Doctor Who: Time Altering Romp Delivers Inconsequential Shrug
Usually, after an episode of Doctor Who, I spend a whole evening thinking about what I’m going to write in these reviews the next day. I’ll lie in bed thinking about the themes, the faliures, and the successes of the episode so that I can spring out of bed on a Sunday morning with nothing better to do than write Tardis puns and delve into whatever batshit outing Moffat has delivered to my iPlayer this week. You might deduce from this that I have no life, and I’m certainly not going to contest that. But, either way, that just didn’t happen this week. The most ardent reaction I could come up with for this week’s episode, Before the Flood, was a giant shrug.
And honestly, that’s better than I was expecting after last week’s excellent adventure. I was pretty much resigned to the fact that they would find some way to balls up the second part of the story in a long and proud Moffat-era DW tradition, but they didn’t necessarily do that. In fact, there were a lot of things about the episode I liked-an attempt to come up with a legitimately new monster, a collection of cracking supporting actors, and the lack of a giant, unwieldy twist ending all made me pretty happy. On the subject of that monster, as well, I loved (in a twisted kind of way) how ropey and rubbish and old-series Doctor Who it looked- the whole costume wobbled when it walked, for fuck’s sake. But an effort had been made to actually construct a legit alien being, and I thoroughly enjoyed it’s presence.
It was also voiced by Peter Serafinowicz, who’s a brilliant actor and has one of my favourite voices ever, but unfortunately his presence meant that every time the Fisher King spoke I was instantly reminded of the “DO YOU WANT ME TO COME, FRAN?” scenes from Black Books (have you seen Black Books? Why not? Why aren’t you watching it RIGHT NOW?). But there wasn’t enough Fisher King for my liking- and, in fact, there wasn’t enough of anything in this episode, and that was the problem.
The plot of Before the Flood revolves around the Doctor heading back in time to try and stop the message of the Fisher King imprinting on the crew of the vessel from Under the Lake. This involved a lot of time-travelling jiggery-pokery, and an astonishgly on-the-nose explanation of the Bootstrap Paradox (UM THANK YOU TOBY WHITHOUSE I’VE BEEN WATCHING THIS SHOW FOR TEN YEARS I THINK I KNOW WHAT A BOOTSTRAP PARADOX IS), and a whole lot of cool scenes that didn’t really seem to reach any satisfying emotional or plot-related climax. Sure, I loved the scenes with the ghost-Doctor, and I thoroughly appreciated the bitter-sweetness of the romantic subplots, but this episode, for once, left me completely opinion-free. And that can’t be a good thing. Surely?
Look, I feel annoyed that I didn’t really care for this episode, because I can’t tell you why. The supporting cast were great (though can someone confirm or deny the fact that the deaf woman was apparently able to use sonar to assess her surroundings?), and the script managed to eke out a couple of legitimately touching moments from the plot. It felt strange, after the light and airy characterisation last week, that this week’s plot should revolve around the Doctor essentially gloating because he survived through his own ingenuity even as he let numerous people die. But aside from all of that, the whole thing felt…rushed.
Yes, that’s what it is: after the thoughtful, pretty slow build of Under the Lake, Before the Flood seemed to power through plot points at the speed of light without giving much thought to motivation or, indeed, occasionally logic. Though this was a good episode in terms of character (for once, Jenna Coleman actually had something to do and reminded me just why she’s such a popular assistant), the plot read like something I’d have written when I was fifteen- a half-cool idea that I swiftly lost interest in and sort of muddled an ending out of. The episode seemed harried, as if it was always working against it’s running time. It felt like a bunch of connecting scenes had been cut out to make space for the bare bones of the plot (and a reference to a probable big bad this season, in the form of the as-yet-unknown Minister of War).
They introduced a cool villain, only to give him about ten lines. They seemed to be invested in the emotional arcs of the supporting cast, but then just quarantined and cut loose their ghosted loved ones. It wasn’t the kind of catastrophically half-baked episode that completely negates everything that came before it, but I can see myself remembering certain scenes and lines over a strong plot or cohesive arc. I wish I had more to say about Before the Flood, but aside from a few neat scenes, I have no real opinions either way on this episode. I can offer you up a resounding “meh” and not much more, much to my chagrin, because if there’s one thing (and there is only one thing) I do well it’s having strong and shouty opinions on Doctor Who episodes.
I tell you one thing I won’t be quick to forget though, and that’s the Doctor straight-up winking down the camera at the episode’s end. And endlessly, constantly, unironically playing the guitar. I’ll have you yet, Moffat.