Doctor Who Review: Under The Lake/Before the Flood

Do you know what I like about this series? Two parters all series because I can review episodes back to back. Otherwise I get too behind with my reviews like last year. But gimme a break guys. This is what happens when I re-write 27 000 words in a week and a half and am winding up an organisation.

Anyway, Doctor Who. My favourite review of this episode was actually from livejournal meta queen, Elisi. ‘Well. There wasn’t any mirroring’ was essentially her response to both parts. And probably mine too. I am so used to Moffat Who mirroring characters against each other and requiring viewers to dig deep into metaphor and theme to get the full mileage out of an episode. Not so this Whitehouse two-parter, which saw the return of old fashioned hide-behind-the-sofa Who and the locked-in-a-confined-space-getting-bumped-off-one-by-one trope. Similar in many ways to The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, this was proper scary Who.

Clara Who?

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a big Clara fan, largely because though Jenna Coleman is a good actress, the show doesn’t know what to do with her. Not only has she gone all through The Doctor’s timeline, she’s also taken on the role of Doctor in various Series 8 episodes. Much like the Series 9 two-parter where Clara did little but get locked inside a Dalek by the deranged Missy, Clara has little purpose in this story. I don’t think the show can get much more mileage out of the character.

This two parter brought up the theme of death in relation to both The Doctor and Clara, and I think it is fairly safe to say that there is about to be death for Clara on the horizon, either metaphorical (ala Donna) or physical (ala Jamie).

The Doctor: Listen to me. We all have to face death eventually, be it ours or someone else’s.
Clara: I’m not ready yet. I don’t want to think about that, not yet.
The Doctor: I can’t change what’s already happened. There are rules.
Clara: So break them. And anyway, you owe me. You’ve made yourself essential to me, you’ve given me something else to… to be.  And you can’t do that and then die. It’s not fair.
The Doctor: Clara…
Clara: No. Doctor, I don’t care about your rules or your bloody survivor’s guilt. If you love me in any way, you’ll come back.

Surely this is telegraphing a mile off that Clara is on the out? I liked the little throw back to Dark Water here by the way, with Clara saying chillingly in that episode that she was owed.

We saw in this two parter, too, that Clara is learning some of Twelve’s detached coldness in the face of strategy and split second decisions, especially in the second part of the episode.

Lunn: She said to ask you whether traveling with the Doctor has changed you, and why you always have to put other people’s lives at risk.
Clara: He taught me to do what has to be done.

Did The Doctor teach you that, or did Missy? (Thinks back to the title, The Witch’s Familiar and Missy’s Death in Heaven, ‘I chose her’ and shudder).


Not much new to say on Twelve here, other than to say it is clear that in Series 9 Capaldi is much more comfortable in the role and nails the range of emotions his character has to display. There was this nifty little tid bit on Time Lords though:

Fisher King: Time Lords. Cowardly, vain curators who suddenly remembered they had teeth and became the most war-like race in the galaxy. But you—you! You are curious. You’ve seen the words too and can hear them tick inside you. But you are still locked in your history. Still slavishly protecting time. Willing to die rather than change a word of the future.

But seriously, I liked the meta start and end cap to Before The Flood, with The Doctor coming over musical with his electric guitar (and apparently that was actually Capaldi playing over the weekly theme tune) in a repeat of his Medieval band strum in The Magician’s Apprentice. In other news, I also quite enjoyed The Doctor’s social cue cards given to him by Clara (even if this does mean that half the internet is probably now diagnosing The Doctor with an ASD).

Diversity on Who

Diversity in anything is so rare that it is always super exciting when it happens in the mainstream (it shouldn’t be in the 21st century, but here we are) and especially in popular culture. I really enjoyed deaf female leader, Cass, and I thought she was a good actress. I liked that one of her colleagues signed and spoke at the same time, acting as translator and communicator. For some young people especially, it is a reminder that just because you have a disability, it doesn’t mean you are invisible, that you should be invisible, or that you can’t achieve things.

Tell her that you’re always gonna love her

This was an ending of pairings. Lunn and Cass declare their love for each other at episode’s end, Bennett and O’Donnell are out of time and never really admit their love, though deep down they knew it before O’Donnell faced death. It was a little bit too neat, but I did grin when Cass kissed Lunn.

The Fisher King?

For once I agree with Mary Ann Johanson, (I haven’t since circa Series 6 when her hatred of Moffat Who reached such a degree of insanity I gave up on reading her Who write-ups) who asked why The Fisher King was the name given to the alien behind the events of this two parter. A good question. The Fisher King is a reference to Arthurian legend. From Wikipedia:

In Arthurian legend the Fisher King, or the Wounded King, is the last in a long line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of his story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin and incapable of moving on his own. In the Fisher King legends, he becomes impotent and unable to perform his task himself, and he also becomes unable to father or support a next generation to carry on after his death. His kingdom suffers as he does, his impotence affecting the fertility of the land and reducing it to a barren wasteland. All he is able to do is fish in the river near his castle, Corbenic, and wait for someone who might be able to heal him. Healing involves the expectation of the use of magic. Knights travel from many lands to heal the Fisher King, but only the chosen can accomplish the feat.

I am not clear on how The Fisher King’s motive of summoning an armada relates to this legend, and though of course, Whithouse could have just wanted to shout out to legend with a tribute name, it was distracting for me, so used to looking for Moffat Who mirrors.

Ultimately, this two-parter proved to have a great set-up with a less interesting follow-up. It is also one of the more straightforward Who episodes we’ve had in recent years, and that’s fine, but I prefer my stories with layers of meta which take at least three re-watches to dissect. Oh well. I can’t win all of the time.

Under the Lake/Before The Flood: 6/10 inky stars

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