Doctor Who Series 9 Review – Before the Flood

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This week saw the conclusion to last week’s suspenseful opener, and as such had a lot to explain. Most importantly the questions on everybody’s minds, is the Doctor really dead and where did his ghost come from? Unlike the previous two-parter the cliff-hanger isn’t resolved straight away. Instead we get a chance to see the characters split across two different locations and times, facing off against dangerous foes and determined to solve the mystery before they become part of the ever-growing army of ghosts.

You might expect the episode to jump straight back to Clara staring in horror as the spectral image of the Doctor materialises in front of her, but instead we get something very different. The Doctor walks around the TARDIS, breaking the fourth wall and explaining some rather complicated time-travel theory involving Beethoven. We’re even encouraged to Google “bootstrap paradox” before the Doctor picks up his trusty electric guitar and begins a rocked up rendition of the title theme. I’m not making this up, that actually happened. This is writer Toby Whithouse’s knowing way of saying to the audience, yes this episode is going to get complicated but go with it and you’re in for a fun ride.

This is exactly what was provided in this rollercoaster of an episode that perhaps raised just as many questions as it answered. The threat of the ghosts is ever-present back on the underwater base (unless you’re in the Faraday Cage, or you haven’t read the alien writing on the wall) but luckily we are introduced to a new dangerous threat, the Fisher King. It’s always exciting when Doctor Who introduces us to a new, proper alien. By that I don’t mean fancy CGI work, I mean a man in a big rubber suit and a scary mask. That’s what to me rings truest to the DNA of the show, perhaps besides the odd wobbly set. It was clever to keep the creature relatively hidden as it stalked the characters above ground, at first only subjecting us to its guttural scream (lovingly provided by Slipknot singer Corey Taylor.) After quickly dispatching the erratic Tivolian undertaker Prentis, played humorously by Paul Kaye, it moves on to the Doctor and his newfound friends. It’s testament to Morven Christie’s loveable portrayal of O’Donnel that her following death is the one that hits the audience the hardest, and tragically her love-stricken crewmate Bennett who I’m grateful receives a bit more character development from last week.

Back underwater clever Cass notices the Doctor’s ghost is saying something different from the others, a list of the crew’s names. After a time-travelling phone conversation between the Doctor and Clara it’s made apparent that this is the order in which the characters will die. As well as the Doctor’s impending death this adds another sense of danger to the episode, and once again tests the Doctor’s moral resolve and explores how far he is willing to mess with time to save his friends. The Doctor’s character is once again shown to be somewhat unsympathetic to humans that aren’t Clara, as her name being next on the list is really the spark that sets him into action to defeat the Fisher King. This provides us with another excellent Peter Capaldi performance as he faces off against the towering monster, a brilliant example of how the actor has really become the Doctor.

Clara attempts to resolve things on the base, having to take on the absent Doctor’s role. She seems a little lost without the Doctor’s help, evident in her desperation to sustain communication with him. She also shows a slight lapse in empathy, as much to Cass’ anger she’s quick to suggest Lunn should go out and face the ghosts. The battle for power between Clara and Cass is interesting to watch as two strong personality’s clash, with hapless Lunn caught in the middle.

The final act of the episode seems somewhat rushed as the Fisher King is swept away by the flood, the Doctor hops into the space coffin capsule, then creates his own ghost hologram with the sonic shades which is what inspired his past-self to take action in the first place. I’m not sure if I’m entirely following either, but the point is that it was a fun episode, even if all the time-travel elements don’t fit together as neatly as we’d like. Oh and we also get to see Cass and Lunn show their love for each other, which is nice.

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