Supergirl – TV Review

“I need a hero,” Bonnie Tyler famously wailed on the soundtrack to 1984’s Footloose. Of course, if that song were recorded today that line would surely have to change to “Seriously, do we really need another one?” such is the proliferance of super-powered saviours on our screens.

From Daredevil, Gotham and the late Constantine to the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist, our telly boxes are currently overrun with spandex-clad vigilantes looking to save the world. The last thing we need is another hero.

Cleary, Sky1 begs to differ, though, somehow finding space inbetween its DC heavy-hitters Arrow and The Flash for Supergirl. Yes, it turns out girls can be heroes too.

And based on last night’s series opener you have to agree. Supergirl is a bright, fast-moving, self-assured offering that freshens up a bloated genre with a much overdue gender role reversal – even though the storyline still flies too close to the same old formula.

The show immediately sets itself apart from the crowd with its cheerful and optimistic tone. Most other shows may focus on dark, brooding heroes who turn to crime-fighting to cleanse their tortured souls, but Supergirl is something else entirely. Our hero approaches challenges with a can-do attitude and actually has fun using her special powers – with her first forays into heroism shown via a brisk, upbeat montage.

At its core, the story is about a young woman trying to find her place in the world. Kara Zor-El is Superman’s cousin and was originally shipped to Earth to protect him only to become trapped in the timeless Phantom Zone on route when Krypton’s implosion knocks her ship off course. When she does finally arrive, she finds her cousin is fully grown and in no need of her protection.

Now left without a purpose we next meet Kara as a listless 24-year-old (is there any other kind?) who uses her powers only for eavesdropping on her sleazy dates and to placate her ice queen of a boss Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart in brilliantly eviscerating form).

Melissa Benoist is excellent casting in the lead role. Her sweet, quirky nature may initially seem like a cheesy Felicity Smoak knock-off, but Benoist also imbues Kara with a brave heart and a sympathetic vulnerability that ensures we’re instantly drawn into her journey as a hero.

That journey kick-starts when Kara learns the plane carrying her sister has blown an engine and is plummeting out of the sky. It’s an incredibly sequence, realised with top-notch special effects that wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen. A shot of Supergirl twisting the plane as it skims across a heavily populated bridge is gut-wrenchingly tense and there are any number of great action scenes to keep the story zipping along at pace.

Where the show most excels, though, is with the sister dynamic that is at its core. Most shows try to shoehorn some sort of family turmoil into the story but very few attempts have felt as honest and authentic as Kara and Alex’s relationship.

While they undoubtedly have a closeness and love for one another, they also frequently fall out over Alex’s jealousy towards her adopted sibling as she often undermines Kara’s belief to prevent her from outshining her. This conflict takes on even greater significance when we learn Alex works for the DEO – the Department of Extra-Normal Operations – and has effectively been spying on her sister for the past few years.

This strong focus on relationships adds lots of emotional layers to enhance the drama with Alex eventually playing a vital role in restoring Kara’s confidence after she suffers a vicious beat-down during her first real fight with an extra-terrestrial villain.

Right now the show’s biggest stumbling block is the conventional nature of the storytelling. Like most of these shows, there’s a villain of the week mixed with a larger overarching threat (which, when revealed, looks set to continue playing on the juicy family conflict angle). So familiar is this formula that it often feels like we’re going through the same old predictable motions with every tired plot beat.

Of course, it doesn’t help that this week’s villain, the space axe-wielding Vartox, is rather weak and lacking in enough motivation to raise much interest in his subplot. You hope the show will improve in this area as the focus shifts more towards Kara’s crime-fighting adventures.

There are other flaws – there’s the usual pilot issue of clunky exposition and the writing is very heavy-handed in reminding us that Supergirl is, you know, a girl – but these are minor wrinkles that can easily be ironed out in the coming weeks.

And it seems churlish to highlight the few faults when the show gets so much right. With its gender role shift and focus on a real family dynamic, Supergirl has livened up the superhero genre whilst putting spectacular action and great performances front and centre. Looks like we really did need another hero after all.

Click here to watch a trailer for Supergirl

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Jekyll and Hyde – TV Review

With screens both big and small currently overrun with tales of superhero strife, it takes something truly spectacular to make us viewers sit up and take notice.

Jekyll and Hyde, ITV’s latest bid to find a family-friendly fantasy drama to rival Doctor Who, does just that, transforming Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 classic into an inventive origin story that’s dark, assured and gloriously stylish. Its only fault is that it often shows too much restraint.

Creator and writer Charlie Higson takes the story of a Victorian physician with a split personality and updates it to a 1930s London crawling with supernatural creatures. Here we find Dr Jekyll’s grandson, Robert (Tom Bateman), who has no idea he has inherited the family’s you-won’t-like-me-when-I’m-angry gene until, Superman-like, he saves a young girl from being crushed by a runaway truck.

This event kick-starts an extraordinary adventure for the junior doctor as he fights to keep his feral alter-ego concealed whilst delving into his family’s murky past. But Mr Hyde may well be the least of his worries, especially as his actions have attracted the attentions of dangerous looking men in trilbies and the agents of a secret society, led by Richard E Grant’s slippery spymaster, hell-bent on ridding London of its monstrous infestation.

For a show supposedly aimed at families, Jekyll and Hyde sure isn’t afraid to go to some pretty dark places. The general tone is fantastically stylish, director Colin Teague’s flawless recreation of a period London shrouded in fog and mood lighting lending the story a 30s noir feel that suits its Byzantine mysteries perfectly.

Yet Teague also frequently delves into horror territory. Jekyll’s transformation feels like something out of a bone crunching body horror show, while the humanoid Rottweiler that apparently serves as the Secret Service’s in-house oracle is so disturbing it will surely frighten the life out of any youngsters watching. Which isn’t exactly ideal now those autumn nights have drawn in.

The show’s big flaw, though, is that, for all its style and intrigue, the story just isn’t particularly exciting. Whereas Doctor Who and Sherlock both have a thirst for adventure, Jekyll is a more reluctant hero who’s more interested in charming the sweet Girl Next Door than fighting monsters. Without this danger and jeopardy, the action is simply too stiff and formal, too genteel, and, dare I say it, too ITV to really spark into life.

Which is a shame because when the shackles are unleashed the action is dizzyingly exhilarating. Taking a cue from Guy Ritchie’s treatment of Sherlock Holmes, Teague uses speed ramping to give the fight sequences a fresh verve and flair. In one bravura sequence, Mr Hyde takes on a nightclub full of drunken sailors with the guile and showmanship of a circus ring leader – a sign of how much fun the show could be if it only loosened up a little.

Ultimately, though, the series will stand or fall on the strength of its leading man, and in Tom Bateman Jekyll and Hyde has found its perfect hero. The Da Vinci’s Demons star pulls off the tricky superhero feat of embodying both the hero and his alter-ego seamlessly. Jekyll is played as a bumbling Hugh Grant type, all repressed English politeness and no action, while Hyde is given a punk rock attitude (complete with runny guyliner) as he snarls and sneers with a vile intensity that feels miles apart from his true self.

It should be fascinating to see how these opposing personalities learn to co-exist, especially as Hyde has shown a desire to harm anyone whom Jekyll has affection for – the old trope of a superhero endangering the ones he loves playing out in new and exciting ways.

Some might think The Curious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been done to death – it’s the third most adapted fictional character of all time, after Sherlock Holmes and Dracula – but in Charlie Higson’s hands the story has transformed into a slick, inventive and enticing superhero tale that’s unlike any other (not counting The Hulk, of course).

If those involved can learn to release the chains on its hero more often and have fun playing in the sprawling supernatural world they’ve created, ITV might just have found the show to finally fill its troublesome Sunday teatime slot.

Click here to watch Jekyll and Hyde on ITV Player

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived – TV Review

Following last week’s headspinning climax where the young Viking Ashildr was granted immortality, The Woman Who Lived surges forward in time to 17th century England to pick up the story. The hapless Vikings are long gone (though they can still be found elsewhere on the BBC) and highwaymen now run amok through London with one in particular drawing the attention of the Doctor as he arrives in search of an alien artefact.

Less the second half of a two-parter as the second of two related standalone stories (the Spectre to last week’s Skyfall, if you like a topical comparison), The Woman Who Lived picks up the threads of last week’s episode as the Doctor is challenged by Ashildr’s (or “Me” as she now likes to be known) immortality as well as his own. It’s a tense, passionate, thoroughly fascinating story that excels when exploring themes of life and death, but falters when its focus shifts elsewhere.

Whilst The Girl Who Died relied too heavily on slapstick comedy, this week’s story couldn’t be more different tonally with director Edward Bazalgette evoking the haunting mood of a Victorian ghost story as the Doctor and Ashildr creep through creaky mansions and moonlit forests whilst a monster lurks in the shadows.

It’s also unfolds at a much steadier pace to its predecessor as writer Catherine Tregenna – who, Torchwood fans will be aware, has a knack for character driven pieces – favours a dialogue heavy approach in what essentially amounts to an sizzling two-hander between Peter Capaldi and Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams – an emotionally charged confrontation that brings out the best in both performers.

Now immortal, Ashildr knows what it’s like to live forever. Her endless experiences of life and loss mean there are some intriguing parallels to be drawn between her and the Doctor. Both know eternal life is a curse rather than a blessing. Loved ones are lost and even memories fade in time. Which begs the question of why the Doctor would inflict such suffering on a young girl in the first place?

In the centuries since we last met her, Ashildr has lived many lives. She’s been a surgeon, a warrior and now a notorious highwayman (with a surprisingly deep voice – a brilliant nod to Miranda Richardson’s The Shadow in Blackadder the Third). It’s a very Time Lord-esque existence – travelling in search of adventure, saving the day then leaving before the fallout – and The Woman Who Lived is clever to expose the dangers of the Doctor’s lifestyle.

Ashildr has repeatedly seen the people she loves most die and the scars of her experiences have caused her to become “desensitised to the world” as she refuses to get close to anyone lest they too blow away like smoke in a moment. These are the very things the Doctor most fears he will become.

After being wasted somewhat in the previous episode, it’s great to see Maisie Williams sink her teeth into a meatier role this time out. Her unrivalled ability to appear wise beyond her years comes into play here in a character who has lived far beyond what her looks suggest, and Williams is able to run through a whole gamut of emotions as the Doctor’s return sparks some terrible memories for Ashildr.

It’s all pretty bleak stuff – especially the uncomfortably wrenching moment where Ashildr is seen mourning her dead children – which is perhaps why Tregenna tries unsuccessfully to lighten the mood. Attempts to insert broad comedy hijinks into proceedings, including bumbling guards, a fire-breathing humanoid lion and a pun-spouting highwayman (Rufus Hound in a brief but lively turn), sit awkwardly alongside the largely introspective tone.

These wild lurches in tone lead to a chaotic final act that sees the moody atmosphere give way to something more akin to an apocalyptic disaster movie as Ashildr inadvertently welcomes an alien invasion from another world. This sudden burst of daft, bombastic action is completely out of place with the rest of the episode, which relies on character driven performances for its thrills, and rather dilutes the impact of the final scenes.

It still manages to end on an intriguing note, though, as we spot Ashildr lurking behind Clara moments after she warned the Doctor she would be watching over his discarded companions. Is this the last time we’ll see Ashildr? Is the Doctor about to lose another loved one? Will she be the one to send him over to Ashildr’s side? The questions are mounting as we barrel towards the series finale.

The Woman Who Lived is by no means a perfect episode, suffering from a lurching tone and underserved guest stars, but it’s also a fascinating character study on the price of defying death that’s backed up by superb performances from Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams. Sure, it’s not a satisfying whole, but in parts this is one of the most gripping and challenging Doctor Who stories in quite some time.

Click here to watch Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived on BBC iPlayer

The Last Kingdom – TV Review

It was inevitable that the success of Game of Thrones would create a hunger for political sagas cut from the same bloody cloth. And so it has finally come to pass with The Last kingdom (BBC1, Thursday, 9pm), a tense, intriguing, if ultimately inferior, tale of medieval strife that charts the Viking invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain.

Based on a best-selling series of novels that blend historical fact with fictional characters (in this case, Bernard Cornwall’s The Saxon Stories) and showcasing a lurid mix of visceral violence, nudity, skulduggery and Byzantine intrigue, comparisons with George R. R. Martin’s swords and sorcery epic are as inevitable as they are obvious.

Yet in spite of their ostensible similarities, The Last kingdom is a far more insular and grounded affair, sticking closer to the letter of history and refusing to indulge in any fantastical accoutrements (there be no dragons here), which unfortunately makes for a story that’s not nearly as rich as the world of Martin’s vivid imagination.

The tale unfurls through the gaze of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the son of a nobleman who is first seen as a 10-year-old boy (played by Doctor Foster’s Tom Taylor) being captured by pagan Danes who choose to raise him as one of their own after his father is killed in battle.

The story eventually skips ahead to find Uhtred grown into a young man (now played by Alexander Dreymon, introduced striding shirtless out of a lake like some medieval James Bond) who is still struggling to feel accepted by his Nordic family.

When a band of marauding Saxons storm his village and murder his adoptive father, Uhtred is pushed into a quest to reclaim the lands of his birth and to discover who he really is – a Saxon or a Viking.

While the Beeb have clearly thrown a hefty bag of coin at the show to help it rival the sprawling scope of HBO’s fantasy juggernaut, somehow the sets remain wholly unconvincing. There’s no doubt the Saxon fortress and Viking long boats are exquisitely detailed, but there’s also no escaping the fact that this attention to the minutiae fails to hide the illusion that this is all taking place on a chilly soundstage somewhere far more urban than the location depicted on screen.

The visuals are much more impressive when taking place on terra firma as director Nick Murphy creates a grim, palpably earthy tone that forewarns of the impending bloodletting. The Battle of York is the standout sequence as Murphy wrings every last drop of tension from the action by drawing uncomfortably close to the grisly battle as warriors fight amid a hellish, fire-ravaged landscape.

Equally triumphant are the performances. As an embattled Saxon king, Matthew Macfadden makes the most of his brief, though commanding, cameo, barking orders to counter to Danish menace and giving his young son a harsh lesson in tough love.

Taylor also excels as the young Uhtred; naïve, headstrong and possessing an endearing heart, it’s incredible such a young actor can imbue such depth of emotion within a character. Meanwhile, his adult incarnation, Dreymon, also looks set to shine as the grown-up Uhtred is further challenged by his dual loyalties and increasing thirst for revenge as part of his quest.

Those expecting the kind of duplicitous politicking of which Littlefinger is so fond will likely feel frustrated as this opening episode only hints at the wider game in play whilst devoting most of its focus to setting up Uhtred’s journey of self-discovery. Expect that to change, though, in the coming weeks as the show broadens its scope to introduce Britain’s last remaining kings, including the formidable King Arthur, played by Macfadden’s Ripper Street co-conspirator David Dawson.

Ultimately, The Last Kingdom is unlikely to pose a significant threat to Game of Throne’s dominance over the realm of sword-wielding entertainment, lacking the guile and intrigue to do so. But whilst Westeros regroups for another round of blood, lust and dragons, fans will find much to enjoy in the BBC’s gritty and grounded leap into the fantasy drama arena.

Click here to watch The Last Kingdom on BBC iPlayer

Fargo, Series Two: Waiting for Dutch – TV Review

The first series of the Fargo TV show was not supposed to work. No-one, not least fans of the original film, expected this shameless rehash of the Coen brothers’ cult classic to translate into a fulfilling TV drama. It just wasn’t going to happen.

And yet, somehow, it did. With the help of Billy Bob Thornton (sporting one heck of a bowl cut) and Martin Freeman’s Faustian tale of the Devil and his unwitting underling, Noah Hawley’s Fargo was a brilliant, brooding miniseries that defied expectations to become one of the most talked about shows of 2014.

Now returning to blood-splattered, folksy Minnesota for another tale of evil lurking in the most ordinary of places, series two may just be even better.

If you’re a Fargo fan you may recall Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson, this year’s Marge Gunderson, was a key character in series one: He was the grizzled diner owner (then played by Keith Carradine) who gave cryptic hints about a horrific happening back in the late 70s.

And that’s exactly where we find ourselves this time out. It’s 1979 – an era of Vietnam, Watergate and huge recession, and Lou’s youthful incarnation is an average-Joe state patrolman who stumbles into an escalating gang war when he investigates a gruesome shootout at the local feeding hole.

Hawley has kept much of the flavour and style of the first series, with awkward, small-town vernacular, snowy landscapes, quirky, homespun characters and juicy moral dilemmas all returning to form the meat of the story.

At the same time, the writer-director has also added a fresh verve to the familiar by allowing the 70s influences to pour into the visuals. The beige dress code and dodgy facial hair aside, split screens, wipe outs and a fierce electric soundtrack all help to give the series a distinctive rhythm.

Meanwhile, a score that eerily references monster movies of the era works excellently to create an air of conspiracy and mistrust that perfectly reflects the mood of the people during the period.

Crucially, Hawley continues with his unique take on the crime drama trope by focusing on how innocent, ordinary lives are changed irrevocably when violence is suddenly thrust upon them. There are shades of Lester Nygaard’s journey in the way young couple Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) are sucked into a world of crime when their quiet domesticity is disrupted by the arrival of murderer Rye Gerhardt (Kieren Culkin) – crumpled and bloodied on the bonnet of Peggy’s car.

Fans of the first series will no doubt remember how Hawley favours a slow burn approach to storytelling – the diner scene is a master class in building suspense – before striking with a sudden burst of brutal violence, but it’s immediately obvious in this first episode that the show is far more assured this time around.

Last series’ extended opener took its time to fully introduce Martin Freeman’s character, but Hawley shows no such patience here, despatching the inciting murder early on before spending the rest of the episode setting up a sprawling cast of significant players (including Ted Danson’s white-bearded sheriff).

The result is a show that feels grander and ready to shine on a more epic scale, which only serves to make the anticipation surrounding the rest of the series that much more enticing.

As Nick Offerman’s intensely paranoid conspiracy theorist at one point remarks: “Just watch, this thing’s only getting bigger.” And this time, he may just be onto something.

Click here to watch a trailer for Fargo, Series 2

Suffragette – Film Review

The typical perception of the suffragette movement is one of peaceful geniality. Emily Wilding Davidson’s gruesome death under the hooves of the king’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby aside, women’s fight for the right to vote is thought of mostly as posh women politely protesting in big hats and rather fetching sashes.

Sarah Garvan and Abi Morgan’s Suffragette, though, flies in the face of that misperception. Painting a brutally honest picture of this epoch-making era, this taut, engaging drama is unsettling and often outright sickening to watch, which is precisely what makes it so powerfully moving.

Set in the early 20th century, the film takes place during the period when, after decades of having their peaceful pleas for the chance to be heard ignored by “those dinosaurs in parliament”, the feminist movement decided words were no long enough; action was required.

What’s striking about the story is the lengths these women were prepared to go to possess a right many of us now take for granted. Activists committed desperate acts of vandalism, throwing bricks through shop windows, cutting telephone wires and bombing post-boxes and MPs’ homes to make their presence felt.

Such violence becomes entirely understandable, if not acceptable, when we witness the brutality these women suffered at the hands of those in power. Suffragettes were often ostracised, losing their jobs, their homes and even their families in the fight, whilst police viciously beat anyone who dared protest.

Garvan’s direction of these moments is superb. Her beginnings as a documentary filmmaker show here in her knack for finding the heart of the drama, shooting almost everything in intense close-ups, exposing the true horrors the women had to endure by refusing to look away as they are attacked and forced-fed in prison.

The Brick Lane director also demonstrates a Hitchockian-esque verve for building suspense, utilising shaky camerawork and low angle shots to depict the violence to uncomfortable effect. Meanwhile, Alexandre Desplat’s brilliant score almost resembles a horror film at times, slowly raising the pulse to foreshadow the terrible events to come.

Rather than focusing on famous Suffragettes, like Davidson and Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep in a surprisingly brief cameo), Suffragette focuses on Carey Mulligan’s Maud Watts, a fictional working-class woman who initially has no interest in the feminist movement.

It’s only when she is sent out on a delivery and accidently stumbles into a violent protest that Maud becomes intrigued by the work of the WSPU, gradually finding herself enticed by the offer of a chance to build a life better than toiling in a dank laundry room for next to no pay.

Screenwriter Abi Morgan’s decision to centre the drama on an ordinary woman is a masterstroke, allowing her story to move beyond heavy historical fact to probe deeper into what being part of such an iconic movement truly meant for the people involved.

The performances are almost entirely flawless. While Geoff Bell is stuck with a perfunctory role as Maud’s cruel employer, Morgan is careful to paint her prominent male characters in a more sympathetic light, with Brendan Gleeson and Ben Wishaw both offering vivid portraits of honourable men striving to fulfil their duties, even if they are understanding of the women’s plight.

Helena Bonham Carter, whose great grandfather, H. H. Asquith, was, coincidentally, British Prime Minster during the Suffragette period, is also worthy of praise for her commanding portrayal of Edith Elyn, a prominent WSPU foot soldier who put her health and career on the line to fight for the vote.

It’s Mulligan who is the undisputed standout, though, giving a full-blooded performance as an ordinary woman pulled into the fight when she can no longer ignore the abuse and unfairness that is all around her. Mulligan excels during the scenes of personal loss as Maud is forced from her home, her job and, most tragically, her young son, wringing every ounce of wrenching pain out of these moments that make her character question whether it’s all really worth it.

The dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly uneasy state grows ever more volatile until the film reaches its inevitable conclusion. With the suffragettes losing patience with being unheard, they choose to bypass politicians and the media altogether, converging on Epsom to make one last horrific stand in full view of the king himself.

This harrowing climax is shot exquisitely once again by Garvan, with all sound eliminated save for the bur of a rolling camera capturing the tragedy as suffragettes and police alike stand lost in despair.

It’s a stark reminder that, much like with the two world wars that would soon engulf the nation, there is very little glory in this fight for justice, only the shameful sadness that is should ever have been allowed to go so far.

Runtime: 106 mins; Genre: Historical Drama; Released: 12 October 2015;

Director: Sarah Garvan; Screenwriter: Abi Morgan;

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonhman Carter, Ben Wishaw, Brendan Gleason

Click here to watch the trailer for Suffragette

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died – TV Review

Having crossed-off the base-under-siege trope, Doctor Who this week tackles another adventure series staple: the defenceless town versus the all-powerful foe as the Doctor and Clara find themselves trapped in Viking territory where they must train a village shorn of its best warriors to fight for their lives against the formidable Mire.

Coming off the back of the moral issue-heavy Dalek two-parter and last week’s chilling, timey-wimey head scratcher Before the Flood, The Girl Who Dies makes for a welcome change of pace, blending wild fantasy and comic farce to mixed effect.

The result is a fun, fleet-footed historical caper that’s made all the better by some strong character moments, though it ultimately fails to pack a lasting punch due to some seriously weak monsters and a finale that, while shocking and unexpected, is all set-up and no pay-off.

After a bracing opening that sees Clara trapped in deep space with a hungry, flesh eating alien arachnid crawling up her spacesuit, our TARDIS duo land in medieval England where they’re swiftly captured by a gang of garden variety Vikings (pointy helmets, scraggy beards, a total disregard to social etiquette, you know the ones). They soon discover the Viking village is being terrorised by the ‘mighty god’ Odin, whose robot enforcers, the Mire, have completely wiped out the village’s warriors.

But when a mysterious girl called Ashildr (a guest-starring Maisie Williams), who seems to have an unknown connection with the Doctor, naively challenges Odin to a war, the Doctor is forced to train a ragbag clan of brave but useless villagers for a battle they seemingly can’t win. You can almost hear the Rocky music kicking in, can’t you?

Though I’m not ordinarily a fan of these sillier episodes, after two pretty dark stories it’s actually quite refreshing to return to a more light-hearted tale. Co-writers Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson – who also penned last year’s Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline – certainly make the most of it, packing the script with clever one-liners such as “premonition is just remembering backwards” and plenty of cutaway gags that see the Doctor’s optimism undermined by the sheer hapless ineptitude of his Viking soldiers.

The main drawback with this type of story is that they are often so light as to feel inconsequential (see last year’s Robot of Sherwood), but here Moffat and Mathieson rectify this flaw by wisely balancing the japery with a few more dramatic moments and emotional beats as the Doctor and Ashildr worry their actions are causing more harm than good.

Despite these attempts to add weight to all the levity, however, it’s not enough to prevent the main story from become a tepid affair. This is almost certainly down to the introduction of the desperately lightweight monsters the Mire.

Though the Doctor warns us at one point that they are one of the deadliest warrior races in the galaxy, it’s simply impossible to believe these clanging rusty post-boxes can pose a serious threat to anyone, and it’s telling that scenes of the Mire vaporising captured Vikings is met with disinterest rather than abject horror. It’s no surprise the big battle turns out to be a lacklustre affair that passes by in a blur of electric eels and a dodgy CGI serpent.

A further downside to a lighter story is the inevitable return of a lighter Time Lord. While Peter Capaldi puts his all into the Doctor’s goofy shenanigans, whipping out his yo-yo in an unconvincing attempt to impersonate an imposing god, he just never seems comfortable enough to make such antics work.

He’s on far better form, though, when tackling the story’s more poignant moments with the scene in which Twelve uses his ability to speak baby to translate a frightened child’s cry for his dead mother proving to be incredibly heart wrenching.

Jenna Colman’s scenes, sadly, are less inspiring. After a strong couple a weeks that have seen the rapid development of her increasing recklessness, Clara’s arc takes a back seat in this episode. This essentially leaves Clara stuck on the sidelines providing moral support to the Doctor as he goes about saving the day, and it’s always frustrating to see Colman’s talents wasted in this way.

There’s no doubt The Girl Who Died’s biggest draw is the arrival of Maisie Williams’ mysterious Ashildr. After an enormous build-up, her actual arrival initially comes as something of a let down as it’s hard to seen anything other than another Arya Stark in Ashildr, with Williams playing another headstrong tomboy with a determination to fight against the odds

But then comes that spectacular climax to completely change our perceptions of her character. Having donned a Mire helmet to help foil the monsters’ attack, we discover Ashildr has inadvertently died due to an electronic malfunction. Coming at the end of such an upbeat episode, Ashildr’s unexpected demise has a deeply wrenching effect, especially as we see the Doctor despair at once against causing the death of someone he was trying to save.

The shock of this tragedy drives the Doctor to do the unthinkable and break his own rules about treading carefully when meddling with time and space as he retrofits an alien repair kit to bring Ashildr back from the dead. With Ashildr now technically immortal, and in possession of another repair kit she can use should she ever find someone she can’t bear to lose, the stakes are now set incredibly high for what promises to be a spectacular part two.

Though it has its flaws, namely a lacklustre villain and some poor characterisation, The Girl Who Died serves as an enjoyable palette cleanser for series nine, replacing dark moral conundrums with plenty of gags and some poignant character moments. And while the denouement is essentially one long set-up for part two, the twist in the tale is so strong and unexpected it’s impossible not to get excited about The Girl Who Lived.

Next week can’t come soon enough.

Click here to watch Doctor Who: The Girl Who Lived on BBC iPlayer