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Tag: doctor who season nine

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.

Really can’t say enough good things about the supporting cast, especially these two.

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?

So spectacularly retro

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).

Corey Taylor did the roar of the Fisher King, which is the BEST NEWS EVER

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.

Doctor Who: Tardis Afraid as Rising Damp Incurs Spirits

Some episodes of Doctor Who are bad (Deep Breath, Kill the Moon, whatever last week’s fiasco of an episode was called). Some Doctor Who episodes are fiendishly clever (Name of the Doctor, Listen). But some episodes are just good- deliciously, deliriously, simply good, and that’s what this week’s outing, which should so obviously have been called Under the Sea in order for me to hum the best Disney song ever through it’s entire run, staked it’s claim in.

I’m not getting my hopes up too high just yet, because the last couple of two-parters the series has done with Capaldi’s Doctor have had amazing first halves and a funeral dirge of a second half. But right now I can linger in that lovely space between knowing and not knowing, without having to qualify any discussion of Under the Lake (the episode’s actual, less exciting title) with “…but the second half was pish”.

The Doctor’s prompt cards were a joke that was just on the right side of obvious.

So let’s discuss what worked about this episode, shall we? Firstly, it was written by Toby Whithouse, he of the patchy but very creative supernatural dramedy Being Human- his Doctor Who episodes have been equally all over the place. For every School Reunion (brilliantly touching), there’s a Vampires of Venice (trudgingly unfunny), for every God Complex (sublimely excellent), there’s a Town called Mercy (??????). But whatever his episodes have been, they’re usually memorable- maybe for some cool new monster, an interesting concept, or fabulous world-building. I’d wager that this episode had one major advantage over the host of recent DW episodes, and that’s the fact that it got the Doctor pretty much spot-on.

What I’m saying is, in short, fuck Moffat’s version of the Doctor, who swerves between calculating self-preservation and grating silliness that’s the equivalent of the show refusing to stop tooting a kazoo right in your ear, and give me this version instead. Capaldi careers around a hilarious script, one that matches decent laughs with pretty impressive horror, and for once he’s not ahead of the game, he’s figuring it out along with everyone else. Something about the slapdash nature of this Doctor is really charming and balances out the ever-present arrogance that oozes off him at every turn.

But ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. What about the story? After the crew of an underwater base haul an alien ship on board, they find themselves infested with ghosts- not the benign, wise-cracking, Hogwarts kind, but the kind that threateningly pick up spanners and brutally drown various crew members to make new ghosts. The Doctor has to try and figure out why they’re collecting the souls of the base’s crew. but as the base starts going a bit haywire he’s forced to leave Clara behind and travel back through time to work out a way to keep everyone alive. As I said earlier, it’s the first part of a two-parter, so I fully expect them to fuck this up royally next episode, but this was a fun, tight, rollicking script that didn’t let the action drop for a moment, and I can respect that. And let’s take no notice of the fact that it seemed to be ripping off previous well-respected Who episodes, with obvious visual nods to The Satan Pit with the corpse floating past the window plus the fact that the Prentis character had very obviously appeared in Silence in the Library. Don’t even think about it. It’s gone.

It was also bloody scary- well, when I say that, I mean that I would have been shit-scared by this episode ten years ago, which is my watermark for how scary a Doctor Who episode is as now I sit around watching House of 1000 Corpses over breakfast so my current scary-radar is kind of skewed. Even the Tardis was too scared to get near the creatures in a cool touch that really spooked me. The ghosts looked legitimately cool-

-and I appreciated the fact that they didn’t go for the traditional bloodless DW deaths (which, when you think about it, only really come in the form of deadly zaps- the Autons, the Cybermen, the Daleks…) and had the ghosts committing straight-up murder. I’ve written before about how keen I am for Doctor Who to terrify kids, partly because it stops them running around with their sticky hands smelling of yoghurt and trying to come near me all the time, but mainly because it gives kids an easy way into good horror, the same way it did for me. Part of Doctor Who’s legacy is sending generations of kids cowering behind the sofa, for Christ’s sake, and it’s about time they upheld that.

A solid supporting cast really helped up the ante and give the episode some stakes, and the addition of a character who communicated through sign-language could have felt tacked-on but just doesn’t. Clara also works best when she’s got some normal people to interact with, and she had a genuinely decent episode for once. I know this show likes to bring the Doctor and his companions together only to brutally rip them apart-

I felt you would appreciate this joke as much as I did, dear reader.

-(ugh, maybe I’m due my period or something, but the memory of David Tennant getting cut off just before he tells Rose that he loves her made me choke up a little) but it’s nice to have them on the same side for once, especially when they seemed to spent so much of last season at odds with each other.

Look, sometimes I just don’t want to criticise Doctor Who because it is, after all, my favourite show, and this episode didn’t make me want to pick it apart at the seams. I’m sure most of the plot would collapse if I took a closer look at it, but I have no intention of doing so because this episode provided everything I wanted-scares, laughs, an interesting story, and apparently next week a monster voiced by Corey Taylor. Because yeah, the big twist set up by this episode is basically resolved by clicking on the Wikipedia page. I’ll have you yet , Moffat.