Please note that there will be no review of the next two-parter as I'm just too busy at the moment.
Not having Clara in this actually helped - it allowed for a lot tighter focus for the story and much more screen-time for the frankly superb Maisie Williams. Got to say next week looks very interesting as well.
There is a well known 'thing' in media analysis called the Bechdel Test. Developed by Alison Bechdel as somewhat of a joke for a comic strip whose name might trip some filter or content things on Blogger way in 1985, it basically measures female representation in media. To pass the test, a film must have two named female characters, who have a conversation with each other... about something other than a man. It is somewhat of a flawed test - indeed, Sex and the City actually fails it - but still an interesting one. It should also be pointed out that many classics fail it - including Star Wars - and you can still have a good story without it.
It is therefore interesting to note that the first female written Doctor Who episode since 2008 (Helen Raynor's Sontaran two parter) - indeed Catherine Tregenna is only the fifth such writer in the show's history - passes this test... but barely. Lucie Fanshawe is not seen in the rest of the episode after the titles, I believe.
The Doctor is on fine form again in this episode - demonstrating his ability to blunder into situations and be very, very grumpy. He gets some great lines, especially his entire first exchange with 'The Knightmare' and also gets some really emotional exchanges with Ashildr.
Clara is only in the final scene of this episode - she's teaching Year 7s Taekwondo - and isn't honestly missed that much. The scene she does get is entirely fine, don't get me wrong. I get the strong feeling this was the 'companion-lite' episode; the show typically has at least one 'companion-lite' and one 'Doctor-lite' episode a season to get all the filming into the timeslot.
Ashildr, or Me... what a tragic character. A more well thought out depiction of the problems of immortality I have not really seen. The Doctor is a Time Lord and so living to 2,000+ years is entirely normal for his people, but it's not for humanity - we get to see a woman who has has lost everyone she's ever held dear and has no end in sight... as well as only the memory capacity of a standard human. It's clear that she's gone rather mad as a result and arguably crosses the line - but does get some redemption at the end. A return for her is definitely welcome; all of her scenes are great and Maisie Williams holds your attention.
Sam Swift the Quick... well, Rufus Hound is arguably not everyone's cup of tea. His cocky swagger reminds me of Lord Flasheart, played of course by the late Rik Mayall, but Mayall did it much better. His pun-laden speech at the Tyburn gallows (which was in fact outside the City of London as it was then, although not next to a castle) sets a new record for penis jokes in an episode of Doctor Who at two, although this episode doesn't quite reach the heights of dirtiest jokes told in the show's history - tied between RTD and Moffat in fact.
Me's ally is a well done 'cat' creature... and I was actually reminded somewhat of the Kilrathi from Wing Commander in the Tyburn climax. Indeed, all of the special effects were good here - something that remains a strong point of the show.
Speaking of the climax, which involved insanely overpowered fireballs (see Irregular Webcomic! for more of those) and some really rather magical stuff, I wasn't overly keen on it. The show's starting to get a bit overly casual with cheating death and super technology; I'd personally reign it back in.
Barbara Clegg, writer of 1983's "Enlightenment" (the first classic story I ever saw, not counting the TV Movie) is the first - while Lesley Scott was credited for "The Ark", it appears she actually didn't contribute anything to the script at all.