Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review (or “That’s Why You Don’t Review A Story At The Half Way Point”)

So like I was saying a couple of weeks ago, there’s no point in writing a review of a Doctor Who episode when it’s the first of two-part story.

I don’t think there’s any story that proved that point more than Under the Lake & Before the Flood!

Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor travel back to the past to change the future…or is it that he creates the future?

Thoughts – A Proper Two Part Story

99 times out of 100, in any TV show, the reason for a story to run over two or more episodes is simply because there’s too much plot to fit into a single one. Essentially, it’s just a longer episode spread over a number

And With That, The Fourth Wall Was Broken

And With That, The Fourth Wall Was Broken

of weeks with placeholder cliffhangers inserted to act as a checkpoint.

This is the 1 time out of 100 when it’s not.

Rather than being one long story, this is an example of a two-parter that utilises the break to tell a tale that could not be effectively told in one sitting. Under the Lake is the set-up episode, introducing characters and environments and acting as its own little Base Under Siege drama. Without Under the Lake, the overall story wouldn’t work. But the Base Under Siege stuff isn’t the overall point and most likely is not what the central concept of the story either.

Because this is one of those rare – and yet very welcome – examples of Doctor Who, the TV show about a man who travels in time, presenting a story based around the concepts and paradoxes associated with Time Travel.

In particular, it’s about The Bootstrap Paradox (like the Doctor says, google it).

And I’ve got to say, I loved it.

This was clever, it kept me guessing and unlike the first story of the season, it didn’t have a conclusion that left me feeling let down. Instead, when The Fisher King was caught in the flood and the Doctor emerged from the stasis chamber, I felt a sense of deep satisfaction that I’d watched a story expertly written.

And I’m hugely surprised to say that considering the writer – Toby Whithouse – has been slated on the pages of Stuart Reviews Stuff in the past for writing some utter drivel.

Credit where it’s due though; this was excellent.

Is Doctor Who A Kid’s Show?

The answer to the above question is obviously ‘No’, it’s a TV show aimed at the whole family and always has been, but I bring this up because I was debating this very issue on Twitter earlier on today with people

'Mon Then!!!!!!

‘Mon Then!!!!!!

who were adament that who is naught but a kids show.

There’s no way an episode of Doctor Who like Before The Flood is aimed at kids; no way at all.

Apart from the plot being probably too complex for a lot of adults let alone kiddywinkles, I just can’t imagine any movie aimed at children including a scene like the one where a scary looking ghost with an axe stalks an unwitting deaf woman in a dark dingy corridor.

Or maybe I’m being too naive as to what passes for kids TV these days.

No matter how you slice it, that was aimed at adults first, and long may that continue.

Breaking The Fourth Wall: What Did You Think?

I can imagine that when the dust settles on this one, a lot of Doctor Who fans – because we aren’t in any way the sort of people to over-analyse stuff and get upset over anything different are we – will be ill at ease with the breaking of the fourth wall that happens a couple of times in Before the Flood.

My thoughts? Well I don’t want Doctor Who to become Lovejoy with all that sort of ‘speaking to the audience’ stuff, but I thought it worked here and it aided the telling of the story.

So while it shouldn’t be made the norm, it worked fine here.

Random Observations

  • I loved the different theme music at the start of Before the Flood. Not as much as I’d have loved it if it was the 5th Doctor’s theme, but you can’t have everything.
  • Though I’ve focussed more on Before the Flood in this review for obvious reasons, I thought that the cliffhanger to Under the Lake was a good one.
  • As usual there were some amusing and snappy lines of dialogue – usually from Peter Capaldi – but I think my favourite one was where Clara hands him the cue cards explaining how to react to the situation
    It's The Asian Alistair McGowan!

    It’s The Asian Alistair McGowan!

    they were in.

  • The War Minister, eh?
  • I think it sets a good example to showcase actors with disabilities. I read a comment from a deaf person that said that young deaf kids who watch the show will have felt amazing to see someone with the same issues as them being called the most important person in the room by the Doctor.
  • Having said that though, just because you’re deaf, it doesn’t make you Daredevil, so that bit where she dodges out of the way of the axe using her extra sense was a bit much.
  • How come the base was completely abandoned?
  • If I was to criticise the story for anything it would be that Clara appears to be morphing back into a generic companion. So far this season there’s been nothing much to her character beyond being a mild sociopath who is thrilled to be placed in dangerous scenarios.
  • The point raised by the character who I shall dub ‘The Asian Alistair McGowan’ is an important one. Why is it that – when it comes to the crunch – the Doctor doesn’t really give much of a toss about the lives of the people he meets who aren’t his travelling companions. It’s fair to say that he did let O’Donnell die to test a theory, and that’s a bit of a dick move on his part.
  • To go back to something I said earlier about the writing keeping me guessing; I don’t want you to think it confused me, because it didn’t. Obviously I predicted that the Doctor would be responsible for the dam bursting from the moment The Bootstrap Paradox was raised, but throughout the episode, the way he would get to that point remained a mystery. It was only about 10 seconds before he emerged from suspended animation that I guessed he was in there, and that’s ideal. No writer wants to craft an episode that makes viewers think “What was that about?” or “How did that happen?”. Instead, I think they should aim to give the viewer the sense of satisfaction of being able to work out what’s happening at the last possible moment. For me, that’s the best way.
  • The Fisher King was a pretty daunting character, with an impressive look and a commanding voice. I liked how the director avoided showing him until the last possible moment. That worked well for me.

Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review: Final Thoughts

This story shows why I was wise to keep my counsel last week and leave it all to this review here.

Last Saturday I wouldn’t have known that this was a story about time travel and the Bootstrap Paradox, and so my review would have taken an entirely different direction.

It would have been like reviewing a meal while it’s still being cooked.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see the whole thing, I can confidently state that this was a fantastic example of Doctor Who done right.

Toby Whithouse is a writer who I have rightly panned in the past, with The Vampires of Venice actually finishing in the top ten worst Doctor Who stories of all time in my second book (see below).

He’s excelled himself here though and I’m happy to give him a bundle of praise.

This was brilliant.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 





One Response to Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review (or “That’s Why You Don’t Review A Story At The Half Way Point”)

  1. Luke Porter says:

    Great review as always! I think these 2 episodes had more of a classic Doctor Who feel than the vast majority of modern Who episodes. Even Clara’s outfit reminded me of Sarah Jane for some reason.

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