RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Under the Lake’

So what happened?

A team of military contractors found themselves under attack in their underwater base by a group of ‘spectre-ish’ entities, who ambushed and killed one of their crew, Moran, after they found and examined a space ship with unrecognisable markings. Forced to spend their ‘synthetic nights’, that the base’s computer system controls, in a Faraday cage so they all don’t go the way of their colleague, naturally they’re somewhat baffled when The Doctor and Clara turn up and ask to be let into their safe haven.

Moran (Colin McFarlane) arguing with Cass before he met a sticky end.
Moran (Colin McFarlane) before he met a sticky end and became a ghost.

When day finally comes, together they hatch a plan to lure the ‘ghosts’ into the cage, but are interrupted when the entitities start messing around with the controls and turn day back into night, leaving the greedy representative of the company who owns the base vulnerable when he goes off in search of the missing power cell from the space ship. Of course he’s killed and ‘recruited’ by the electromagnetic apparitions and then begins to attack them as one of his former co-workers fights to override the adjustments to the base’s system made by those who are controlling the ghosts. After she’s successful, Twelve has the bright idea to undo all of her good work and plunge the base back into night mode, then use those who are still alive, including Clara, as bait to lure the black-eyed menaces into the Faraday cage. With the exception of a major hiccup, (one of the workers being cornered in a blocked off room, but mysteriously being allowed to live), he manages to do just that and establishes that the ghosts are mouthing the same words over and over again. Utilising the lip reading skills of the deaf captain of the military crew, Cass, he manages to establish what they’re saying, and after much pontificating, surmises that they’re not only co-ordinates of somewhere under the lake, but that they mirror the markings that were scratched onto the wall of the space ship.

The Doctor running away from the ghosts. See? Funny, not scary.
The Doctor running away from the ghosts. See? Funny, not scary.

Giving those remaining the option to escape to the surface now that they’re relatively safe, they refuse to take the easy way out, and assist him in finding the underwater point that those operating the ghosts seem to be so obsessed with. Retrieving the shiny white box/coffin that they find there, they begin to wonder who or what is inside when the base controls are once again tampered with. With the corridors beginning to flood they all start to head for the TARDIS, but the group is split in two with The Doctor on one side and Clara trapped on the base on the other. Unable to get to her because his time machine refuses to go any closer to the source of the disturbance, Twelve promises to come back for her after he’s gone back to when the lake was created. Trusting him based on how he’s always come through for her in the past, his companion gleefully reassures those she’s trapped with, until she looks out of the window and sees his body floating by and a ghostly version of him staring back at her. Uh-oh!

Monster of the Week

MariekeGhosts! Or are they? Entities with black eyes, or no eyes, who chase people and walk through walls. They can interact with computers and use tools for killing. The ghosts turn out to be some beacon and the more of them exist, the stronger the signal so that’s their reason for killing. I cannot say the ghosts are actually creepy, maybe it is the top hat of the main ghost, but they didn’t really work for me. Next they will tell me they also have a WiFi signal as an added bonus to their beacon.

Danielle: With black eyes like that they look like they need a bloody good night’s sleep, which stands to reason as they only come out at night. Seriously though, I wasn’t particularly feeling them either. They were like a ghostly, naffer version of The Silence, but without any real powers and only really the ability to walk through doors and throw around chairs. Great if you’re someone who’s constantly leaving your keys at home, not so great if your intention is to frighten your audience.

Half ghost, half squirrel? These spectres didn't exactly leave us hiding behind the sofa.
Half ghost, half squirrel? These spectres didn’t exactly leave us hiding behind the sofa.

Creep Factor

Danielle: It was supposed to be high, but really it just fell flat for me. Casper may well be a more frightening example of an apparition. Perhaps where they did succeed was with The Doctor floating by the window, complete with soul-sucking eyes, but the success there was more in the ‘shock’ of the idea that Twelve is somehow dead and now the threat he poses to his companion and the other members of the team with her. It feels like the jeopardy needs to be ratcheted up a notch or two for the second half of this two-parter to be effective.

Marieke: I wasn’t enthusiastic about the ghosts… I actually think the Daleks were creepier. That says it all doesn’t it? No need to clean up behind the sofa this week.

Mystery

Marieke: The mystery at first is about where the TARDIS has put our dynamic duo (Hint: the episode title kind of gives it away), why the TARDIS is acting strange and who are those weird looking people over there? Oh wait, they’re not people… We find out the Doctor and Clara are underwater and a team is stuck there, trying to fight off the ghosts who are becoming smarter by the minute. Then there are the mysterious signs and the ghost beaming out some sort of signal, efficiently deciphered by the deaf team captain. But after the ‘to be continued’ sign the big mystery is how did the Doctor become a ghost himself? Did time travel go wrong? Will he do something to hurt Clara? Will they be reunited? Will the team (or what is left of them) make it out alive? Will the underwater facility be completely flooded? But mostly what happened to the Doctor???

Danielle: At the risk of sounding like Noel Edmonds, what’s in the box? Furthermore, how is what’s in there going to effect Clara and the others still trapped on the base? Also is The Doctor’s ‘death’ yet another cunning plan to save his companion? Well, probably.

Familiar Face of the Week

Steven Robertson as Pritchard. He should have known that the one who breaks away from the group always dies.
Steven Robertson as Pritchard. He should have known that the one who breaks away from the group always dies.

Here playing greedy company rep, Pritchard, Steven Robertson is perhaps best known for his stint as unhinged religious zealot, Dominic Rook, in Being Human, and is a mainstay of character acting in British drama with notable roles in Luther, Utopia and Shetland.

Cass (Sophie Stone) signing with Lunn (Zaqi Ismail). It was great to see a deaf actress front and centre in this week's adventure.
Cass (Sophie Stone) signing with Lunn (Zaqi Ismail). It was great to see a deaf actress front and centre in this week’s adventure.

The Verdict?

It’s safe to say that both of us found ‘Under the Lake’ rather underwhelming. Aside from the fact the ghosts were pretty impotent in terms of being a real threat, the scenes where they were running away from them were often pretty funny, rather than keeping us on the edge of our respective seats. It’s also a bad sign when you keep on checking the clock throughout an episode. In spite of some genuinely funny jokes throughout and some great dialogue generally, it did seem like the 45 minutes weren’t used particularly well. Where it did excel was giving us a strong, female character with a disability, who was able to show consummate leadership without her deafness becoming a quirk or it being something that meant she had to be pandered to. In fact it became a strength when it came to solving part of the riddle as to why the ghosts were haunting them. On the whole, Toby Whithouse’s episodes are either a hit (‘The God Complex’) or a miss (Erm… the others). Currently this two parter is falling into the latter category, but perhaps with some decent reveals in ‘Before the Flood’ we hope to be proved wrong.

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