It was deceptive. It was sly. It was oh-so clever. The mastermind Moffat almost had us there. We were almost fooled into believing that Maisie Williams’ character wasn’t a returning character. It was to be expected, of course. A good showrunner never plays his hand in advance of time. But this fan was too quick for you, Moffat. I’m an old hand at this game, you see; I’ve grown savvy to your tricks, Moffat, old mucker. I know what this is all about. I know that Maisie’s character is actually the Rani.
Oh, you almost had me going. What with Maisie’s character being presented as a teenage Viking girl called “Ashildr” (that was really my first clue — no one’s called “Ashildr”), and “Ashildr” being entirely ignorant of anything outside her little 10th Century village, and the fact that Maisie’s character didn’t regenerate before she died. It was a very thorough job you did of duping the audience into thinking Maisie’s character had nothing to do with any returning character. That she really was actually a Viking girl the Doctor made immortal with a piece of alien technology, as the episode appeared to suggest. I mean, putting it like that just shows how entirely laughable the notion is, doesn’t it?
To believe Ashildr was who she seemed to be, though, would be to neglect a critical line of dialogue in the episode, at 26 minutes 28 seconds in:
“I’ve always been different. All my life I’ve known that. The girls all thought I was a boy. The boys all said I was just a girl. My head is always full of stories. I know I’m strange. Everyone knows I’m strange.”
There. Right there. Maisie’s character practically CONFIRMS that she’s the Rani. Or, at least, that she’s pretty obviously NOT who she says she is. She could have just meant that she was an odd child (as, admittedly, she was), but if you believed that, you’d have to be stupid.
Rather, it’s the line “my head is always full of stories” that should have sent alarm bells off. What does that remind you of? A TIME LORD CHAMELEON ARCH. The technology the Doctor used to hide his Time Lord essence in a fob watch in Human Nature/The Family of Blood, and the Master in Utopia. Both the Doctor and the Master in those stories, despite changing themselves into humans, were haunted by memories of their Time Lord lives. This is what Maisie’s character was referring to. Obviously, Maisie’s character is a Time Lady who removed her Time Lord consciousness with the use of a chameleon arch, becoming the human girl Ashildr.
What about the fact that Ashildr seemed to have a father? Well, that’s pretty easily explained. A perception filter. The Rani is supposed to be the Time Lord equivalent of a genius. A kind of Time Lord, female Sheldon Cooper. Doubtless she could have designed a perception filter powerful enough to make not only a Viking man believe she was, and always has been, his daughter, but also to make a whole village accept her “sudden” presence among them without a second glance.
What would compel the Rani to hide herself away in a medieval Viking village like that? This is where the theory is less robust, but that’s only because we don’t have all the information yet. I fully expect that we will find out why the Doctor’s old enemy holed herself away among grubby Vikings in the next episode, or at least by the end of the series.
But the Rani’s becoming immortal is surely significant. Granted, Time Lords are already practically immortal, but maybe she planned this. MAYBE she was on her last regeneration and this was her means of procuring immortality by other means. MAYBE she knew the Doctor would come to the village and fight off the Mire (she has a Tardis after all), SO she strategically inserted herself into the situation, courted the Doctor’s affection, got herself bumped off, and reawakened (as she knew she would) with eternal life.
When you think about it, it’s all so obvious. It’s a damned sight more plausible than the idea that Maisie’s character is an immortal Viking girl. I mean, seriously, now.