Something’s happening to Clara that we haven’t seen from her before: She doesn’t want to leave the TARDIS. Ever. The Doctor used to be a weekly note on her calendar; now, he’s the only note on every page of a calendar that she’s probably already thrown out the window. Her fight or flight response is all fight, all the time. It’s fitting, then, that the Doctor and Clara find themselves in a war this week, arguing over the virtues of dying in battle — and every question the Doctor asks about the townspeople is a question about Clara. Is there any way to win?
Fresh out of their latest space adventure, the Doctor and Clara make a pit stop in the age of the Vikings, who didn’t ask for company. They aren’t even impressed by wearable tech, snapping the sonic sunglasses in half and dragging their visitors back to the village in chains. (“Clara, we’re going with the Vikings.”) The Doctor is stopped in his tracks by the sight of a teenage girl named Ashildr (Maisie Williams, working an updo), who might not be a face from his past, but he’s pretty sure she will be someday. She welcomes the warriors like family.
The Doctor tries again to win his captors’ respect, but yo-yos just aren’t what they used to be. No one believes that he’s Odin (“Oh, and you would know how, exactly?”), and that’s before an actual face appears in the clouds, claiming to be Odin. He does look convincing — Viking helmet, metal eyepatch, clouds — but the Doctor isn’t buying this act any more than the villagers bought his. That’s the thing about the gods, he says: They never actually show up.
The Doctor isn’t big on false idols, and he’s worried that he’s become one for Clara, who jumps into action as soon as there’s trouble. Odin beams his army down to earth, where they hand-pick the Vikings’ best warriors and teleport them away. Clara tells Ashildr to put on the sonic sunglasses — or half of them, at least — and think “open” as hard as she can, so Odin’s army grabs them, too. The Vikings assume they’re in Valhalla, but it’s more like what would happen if Sweeney Todd designed a spaceship. A wall closes in, pushing them into a hallway that’s ready to vaporize everyone.
The Viking warriors are killed, but Odin spares Clara and Ashildr, just as Clara expected. She’s obviously not from around here, and Odin doesn’t want to risk starting a war that he can’t be sure he’ll win. Anyway, he’s juicing on the adrenaline and testosterone of a bunch of dead warriors, so he got what he came for here. Clara offers to let Odin leave (“The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me; it’s unbearable”), but Ashildr isn’t so willing to let this go. Her people are dead, and she wants someone to pay for it. Ashildr volunteers her village to fight 10 of Odin’s warriors, and he accepts her challenge as Clara wonders why she brought this girl in the first place.
Odin sends Clara and Ashildr back to the village to deliver his message — and, in Clara’s case, get a bear hug from the Doctor, who has news of his own: He’s been doing some research on their invaders. The Mire are one of the deadliest warrior races in the galaxy. He advises everyone to just hide out in the woods for a week and let this pass, but they’d rather die with honor, even though Clara is the only one among them who’s ever held a sword in the field of battle. (Details, please.) A baby cries nearby. “Do babies die with honor?” the Doctor asks. He says later that a good death is the best anyone can hope for, but this wouldn’t be a good one. Courage itself isn’t enough of an ideal.
But the village insists on fighting, and as much as the Doctor wants to leave everyone to die — a town capable of defeating the Mire could get this planet in bigger trouble — he can’t say no to that eloquent little baby. He’s the Shang to Ashildr’s Mulan. And it’s obvious that Ashildr is the key. She tells the Doctor that she’s always been different, and she believes in the power of the stories that she tells in her head. Sound familiar? When she mentions that the baby likes the fish in the boathouse, the Doctor remembers the child’s cries about “fire in the water” and realizes that the town has electric eels. Now he’s got it.
NEXT: Isn’t that wizard?