RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Before the Flood’

So what happened?

After breaking the fourth wall using a riddle about Beethoven’s ‘Fifth Symphony’ to explain to viewers the bootstrap paradox (when something that happened in the past was directly caused by an event in the future), The Doctor heads back to the pre-lake site of the underwater base from last week, an abandoned, Cold War military range, along with fangirl, O’Donnell, and a non-too-enthusiastic, Bennett. Once there, they encounter the Tivolian undertaker and future ghost, Prentis, along with the space ship they’d first seen back at the base a couple of centuries in the future. Inside the writing is not yet there, but a decidedly sinister looking mummified creature is. Naturally, said creature goes missing, and in quick succession Prentis and O’Donnell are killed and transformed into apparitions that appear back on the base to haunt Clara, Cass and Lunn who were trapped there at the end of last week’s installment.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) comes face to face with Prentis (Paul Kaye) before he died.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) comes face to face with Prentis (Paul Kaye) before he died.

Twelve’s ghost has also got more menacing, finding his way from the shadowy depths through the base’s windows, but mystifying Cass as she realises he’s different from the others because he’s mouthing the order of those who’ve already died and those who are about to, including Clara. After showing The Doctor his ghostly doppelganger via video, they head back to the Faraday cage to seek refuge and are soon horrified when O’Donnell’s newly created ghost steals the phone Clara left outside so she could still get a signal when he called again, so after an argument about the pros and cons of sending Lunn out to retrieve it, he decides to risk it and try to get it back, mostly because he never read the inscription in the spaceship, which seems to explain why they left him alone last time.

In the meantime, Twelve and Bennett have gotten back in the TARDIS and tried to fly it back to the future to save his companion and the others, but his time machine is having none of it, instead taking them back half an hour and dropping them in the dangerous business of crossing their own timelines. Battling with his short-term companion’s natural urge to save his colleague and friend from her impending death, The Doctor tells him to stay put and goes in search of the creature that killed her, finding the grotesque ‘Fisher King’ lurking in an abandoned building, along with the coffin-esque box that was threatening to open back on the underwater base. After conversing about both being the last of their kind and the monstrous nature of their respective races, the potential conqueror is told under no uncertain terms that Earth is protected, before casually, we assume, meeting his doom when one of the power cells that was taken from the spaceship is detonated thus breaching the dam and creating the lake that sweeps him away.

Lunn (Zaqi Ismail), Cass (Sophie Stone) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) attempt to evade the ghosts.
Lunn (Zaqi Ismail), Cass (Sophie Stone) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) attempt to evade the ghosts.

Back below the water, Clara and Cass have decided to go out in search of Lunn after, unbeknownst to them, he’s locked in a room by those pesky ghosts. Stupidly, they allow themselves to be split up and only are only narrowly able to free him and get themselves to what they think is safety when the coffin opens and out pops The Doctor to save them. With the ghostly transmitters back in the Faraday cage and awaiting their eradication by U.N.I.T, and after Twelve explains to them that his ghost was actually a hologram that he’d sent to encourage himself to save Clara (yup, confusing!), Bennett poignantly pushes Lunn to tell Cass how he feels about her, regretting that he hadn’t done the same with O’Donnell before her untimely demise. And there we have it: our semi-happy ending.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: There it was! The bad guy all along, the Fisher King! Walking around like a Predator without a helmet, this huge and evil creature couldn’t let the dead just peacefully be the dead. He felt more menacing than his ghosts, especially the bit where he chased the threesome and killed O’Donnell. Eventually though, mainly because of the Doctor’s timelines messing, the Fisher King wasn’t as big of a deal as he was made out to be. I was also rather surprised that a creature with ‘fisher’ in its name had trouble dealing with some water (okay, an entire flood)… Or does that mean he will surface somewhere and start a fish restaurant?

Danielle: He did kind of look like a giant prawn that had been exposed to nuclear waste, menacing fella that he was. On an altogether more high brow note, it’s interesting that they chose to call this particular alien the ‘Fisher King’ with it’s obvious links to the keeper of the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend, who became wounded and with no heirs, was no longer able to make his kingdom prosper. Perhaps it’s a loose association, but being the last of a kind seems to be a running theme this year, and it feels like we’re slowly moving towards some kind of revelation about Gallifrey and the Time Lords, which is a little unnerving if they were indeed the war-mongers that both Davros and now the ‘Fisher King’ have hinted at.

Hey handsome! The Fisher King faces off with The Doctor.
Hey handsome! The Fisher King faces off with The Doctor.

Creep Factor

Marieke: I have to say as easy of a scene it was, the ghost!Moran dragging the axe whilst following deaf Cass gave me goosebumps. There was still the idea of the disabled person finding her death (I am happy she didn’t!), so her being alive wasn’t a given. I cannot believe she felt the floor before turning around… Easy but so effective. The whole underwater claustrophobic creep factor went away during the scenes with the Doctor in the open field. This episode actually had a completely different feel from its predecessor. As mentioned above at first the Fisher King was rather menacing too. The idea that he won’t let people die peacefully but use their ghosts for his good… That is rather creepy. They even need a special procedure by U.N.I.T. to be able to finally disappear and get their rest. Maybe those WiFi signals are as bad as some people make them out to be.

Danielle: My fezzy friend is right. In terms of creepiness, the scene where Cass was being followed by her ghostly former colleague was the most effective one. Kind of ingenious too. I’m afraid where it seemed to fall flat was with the Fisher King himself, who did little other than skulk around like a moody teenager and use his height to intimidate people. Anybody with older siblings knows all about that.

O'Donnell hiding from the Fisher King: was it strictly necessary for her to die?
O’Donnell (Morven Christie) hiding from the Fisher King: was it strictly necessary for her to die?

Mystery

Marieke: Is the Doctor going to die or not? Nooo not this time, he was a hologram! To me, it seems he pulled the same kind of time travelling trick as with Davros. The Doctor knew all along and we basically did not have to fear anything. It is as if the mystery of this series is the idea of ‘Who wrote Beethoven’s 5th?’ and the Doctor will execute his plans/solutions/rescues according to this principle. Of course another mystery is what will happen to Clara and maybe her leaving will have to do with the principle. However, I am getting a bit sick of the whole ‘Doctor’s death’ conversation popping up every episode now. It’s a cheap way to advance the programme and I hope there is an idea behind it which might tie this whole series together.

Danielle: So who else predicted that it’d be The Doctor in the white coffin/box pretty early in the episode? I very much liked his explanation of the ‘bootstrap paradox’ at the opening here, but (and it’s a big but) it did act as an excuse for all the things in the episode that don’t really add up, and I’m not sure I like that. For example, are there versions of The Doctor and Bennett that are still living thirty minutes behind the versions of themselves that eventually made it back to the base, or did they die when the dam broke? Also, if Twelve essentially set the whole thing up all along, unknowingly or not, was O’Donnell’s death strictly necessary in order to save Clara? It’s seems inordinately cruel. I don’t expect absolutely everything to make sense, but openly bringing attention to it is as audacious as it is infuriating. It’s akin to very subtly flicking the V’s at the audience. Not nice guys, not nice!

Familiar Face of the Week

Actor and comedian, Peter Serafinowicz, gave the Fisher King his voice.
Actor and comedian, Peter Serafinowicz, gave the Fisher King his voice.
Corey Taylor from Slipknot.
Corey Taylor from Slipknot.

Not so much a ‘familiar face’, but more familiar voices as comedian and actor, Peter Serafinowicz, provided his dulcet tones for the ‘Fisher King’ this week, whilst Corey Taylor, the lead singer from Slipknot, gave the alien his distinctive roar.

The Verdict?

Perhaps the biggest flaw of the closing installment of this two-parter was that it didn’t feel like it dovetailed neatly with the episode it followed on after, in spite of it featuring pretty much exactly the same characters. In fact it jarred. The only real difference was this week’s ‘baddie’, and even he was a limited success, with more effort being put into how he looked than his impact on the plot. There were a few highlights though. Twelve directly addressing the audience in his opening monologue was a joy to watch, as was Cass’ arc over the two episodes. The sonic sunglasses are also growing on us as Capaldi perfects his ageing, world weary rock star persona. That doesn’t, however, take anything away from the fact that with both ‘Under the Lake’ and ‘Before the Flood’, it felt like the show was treading water, literally and metaphorically. It’s not the end of the world, but things probably do need to pick up over the next few weeks.

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