One year after the most significant scene of Series 9
One year ago, on Oct. 17, 2015, an episode that started out as a fun Vikings-with-horns romp, “The Girl Who Died”, ended up being arguably the most significant episode of Series 9 before the finale trilogy.
And it all comes down to one scene, illustrated above.
I’ve written about how “Under the Lake”/“Before the Flood” set the parameters for Hell Bent, to the point where it’s a prequel, no argument. “Girl Who Died” is the second prequel, setting up not only the whole Ashildr subplot, but also we see the Doctor finally find the justification for changing history to save one life. That he is the Doctor and he helps people, come hell or high water. He helped the Roman whose face he later adopted. And he created an immortal in Ashildr, and he did so while telling the Time Lords to go to hell. The pistol is cocked; the Time Lord Victorious’ finger is on the trigger. And he fires in “Hell Bent.”
The scene is also significant for another reason. In “Before the Flood” Clara proclaims that the Doctor has made himself essential to her - which for someone who promised in “Death in Heaven” to never say “I Love You” to anyone else was Clara saying “I love you” to the Doctor, underscored by her challenging the Doctor to prove he feels the same by coming back to her.
Here, we have a remarkable moment where the Doctor returns the favour as he tells Clara that one day the thought of missing her will make it difficult to breathe and all he’ll be able to do is run away in his TARDIS but the pain would never stop chasing him. Platonic friends do not say this, full stop. The Doctor, due to rules set out by Russell T Davies, does not say “I love you” to anyone. He expresses it in other ways. This was another “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference” moment except without the need to play semantics on the use of “care for” as some have done to justify it. It also explains why the Doctor would frankly wipe his memory of her than endure the pain.
This is also the episode of course in which we see Clara stroke the Doctor’s face for the first time. And it was the episode of the now-iconic spinny hug moment. Those two moments were cherries on top of an already-loaded sundae.