The Modern Prometheus’s Ashildr

ashildrCompanion Tropes Extra 3

When the Doctor makes Ashildr immortal he creates his own monster, hence my reference to the “Modern Prometheus”, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Greek myth, the original Prometheus created man from clay, and then stole fire from the gods to give to man. You could compare that to creating one’s own monster, including weaponising it I suppose. The metals to make weapons are forged in fires.

The trope for this, according to the TV Tropes website, is the slightly clunky term “Create Your Own Villain”, bringing to mind those “Make Your Own Adventure” books that most readers probably remember from their childhood. The website gives many examples, most of which I would suggest are debatable as fits for the trope. For example, while Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer does strictly speaking create her own villain by sleeping with Angel and turning him into Angelus, the evil is already locked up within him. There’s a subtle difference there. In contrast, The Woman Who Lived goes out of its way to portray Ashildr as a normal, innocent character, making the point that the Doctor does truly create his own monster when he implants her with Mire medical technology and makes her immortal.

This says something important about the Doctor. As the TV Tropes website points out, “Create Your Own Villain” often leads to the “Superhero Paradox”. This fits the character of the Doctor to perfection, and is often an issue that is raised in the series. From the website:

Superheroes try to make the world safer for innocents, but in the long term, they seem to make the world more dangerous. They fight crime, but their victories never seem to make a real difference. They have a frightening tendency to attract villains (or worse, create new ones). For some reason, the members of this Rogues Gallery never die, no matter how many times they cross paths with the hero — when apprehended, they’re sent to a prison from which they inevitably escape.

Doesn’t that just sum up Doctor Who perfectly, especially the villains who never die? That last sentence might as well have been written specifically about the Master. But with these articles I often ask “what’s the point”, so what’s the point of a hero creating his own villain. Why is the Doctor another Modern Prometheus? I would suggest that it works as a highly effective foil for the hero (see Adam the Foil for more about that), and reflects back upon the Doctor himself.

DOCTOR: How many people have you killed?
ASHILDR: You’ll have to check my diaries.
DOCTOR: You can’t remember?
ASHILDR: For what it’s worth, I’ve saved many lives too.

That should sound like a familiar debate in terms of the Doctor’s adventures as well. And then we have this:

DOCTOR: The Black Death, 1348. I meant to warn you.
ASHILDR: I got sick, but I got better.
DOCTOR: Of course, your immune system is learning too. There’s another bout coming. And a big fire that tears through London.
ASHILDR: Excellent. Maybe I start it.
DOCTOR: No, that was the Terileptils.

I might be giving more credit than is due, but I do wonder if the astute Who fan is supposed to realise that the Doctor is lying. Strictly speaking the Terileptils didn’t start the fire. The Doctor did, with his burning torch. Yes, I know, it’s debatable, but the point is that the exchange above would also have made sense if it had been written like this:

DOCTOR: Of course, your immune system is learning too. There’s another bout coming. And a big fire that tears through London.
ASHILDR: Excellent. Maybe I start it.
DOCTOR: No, that was me.

That brings us to Ashildr renaming herself “me”, which seems to have been designed with the express purpose of allowing for lines like this, in Hell Bent:

DOCTOR: Hello, Me.

… or is that…

DOCTOR: Hello, me.

In an excellent article for RadioTimes, Paul Jones examines the meaning behind the name Ashildr. The “As” bit means “god”, and “hildr” means battle, also a reference to Hildr the Valkyrie who chose which warriors would live or die on the battlefield (just like the Doctor does). He also points out that “shil” is a word “used as a substitute for other words or phrases”. I’m not quite sure about that, but I did find the following definition of “shill” in the Oxford dictionary: “an accomplice of a confidence trickster or swindler who poses as a genuine customer to entice or encourage others.” It’s a gambling term, but we are certainly in the realms of “fake” or “substitute” as Jones points out. So “Ashildr” becomes “a substitute dr”. Could this be just an accident? I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan to notice that “dr” on the end of the name when Maisie Williams’s character was first announced.

The circle is completed by the end of Hell Bent, with Ashildr now travelling in her own TARDIS. The Doctor’s companion, Clara, has now become Ashildr’s companion. The intention could not be clearer. The Doctor created his own monster, and that monster was himself.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Editor of
This entry was posted in Companion Tropes, Doctor Who, Entertainment, Science Fiction, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Modern Prometheus’s Ashildr

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Very well expressed. Thank you, RP, and thank you, Maisie ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜, for Ashildr.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DrAcrossthePond says:

    The definition is exactly Batman related in all respects, though it can definitely apply to the Doctor too.
    I think this was a superbly written and I think the points you make about the Doctor is spot on! Glad season 9 was so strong because even this relic of season 8 was so NOT Doctor Who… ML

    Liked by 2 people

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