By Will Barber – Taylor
In previous years we at this humble website had reviewed each episode of the then new series of Doctor Who individually as they went out. However, in the spirit of the return of the two parters, it has been decided to review the two parters together as if they were one coherent story. We continue in this quest through Series 9 with Toby Whithouse’s atlanticly epic two parter, Under The Lake/ Before The Flood.
Under The Lake is the best opening episode of a two part Doctor Who story in about 8 years. It doesn’t dilly dally around or try to be clever; it just works and it works perfectly. We start with the crew of an underwater mining expedition (because whenever an expedition isn’t scientific in Doctor Who, it is to do with mining) finding a mysterious spaceship. Their captain is killed by a sudden blast from the ship. They escape into a corridor only to find the ghost of their captain looming in front of them. Cue title sequence.
Whithouse’s skill at setting up an exciting and intriguing scenario without having to resort to any clumsy devices shows his skill as a scribe. From then on the tension builds throughout the episode with The Doctor and Clara soon getting sucked into the strange and bizarre world that the mining crew are forced to live with, hiding by night in the ghost proof Faraday Cage until the ship’s systems turn to day. Whithouse masterfully uses his surroundings to create suspense; the inky black oceans that surround the ship create a ghostly, haunted atmosphere which is played on by having the ship’s architecture seem futuristic but also archaic. The corridors reflect the dark, shadowy nature of the ghosts themselves and Whithouse utilises this when Clara and the crew are chased down the corridor by the ghosts.
Equally on par with the brilliance of the opening is Whithouse’s cliffhanger. With Clara trapped on the base and the ghosts closing in The Doctor, McDonnell and Bennett must travel back in time to figure out what is going on and how to stop the ghosts – before it is too late. As the TARDIS vanishes, Clara notices that a new ghost has appeared, meaning something happened in the past to cause the arrival of the new ghost. The new ghost, it turns out, is The Doctor. Whithouse’s cliffhanger is a master class in how to write a good cliffhanger; he makes the audience want to desperately know what happens next. It is less of “Well, *sigh* how do they get out of that” and more “Well HOW do they get out of that!” The emphasis is clearly different because the drive and involvement is there – we want to know what happens to these characters because we care about them.
The second part, Before The Flood, doesn’t quite hold the claustrophobic tension of the first half because the story must move outside the base but it still keeps up the deep interest in the story. The revelation as to who is behind the ghosts is well played by Whithouse and he keeps the suspense going as to the appearance of the Fisher King until the most dramatic moment possible. Whithouse’s monster is well executed with the dialogue portraying a brutally intelligent monster that has evolved for one purpose; to hunt and kill.
The cast are all excellent. Part of the appeal of the episode is the fact that the writing and directing is superb but the episode is elevated by the combination of the above with fantastic casting. Aside from Peter Capaldi’s stunning turn as The Doctor in the episode, the rest of the cast provide exciting and well-rounded characters. Sophie Stone’s performance as Cass is brilliantly realised; she comes across as a believable leader of the rag tag crew and her relationship with Lunn (also excellently played by Zaqi Ismail) is realistic and heartfelt. O’Donnell played by Morven Christie is equally fantastic, her boundless enthusiasm and optimism bringing a bit of light to the episodes. Her death scene is beautifully played and gives real emotional consequence to the Doctor’s actions.
Overall, Under The Lake / Before The Flood is one of the best Doctor Who stories for some time. It combines witty storytelling with superb direction and excellent acting. Hopefully Whithouse’s next adventure for The Doctor will follow suit.
Next: The Girl Who Dies / The Woman Who Lived