One of the more striking scenes from Doctor Who series nine was the revelation that Ashildr, the enigmatic immortal played by Maisie Williams, had lost her children during the plague. As she explained in The Woman who Lived, it was why she kept the pain of their memory alive in her diaries, so that she would be reminded to never again suffer the loss of a child.
Even so, you did get the impression that there was more to that flashback scene, which saw her crying at the feet of three empty cribs. Namely – why didn’t she try to save them with her spare immortality chip, which she ended up giving to Sam Swift instead? Well a new collection of short stories, The Legends of Ashildr, have given us some answers, fleshing out the years of Ashildr’s life that we never saw on screen.
The story in question is called The Triple Knife by Jenny Colgan, which casts Ashildr in a fight against alien scientists – a cold, clinical bunch who study the Black Death, but will not cure her children Johann, Rue and Essie. And it’s here that she has to make a horrible decision.
I felt once more around my neck. The tile was there of course. It is always there. The tile that shares immortality. Waiting to be given. I looked from face to face.
I had tried to cut it. I had sharpened my knife, so many times. It will not cut. It cannot be shared.
Would it be my brave, my brilliant Essie? My sweet, my loving Johann? Or my laughing baby, whom I do not even know?
She decides that it cannot be her baby, Rue, as then she will be trapped as a baby forever. She then agonises whether to save her boy or girl – Ashildr’s choice – before realising that she doesn’t really know how this “alien magic” works. What if it freezes one of them as a sick child? (She obviously doesn’t know that the Mire medical kit is meant to repair you.) We don’t want to go too far into what happens but it’s a powerful scene – one that’s not too kind on the Doctor.
Oh for all the times I have been tried as a witch: if I only could, truly, curse the man who did this to me, if I could pull his blood out across the stars, slowly, drop by drop whilst he screamed the heavens apart, then I would.
Filling in the 600-ish years between The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived, Legends of Ashildr also sees her star in a sci-fi take on Arabic folk-tale collection Arabian Nights, by James Goss; turn pirate in her hunt for the titular Fortunate Isles, by David Llewellyn; and arrive in a haunted London as Me, 51 years before The Woman who Lived.
Hopefully one day we’ll also get an updated collection of stories – about all those years sitting on Gallifrey, playing chess with herself…
The Legends of Ashildr is out now