‘Before the Flood’
‘Before the Flood’.
Here’s an elevator pitch for you, Hollywood executives: An aging bug-eyed punk rocker bounces around the universe in a blue box, explaining complex time travel theory to camera, complete with search suggestions — “this is called the bootstrap paradox, Google it” — and Beethoven licks on the electric guitar.That moment, as people say on the internet, when an episode of Doctor Who strays so far into the weird that it becomes a classic, somehow despite itself.The second episode in Toby Whithouse’s two-parter divides the action between the Drum under the lake and the 20th century events that led to the flood, while tying up all the dangling threads left hanging in last week’s first part: the ghost Doctor, the missing power cell, the occupant of the suspended animation chamber, Lunn’s immunity to the ghosts and the cause of the flood. Addressing the camera directly in a dynamic opening scene, The Doctor explains it as if he went back in time to discover Beethoven didn’t actually exist, he could publish his music himself and very little of history would be changed.
The revelation that the Doctor’s ghost is merely a hologram and a conduit for passing messages between the two timelines, rather than a fate for the Doctor to avoid, is a slight let-down. For a start, either the production team are developing a reckless disregard for the fourth wall, or, along with chalkboards, Ray Bans and Fender Stratocasters, one of the 12th Doctor’s “things” is striding around the Tardis imagining he’s an abnormally effusive One Show correspondent. Nonetheless, Clara’s realisation that Cass keeping Lunn out of the hearse spacecraft explains the ghosts’ indifference towards him leads to a wonderfully tense moment as he makes his way through them to retrieve Clara’s phone. Having been separated from Clara by the flooding of the base last week, the Doctor heads back to 1980 with crew members O’Donnell (Morven Christie) and Bennett (Arsher Ali). The Drum scenes underline Clara’s ability to take charge of a situation without the Doctor at her side – echoes of last year’s Flatline – while imbuing the usual running-up-and-down-corridors sequences with a genuine sense of dread as first Lunn and then Cass have their own ghostly close encounters.
So the time traveler copies out all the notations and gets the sheet music published himself, “history continues with barely a feather ruffled,” and the time traveler essentially becomes Beethoven. Putting the plot resolution in plain sight was a particularly good idea, given that Toby Whitehouse’s script for “Before The Flood” relies on a relatively complex time loop.
This isn’t the first time this season that the Doctor has seemed a little too ready for his own death. (“This regeneration — it’s a bit of a clerical error anyway.”) But if people are willing to die to save him, the least he can do is live. Clara is not letting the Doctor give in to his “bloody survivor’s guilt” on her watch. “If you love me in any way, you’ll come back,” she pleads, giving him enough of a kick in the pants that he promises to try. The Doctor and two members of the oil-drilling crew who happened to be trapped on his side of their base at the end of the previous episode, Bennett and O’Donnell, arrive back at the moment where the alien space ship — the source of the ghosts invading the base — landed on Earth. It’s bigger on the inside!” It’s 1980, and the Scottish town that’s underwater in the future turns out to be a military facility made up to look like one in Soviet Russia. It starts by listing everyone’s names, then comes inside the base and changes its tune: “The chamber will open tonight.” That ghost is all about opening chambers.
If you are only familiar with the Robin Williams movie and you haven’t seen it in awhile, this might leave you a bit confused but in Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is a wounded guardian of the Holy Grail. There’s no cell signal in there, so Clara props her phone outside the door and waits as the Doctor, now in 1980, tries to make sense of the spaceship. But Clara’s mind is appropriately blown when the Doctor tries to explain it, bringing the episode full circle when he again asks, “Who composed Beethoven’s 5th?” Actually it was kind of refreshing to see the paradox overtly acknowledged rather than just brushing over it and hoping no one notices or gets too confused. This might be a bit bitchy, but can anybody now even remember that half-series when Jenna Coleman was paired with a departing Matt Smith and it just didn’t really work at all? They witness their first meeting with Prentis, ending with the Doctor wrestling Bennett to the ground – an event foreshadowed in the first version of that scene, where the noise of their scuffle can be heard.
And the Doctor’s speech, suggesting that there might be laws about life and death and souls which trump even the laws of time, raises the question of where such laws come from. It also reminded me an awful lot of the self-effacing “Dish of the Day” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — played in the TV version, coincidentally, by an earlier Doctor, Peter Davison. Given that the character’s voice was performed by the talented Peter Serafinowicz (Star Wars’ Darth Maul) it was a shame he didn’t get a bit more dialogue.
Instead of the frenetic physicality and action that matched the youthful zest of Matt Smith’s Doctor, the two-part format is creating a more character-based story structure that allows the more cerebral Twelfth Doctor – and Clara – room to breathe. I’m just still trying to pull myself up from the floor after laughing at Paul Kaye as Prentis, and a reference to S&M in Doctor Who so blatant that they didn’t even bother trying to conceal it. We later learn that that list is presumably the order in which everyone dies. (I say presumably because if future Doctor knew the order of the deaths and past Doctor is able to prevent them, did they ever really happen in some timeline?
It’s also the second successive adventure in which the dramatic, non-linear storytelling possibilities afforded by the show’s time travel premise have been put squarely at its heart. Wibbly-wobbly boot straps again… let’s move on.) The Doctor insists he has to die and can’t change the sequence of events because they’ve already happened. The publicity surrounding the Fisher King’s vocal might have turned heads when he started coming out with English-rep style soliloquies – that was because the dialogue was delivered by Peter Serafinowicz. This is already a very different series to what we have become used to in recent years – a little more grown-up and a lot more in the style of the Second and Fourth Doctors. Surely any sonic screwdriver naysayers are now screaming for its return after four episodes of those absurd sunglasses – Moffat has admitted that he wrote them in merely because he could.
Poor, doomed O’Donnell knew plenty about the Doctor, Rose, Martha and Amy having entered into fangirl folklore (although not Donna, perhaps something to do with her memory wipe having also wiped her from records?). Hiding in the shadows, the Fisher King’s character design initially seems mysterious and creepy but it gets less impressive the more we see of it when it becomes obvious it’s a guy knocking about in a suit. But the other race to enslave them, referenced off-screen, were the translucent telepaths the Arcateenians, featured in his 2006 Torchwood episode Greeks Bearing Gifts. He says it seems the Doctor was almost trying to test his theory rather than protect the people from the base. (Cass later hurls similar accusations of callousness at Clara after Clara convinces Lunn – who never saw the symbols and is therefore safe from the ghosts – to retrieve the cellphone.
Cass asks if the Doctor changed Clara or if she was always willing to put others’ lives at risk. “He taught me to do what needs to be done,” Clara responds.) After O’Donnell’s death, the next name on the list is Clara, so the Doctor rushes back to the TARDIS so he can travel back to the future to save her. “I don’t see anyone who’s going to stop me,” he tells Bennett. As much as I love you all dearly for making us (possibly) the biggest Who portal on the whole internet, it’s also true that as we’ve grown, so has the negativity; sometimes fair comment, sometimes propagated by a minority of trolls.
After trapping the ghosts in the Faraday cage, the Doctor reveals his own ghost was a hologram as he removes the memory of the inscription from the minds of Cass and Clara. Our friends over at The Doctor Who Forum even formed their site because they were growing tired of the negging, so would flock over there after an initial chat here. Having never expressed what she meant to him, he convinces Cass and Lunn to realize what the past two episodes have been suggesting and they start making out.
The insect/skeleton/angel-of-death-looking creature, complete with mandibles, is planning to create enough ghosts to summon armadas of his people to conquer the Earth, drain its oceans and enslave humanity. Then again, time is not something the Doctor is short on — and for the next two weeks, he’ll be sharing it with another Game of Thrones alum, the amazing Maisie Williams. This week’s finest example of adorably berserk fandom comes in the form of this change.org petition, demanding an immediate axe to the sonic shades. At the time of writing, it has so far garnered 2,346 signatures, although it is not clear whether founder Jason Irving quite realises that production on the series wrapped up weeks ago.
The Doctor constantly facing certain death never really hangs too well with a character defined by his ability to regenerate, but at least it’s addressed here, this “12th” incarnation being a “clerical error” after the Timelords granted him a new regeneration cycle. They are soon caught up in the middle of a war between an advanced race of mercenary aliens and a village full of angry Vikings, who don’t take kindly to having their gods insulted.”
And they’re almost always right about that. “Though you might find you’ve lost a couple of other memories too, like people you went to school with or previous addresses or how to drink liquids.”
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