Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


List:
03 Oct 2015Under The Lake, by Martin Hudecek
10 Oct 2015Before The Flood, by Martin Hudecek

 

Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Colin McFarlane,
Sophie Stone, Zaqi Ismail, Morven Christie, Arsher Ali,
Steven Robertson, and Paul Kaye 

Written by: Toby Whithouse,
Directed by: Daniel O'Hara
 Transmitted on 3rd October 2015 

This Review Contains Plot Spoilers

"You can get killed or drowned .. but my first priority is to protect my crew"

A group of accomplished scientific researchers investigate a buried spaceship in watery depths somewhere in Scotland. Soon they realise it contains an unusual sarcophagus. In so doing, they find themselves in the middle of a truly terrifying crisis.

Former allies become ghostly cadavers with no eyes; black pits of non-expression. And they mean to do terrible things that threaten the safety of the underwater base and quite possibly the outside world too. The TARDIS lands after this disaster has begun, so idle chat and introductions are not required, but problem solving under the most pressing of time constraints..

 

As a piece of scary, spooky suspense this episode stands up to any of the showrunner's prior output, and is being shown at just the right time of year as the days draw shorter and the clocks go back. A balance is struck between a rollicking pace and allowing images and concepts to sink into the audience's consciousness. The design of the ghosts is inspired, and takes the idea of a dehumanised but recognisable former ally and do effective things with it. The ability of these apparitions to have both traditional 'walk-through-walls' powers and an ability to manipulate objects and devices physically means the group of marines/scientists and the time-travel duo are really made to run for their money. There is an attempted use of a high-tech cage to deal with the ghosts but it may only offer borrowed time, that even a Time Lord cannot make optimum use of.

However as good as they are, having the ghosts silent we have a flat-out monster and no immoral or amoral personality opposing the protagonists. However this might change with part two, as we do not know if an entity in the suspended animation box may be behind the turn of events.

Of course after a typically creative and experimental opening to this new series, most other stories would feel comparatively safe. It has that overall feeling of being a base under siege, or a base breached but with ways to try and escape which may or may not prove effective. And if you are a committed follower of the show, there are plenty of echoes of stories not that long back in time, such as The Rebel Flesh, The Impossible Planet, 42, or The Waters Of Mars.

Any long-running show will most likely play out some of the same story beats and concepts, and a loyal audience almost cherishes elements that play to the show's strengths, provided a new variant is clear enough. Some subtle throwbacks to considerably older stories, such as the Orion system are also sprinkled in, and is another confirmation of the show wanting to please those of any age, background and level of connection with this very British show. Besides, no returning support characters feature and would only confuse things as we have a sizeable enough group to try and get to know.

 

Whereas the last two-parter we just had took its time to involve the Doctor and did not always seem him with the greatest overall agency, this is a much more front-and-centre affair. It is very pleasing to have gravitas from this 'reborn' incarnation, something that perhaps has not been as consistent since the one-series run of the Ninth Doctor. He capably holds the floor as he speaks to those still alive, and does not mince his words but shows his determination to make things right. He also appears to relish the challenges, perhaps due to returning to the country where his accent hails from. Clara has a middling outing in terms of influence but a typically good portrayal from Jenna Coleman, who now shows her character to be seasoned and able to accept that bad things will often happen despite the Doctor's best efforts.

Other acting chops are perhaps not as evidently on display as the previous escapade with the Daleks and Missy. Colin McFarlane's Captain is effectively killed off in the pre-titles and we lack a strong enough presence to rival Peter Capaldi, which was certainly not the case the prior two episodes. However there is still a decent cast of believable humans who all excel in their field, and who possess very authentic strengths and weaknesses. Most are likable with just Pritchard (Steven Robertson), dismissed in hilarious fashion by the Doctor for his monetary outlook. maybe being rather worthy of his watery grave. I would highlight Sophie Stone as the best turn outside of the regulars. Being actually deaf in real life she employs her face and body language to make the audience really care for her individual's plight as much as anyone, and really makes a firm impression as a talented member of the scientific team. Paul Kaye is credited and appears simply as a ghost of a semi-humanoid alien. Given his considerable range, we must expect more from him next week where he should have more to say and do.

Come the cliffhanger and preview for next time, it may turn out that the overall story is a lot more complex and clever than originally presented. Also notable is how the TARDIS is used not as a gateway to a new adventure, but a definite part of what affects going on, and thus the first scene with the doctor caressing his blue box and looking concerned is as integral as any.

The soundtracks for Doctor Who rarely disappoint me, usually being at worst just OK. But this one is a particularly fine effort from the now-veteran Murray Gold so as to fully complement and enhance the on-screen presentation. We never are given a chance to relax and feel that people are just interacting and making small talk. A real emergency has occurred and everyone has to respond if they are to survive.

But ultimately I want to judge the effectiveness of this opening salvo by the efforts of scribe Toby Whithouse. He has come a long way since the days of School Reunion, and his early comedy series No Angels, and is continuing to show initiative and flair as a writer. Now his major breakthrough creation Being Human has come to its close, he has contributed a longer individual story than before for Doctor Who. And while he knows the show very well and opts for tropes that have been used many times, he still has a strong voice and effortlessly mixes laughs with chills. My only quibble is that some of the characters show less depth than others, and those who perished already look unlikely to get a second chance to shine, unless a full 'reset button' is employed (and which often feels a cheat anyway).

As my first bonding with Doctor Who was during classic era repeats and VHS releases, I will always welcome something that takes a page or two out of that book which enabled new TV outings to be around in the first place. The loyal audience, be they streaming on a trusted device or watching the TV, should ideally enjoy a bit more time for the plot to unfold and characters to show different strengths and  flaws. Reserving some judgement till next week's conclusion, I had my expectations met, and feel this holds up as another clear hit in the Capaldi era.

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Before the Flood (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Colin McFarlane,
Sophie Stone, Zaqi Ismail, Morven Christie, Arsher Ali,
Steven Robertson; With Neil Fingleton, Peter Serafinowicz,
      Corey Taylor and Paul Kaye 
Written by: Toby Whithouse 
Directed by: Daniel O'Hara
Transmitted on 10th October 2015

                                            As inhuman as any visitor to Earth

                                            The Fisher King wants to secure its Berth

                                            Until its kind come back for it

                                            And man is its slave-object

                                            With ghosts here and ghost there

                                            The Fell Alien ruins Nature everywhere

 

                                            Maybe a Time Lord of Gallifrey

                                            Who sounds like a Scot

                                            Could dispel the apparition misery.

                                             (That could be some Plot!)

 

After last week's grim cliffhanger, it appears the Twelfth Doctor will be the final iteration of the up-to-now enduring survivor of the Time War. He has travelled back to before the huge flood, that caused an alien spaceship to become shrouded in the depths of water for many many years. The objective? To try and ensure that Clara and the other survivors of the disaster that gripped the underwater base will end up intact, and to try and exorcise those disturbing ghosts once and for all. But some hard adjustments always are needed when drastic time travel is brought to the fore. Even with his vast experience and intellect, the Doctor may be biting off just a bit more than he can chew..

We have two new speaking roles this time round, with the essentially harmless undertaker alien Prentis (Paul Kaye) , and the utterly malevolent Fisher King (physically performed by Neil Fingleton). The latter sees little issue in enslaving humanity as a way of passing the time before he is 'taxied' home.  Despite this, there are split time zones for much of the running time. This results in many more scenes of small groups of people talking, and I do prefer this focus and urgency to the larger group discussions that had to fill out much preliminary character work in the first instalment.

And thus those still alive from the base crew get to do some fine work that mostly improves on their introductions before. Everyone gives a good account of themselves, but this time I actually found Arsher Ali the stand-out guest from those returning speaking roles. Ali really sells the different emotions his introverted character has, be they the amazing time travel experience, his generous prompting of the repressed romance between his two junior colleagues, and most meaningfully of all his dressing down of the Doctor. Despite the eventual victory, we are made to see how the Doctor is sometimes a little sketchy in his approach to overcoming catastrophe, and yet the loss of O'Donnell lies as much with her own determined choice to risk her life by stepping out of the TARDIS.

Much as I had hoped, Peter Capaldi does not just follow an utterly spellbinding turn in 'Under The Lake' but compounds it with every bit of his range and connection to an acting role that was a childhood dream of his. He breaks the 'Fourth Wall' at the start and finish as he talks classical music and the nature of invention. This is not something easy to do convincingly, but boy does it work a treat. And he manages to make the often complicated plot and exposition roll off as fundamentally believable and enticing. Again this was something that even some of the best Doctors of the past could show inconsistency with, excepting Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker (who always rose to the occasion).

 

Before the Flood (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)If not clear enough from the very first paragraph, I am very impressed by the new alien foe who finally arrives on-screen. He has a truly monstrous effect on the people in his surroundings; be it by his own hand  or by his unique powers that render three   dimensional individuals into rather shapeless ghosts.  And the peril for the wider world is confirmed in this conclusion,   making the Doctor's need to overcome the  Fisher King that bit more urgent. With a wonderfully HR Giger-like design and an expressively imposing voice  (Peter Serafinowicz - who also breathed life into Star War's Darth Maul) this monster overshadows his  ghoulish underlings without making them any less effective. And more importantly he functions also as a terrific foil to the Doctor, forcing our veteran do-gooder to come up with one of his very best ways of  solving a complex problem. It matters little at the end when the Doctor said the alien was always going to  die in that time and place, because what matters is that he carries out a damage limitation exercise to the  best of his ability..

The plan and its implementation comes off as remarkably clever without feeling like a cheat. A Time Lord  really should be able 'reverse engineer' events and circumstances, and also make the course of history  flow. The moment he jumps out of the (previously mysterious) casket with his tech-shades in hand and warns Clara not to come near him due to "morning breath", will surely go down as one of the defining moments of the Twelfth Doctor come Capaldi's relinquishment of the title role.

As for how this story itself develops from last time, I am similarly impressed how a very traditional part one is suddenly enriched far more than most would expect. The basic structure is still there but by the closing sequences this two-parter has got an identity and soul all of its own. The complex plot and storytelling is the catalyst for this change. And indeed viewers are really made to piece a bit of the elaborate jigsaw together, but the great thing about this show in today's times is its instant re-accessibility. The adventure is so rich and well-done from start to finish that re-viewings will be an absolute pleasure, rather than a chore, which I cannot always say with my hand on heart.

Also, editing and direction have been rarely bettered in any TARDIS tale this century. The pace is relentless or ponderous as required, and the sum total is perfectly synchronous. We really want to see how these very human people react to the chaos that has resulted from actions of in turn one ineffectual, one heroic and one despicable alien. There are some tough decisions, and even arguably avoidable losses along the way, but come the end, the living-death fate of the ghosts is conclusively avoided. A neat reference to UNIT, who are going strong in the future, is implemented also - just to remind us of the return to present day material with the Doctor's allies later on this series.

And should you go back to episode three, the line referencing a "minuet" suddenly goes from being a throwaway quirk to a smart tie-in to the Fourth Wall framework, that give this two-parter a whole added layer of meaning. The Doctor's almost boyish exuberance at having master-minded Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony could easily be a bit too conceited. However Capaldi pulls off the balance needed for this to be an alien, with many identifiable human qualities making a positive difference. It also enhances a wonderful pay-off taking place in the TARDIS at the episode's close, as his faithful companion has to take in what all the time-wimey actions that she provided for the Doctor were really about. And the slightly different title sequence to the norm (c.f. the Clara face in the credits for Death In Heaven) further signals that Steven Moffat and his associates are still full of ideas. Long may they remain to keep realising them.

Watch this without interruption, on a dark chilly night, and take pride in being part of the Doctor Who journey.

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