for the rules. He (again) skirts close to the belief he is a god. We know from Waters of Mars that it’s dangerous when he believes this. But the rest of us know he is actually a god. He can and often does intervene in lives and deaths, sometimes at people’s bidding. He is the god of turning up and his intervention creates new life: Ashildir, the eternal storyteller of the Vikings.
The Doctor has a forbidden secret name, foreknowledge, he understands (almost all) speech – including baby. He also has the power of naming. Just like in the Shakespeare Code, he understands the power of language and can use it as a weapon or a defence. Hence, the only other important people in this story get to keep their own names – Clara and Ashildir.
The Doctor too has superior abilities, and is essentially immortal (kinda in the same way the Norse gods were immortal). In fact, the Time War is Ragnarök, where even he is sometimes not on his own side.
If The Doctor isn’t a god, then he is one of the Jotun, an intellectual giant, if not a physical one, able to intermarry (River Song). He is then a mischievous, argumentative and sometimes quarrelsome, but a well mostly intentioned Loki of all time and space, and as Loki does, he can shape-shift.