Before The Flood
review by Eddie McGuigan
Under the Lake has to be one of the most formulaic Doctor Who adventures in a long time – and more power to it for being that way. It’s a traditional story with a traditional Doctor/Companion dynamic and throws a punch directly into the face of the viewer for being so. It is, without a doubt, superb.
As a second part of the same adventure, Before The Flood couldn’t begin more differently and, indeed, continue to push against the traditionalness of Part One. It begins with a direct to camera monologue by the Doctor – some might say this is for the fan who doesn’t understand or like temporal shenanigans or paradoxes – but it allows Capaldi to showboat and talk directly to us about the story ahead – indeed, the scene itself has no plot drivers at all – but it is nonetheless a clever conceit which leads straight into a theme tune played, it seems, by the Doctor himself.
After those titles, we are we are treated – and treated is the word – to another type of Whovian trope – the mysterious village, so ably portrayed in The Android Invasion, for instance – as the Doctor and his friends search out the truth behind the Ghosts in the Drum and their reason to exist – a search which will bring the Doctor face to face with the Fisher King and his own mortality.
Whilst still giving us the action adventure of Under The Lake with echoes of Alien³, and the creepiness of not just a haunted house but a terrifyingly ghostly Doctor, we also get the backstory to the spaceship and the Trivoli undertaker, which enhances the story with rich layers of plot.
So the story is split in two parts – inside the Drum and before the flood – and each intertwine with themselves as the stasis chamber discovered in Under The Lake slowly begins to open.
It’s fair to say that whilst the Drum sequences allow Clara more space to take charge, she’s not entirely separated from the Doctor thanks to some timey wimey skyping, whose presence is felt in both the past and the presence as Capaldi continues to dominate this story with aplomb. The base under siege story is continued whilst the mystery behind it unfolds in a time travelling paradox cleverly realised by Whithouse’s intelligent use of the device. It’s a little bit Sapphire and Steel and a little bit Bill And Ted. To say more would ruin the surprises.
Guest star wise, Paul Kaye channels David Walliams as the now alive Trivoli undertaker and does a great if fleeting job. Sophie Stone as Cass is impressive too, and the fact that she is deaf isn’t ignored either. It’s great that her deafness isn’t seen as a disability at all, but used to great effect in this episode in a creepy scene which will have everyone on the edge of their seats. Morven Christie continues to audition for the role of companion with a great turn as the likeable, somewhat cooky O’Donnell for the most part, with Arsher Ali’s Bennett being the other stand out, scared but unafraid to call out the Doctor when required. Peter Serafinowicz is creepy as the confident Fisher King as well, and, as its body, Neil Fingleton is terrifying.
Again though it’s Capaldi’s Doctor who dominates this episode in everything that he does – as his ghost in the present or the rebel Time Lord in the past. He controls every scene he’s in as he scampers through the adventure – ably scored it has to be said by Murray Gold, who’s now less melodic than before but has begun to channel the operatic of Hans Zimmer – and is capable of showing a traditional Doctor but one still capable of seeing the bigger picture, and making alien decisions for the greater good, again an echo of Mummy on the Orient Express.
I can’t fault this episode – although I do think its more divisive than Under The Lake and perhaps less traditional – but I loved it, and would have Doctor Who like this two parter all the time. Again, there were no arcs, no old enemies, nothing to link it along, but with fan pleasing nods and plenty of comedy to counteract the drama and horror, this is exactly what Who should be.
Bravo, Toby, bravo.