River Song accused the Doctor of making such a legend of himself all his enemies wanted him in a box. She noted his title meant warrior in some languages, rather than learned or healer. Yet, Doctor Who (the program) does this all the time: makes legends and messes them up. The enemies become legendary in the telling of their exploits, and, in facing The Doctor, they grow even more so because of their fear of him (Asylum of the Daleks).
Through The Doctor, these legends are cut down to size. And like any good medical practitioner, he reveals them for what they are, most recently, the users of tech trickery to use or otherwise harm the simple locals (Christmas Invasion, Girl Who Died). In this story they are not Norse gods, but illegal harvesters trading on their own legend. He goes on to demonstrate enemies can be defeated with a better story.
Of course, it works the other way too. Innocuous items or phenomena are mythologised, or re-mythologised. Statues of angels are living entities, kids in gas masks are zombies, shadows are ravenous hordes of beasties, while childhood cupboards are repositories of nightmares that echo across time and space.
Now, with the addition of The Mire, we have the allusion to their legend and the demonstration of their strength against Vikings, with all their forged metal pointy weaponry. The battle, then, is not really Mire against Viking, in as much as it is Viking Storyteller vs Alien Storyteller, conducted within a holographic and imaginative arena. The battle is thus rewritten in terms Vikings understand and can use.
Because this is Doctor Who, every victory is also something more. It is both the loss of Ashildir (she is indeed the girl who died), but it is also the creation of the Hybrid Immortal Ashildir. We shall see what she becomes: a great enemy, or a great friend, or something else. To further mix mythologies, Ashildir she is the Phoenix rising from the mire of destruction, which is also creation. In this way destruction and creation are obverse: you can’t have a one-sided coin.
The Power of Three (Laws)
These are the rules that operate in the Doctor Who universe:
- every victory has losses.
- rewards can come for sacrifice.
- no good deed goes unpunished.
The first one is obvious – there are always casualties. They are the kitchen staff on the train and Astrid and most of the passengers on The Titanic. Survival has a price.
The second one happens over longer time periods and often these rewards are bitter-sweet – it is Rose getting her half human Doctor, it is Sarah Jane getting a new K9, it is Jacquie Tyler getting Pete back. It is Donna developing as a person, saving the TARDIS and her friends and becoming Doctor-Donna.
Then we come to the third one. River Song’s great deed of resurrecting the dying Doctor is punished through the loss of her own regenerative ability. Rose’s great deed of saving Captain Jack is punished through her exile from the The Doctor’s universe to Pete’s World. It is Donna realising she can’t be The Doctor-Donna and returning to Old Donna. Seems you can’t have more than one person going around creating, or even saving, immortals.
With The Doctor resurrecting Ashildir, which Clara clarifies as a Good Deed, we therefore expect a price to be paid. The point is: who will foot the bill?
These three devices are the philosophical concepts behind selecting the motivations of The Doctor, they’re expressed in outcomes from his actions and the actions of those around him, and can be shown as laws of physics or equally, as spiritual coda. Much like bootstrap problems, The Doctor demonstrates their existence through his actions, which make them manifest. He is the character caught in the web of the writer’s devising. Every thread he pulls, brings his enemies, his punishments and his rewards closer.
Life Cycles of Immortals?
The arc of Ashildir is an analogy for growing up. First the Doctor delivers (news of) the baby (literally The Doctor translates the words). Then, as teacher, he enables people to use their natural skills to achieve important goals (like surviving an attack). Finally, as Doctor, he is there to tend the sick and lay out the dead. And, decide to restore them to a hybrid existence – an after (normal) life.
The Doctor doesn’t talk about immortality much because he’s right, it’s just one day after another, watching the people die. This is what he runs away from – the pain of loved ones dying. He acknowledged this with Clara. He spent centuries sulking about Amy and Rory and he’s trained to this life, and furthermore can skip through centuries of dull Wednesday afternoons in his magical blue box. As for other long-lived or immortals? Captain Jack can similarly skip through time when he needs to and was a Time Agent so time and space ain’t no big thing. For Rory, he was plastic and had a goal in mind – waiting for Amy.
The Woman Who Lived is/will be the result when The Doctor thrusts immortality upon a Viking girl with no greater ambition than to live in her village, and who must march through each day unceasingly for 500 years or so, no skipping, no downtime, no reward nor release. It will be no surprise if she’s insane, or evil, or unfeeling, or transcendent, or forgetting or masking remembering of everything she leaves behind.