(Obviously, a host of spoilers.)
For the first time since 2013, I actually enjoyed a new episode of Doctor Who. In The Girl Who Died we have the Doctor debating and then deciding to save a viking village. However, that (the entire plot) was not the interesting part of the episode. What was interesting was the final ten minutes, where the Doctor gives immortality to Ashildr, rather than let her die. For the first time in a while, Doctor Who pulled a genuinely interesting resolution, and created a fascinating character for the future. The panning shot of Ashildr standing and watching the universe flash by was gold. For me it was up there with when the Doctor imprisoned the Family in Family of Blood or when the Doctor gave his speech at Stonehenge. It was simply awesome.
Now the show has the ability to play with immortality in a character other than the Doctor (as I really hope they someday do with River Song). The only question I have is, why now?
Though separated by thousands of years, Ashildr’s problems were not unlike those of Donna Noble. Donna was similarly close to death, but rather than give her a magic device to make her immortal the Doctor simply erased her mind (and thus protected her). But he could have given her a healing device and made her like Ashildr could he not? And for that matter, to his own wife, who then would not even need more regenerations. Or does the Doctor only dish out immortality to his enemies? As he did for Davros recently, or for the Familly in Family of Blood?
This seems extremely paradoxical and two-faced (or perhaps thirteen) of the Doctor. Why is he so inconsistent with death? The Doctor seemed totally fine with the Bad Wolf making Captain Jack immortal, and did not see a reason to whine about his lack of the “gift” of mortality In School Reunion the Doctor laments that he is all alone in the universe, and that humans grow old and die. He acts as though this is the only option, but this Masochist time-lord seems to be ignoring the multitude of ways in which he could make his friends immortal.
But perhaps in the end the Doctor is merely being kind, perhaps he sees immortality as an evil and wishes that he himself could also die. But why then does he fight so hard keep himself from dying as in The Wedding of River Song? Does the Doctor think he is the only one who is worthy of immortality? He seemed more than willing to let even a murderer like the Master go on living by any means possible in Last of the Time Lords.
Maybe, the Doctor thinks only a time-lord could possibly have the wisdom to live a near infinite life, but if this is the case then surely Donna Noble is an exception? The show demonstrated that before her memory lapse she had both the intelligence of a time-lord and the conscience of the Doctor. Why would the Doctor ignore such an obvious solution? The Doctor could even use the machine from Human Nature which makes him human to make Donna a time-lord.
Or perhaps it is not wisdom that someone needs for an infinite life in the eyes of the Doctor, maybe they just need to be around when he’s in a good mood. Because so far, the people who the Doctor has let have immortality have just been in the right place at the right time.
I would ask for more clarity from the writers as to why the Doctor will not extend the life of his companions, but will for total strangers or evil villains. If the Doctor truly sees mortality as so important, why would he not simply give every companion a device like Ashildr’s for a limited time? If it is in fact technology, surely the Doctor can deactivate it when the time comes for his companions to return to their normal lives. In fact, that should be the bare minimum of safety the Doctor should follow.
Forget dramatic tension or storytelling problems, it is simply inconsiderate and barbaric of the Doctor to put his “friends” in harm’s way when he know perfectly well he need only steal a magic regeneration nanite for the duration of their stay on the TARDIS. The Doctor may have a death wish, but why inflict his suicidal tendencies on others? Maybe he has issues with making anyone else immortal, but he could at the very least use some future tech to make sure they stick around long enough for him to show them the universe before their sudden and inevitable demise.