Sunday, 11 October 2015

Reviews in Time & Space: Before the Flood

Doctor Who s09e04: Before the Flood

When we last left the Doctor and Clara in Under the Lake they had become part of a ghostly encounter in the underwater mining facility the Drum. After the Doctor deciphered the message that each of the ghosts were mouthing, he set off in the TARDIS to 150 years previously to discover the source of the situation. Meanwhile as Clara and the remaining crew members stayed in the year 2119, a new ghost suddenly appeared - the Doctor himself. Now the story splits into two different time periods for the conclusion of the latest Doctor Who adventure from writer Toby Whithouse - Before the Flood.

The Ghost Doctor
Dun dun dun!

Back in the nearby Scottish town in the 1980s, the Doctor and crew members Bennett and O'Donnell arrive to find their mysterious black spaceship freshly landed with it's pilot - the Tivolian Prentis, still alive. They quickly discover that the spaceship is in fact a hearse, carrying the Tivolian's previous leader the Fisher King to his final resting place. However the Fisher King isn't actually quite as dead as they believed.

Back in 2119, it is revealed that the Doctor's ghost is speaking a different message to the other ghosts - a run down of the crew's names. Identifying the message as the order that the crew (along with the Doctor and Clara) are supposedly going to die, it becomes a race against time for the Doctor to solve this mystery once and for all. He might have become a dead man walking, but will he be able to save Clara in time?

A living Prentis
Meeting the deceased

The Bootstrap paradox, perhaps one of the most controversial time travel subjects in the science fiction writer's arsenal. Though the Doctor explains it with proper context in an interesting little bit of fourth wall breaking before the opening credits (and recommends the audience google it), the definition is that it is " a time travel paradox in which an object or information can exist without ever being created". Before the Flood isn't the first time Doctor Who has used this to hand wave away what would otherwise be some pretty major plot holes, but it is perhaps the first time it's properly addressed and brought attention to it. The Bootstrap paradox is the very core of this episode, strengthening what would otherwise feel like a fairly average story with a fascinating (albeit cheap) time travel concepts. Plus it also gives Doctor Who to go a little bit Back to the Future II, with the Doctor running around trying to avoid himself carrying out things he'd done only half an hour earlier.

The Fisher King
Wait and (cause others to) bleed

However episode sadly has quite a few disappointments to it. The mystery is a far stronger element than the resolution, with things becoming increasingly underwhelming the more that is revealed. The living version of Prentis barely makes an impression, while the Fisher King is definitely a contender for one of the most uninteresting villains in Doctor Who history. Despite looking and sounding (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz and with a scream provided by Slipknot's Corey Taylor - what a perfect combination) utterly fantastic, you'd be hard pressed to remember anything the monster did apart from kill two characters off-screen. All we see him do is stomp around trying to sound vaguely threatening, but we don't really know anything about him (or why he even pretended to be dead in the first place). Once again all of the Doctor's outsmarting has been done before the audience can fully process what's going on, and the explanations only come later when the problem has all been resolved. The Fisher King feels like a completely empty threat, which is a pretty unsatisfying end to what was otherwise a fairly good Doctor Who mystery.

Cass travels down a dark corridor
Great scene, but perhaps pushing the 'adult' nature of Doctor Who?

The characters are a bit all over the place as well. Peter Capaldi is still on top form, with his Doctor retaining his darker edge while also continuing this aged rockstar vibe he has going on in this new season. Clara is once again all over the place, showing a pretty horrifying disregard for other people's safety and even lives with only the justification of "it's the right thing to do" (not really her decision though is it?). Of the the Drum crew, the female characters get a little bit more to work with - O'Donnell coming out as something of a mini-Osgood (a little more tolerable, but the "bigger on the inside" schtick gets really old when EVERY person that enters the TARDIS is remarking it) and Cass getting to do a bit more than just be a lip-reading plot device. The men are less exciting, because despite Bennett's momentary challenge of the Doctor's methods they're mostly there to enforce the conclusions "seize the day" moral. And provide a sign language translation of course.

Before the Flood is perhaps a little stronger than Under the Lake, but ultimately suffers from the same sort of problem. Whereas part one was a pretty average plot strengthened by suspense and mystery, part two is a pretty average plot strengthened by intriguing concepts. While perhaps nothing special in the grand scheme of things, it's a solid set of episodes that continue a reasonably enjoyable streak for this new season. Next week it's off to the time of the vikings with Jamie Mathieson's The Girl Who Died, which also guest stars Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams. Exciting stuff.

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