Doctor Who – ‘Before The Flood’

doctorwhobeforethefloodSeries Nine, Episode Four

CONTAINS SPOILERS

There is an introduction by the Doctor where he mentions the Bootstrap paradox, which is a theme in this episdoe. He then implies he arm-wrestled Beethoven before playing Beethoven’s 5th symphony on his guitar which then goes into the shows theme tune being played on the guitar. Well, as introductions go, it’s a fantastic one.

The Doctor, Bennett and O’Donnell travel back to 1980, before the village was flooded. It turns out to be a military base in Scotland, which was made to look like a Soviet country. The spaceship is there, but the strange text carved on its wall isn’t there yet. The group meet Prentis. He is the top hat wearing ghost, but at this point in history he is still alive. He is a Tivolian, and is an undertaker. The stasis pod is carrying a warlord known as the Fisher King.

In 2119, Cass lip-reading the Doctor’s ghost, thinks that the Doctor is saying something different to the other ghosts. It’s not the co-ordinates, but the names of everyone, and always in the same order. The list goes Moran, Pritchard, Prentis, O’Donnell, Clara, Doctor, Bennett, Cass. The Doctor calls Clara, and she tells him about his ghost appearing in their time. The Doctor says this means he has to die here, as this is a time where nothing can be changed. Clara does not accept this, and says he should find a way to survive.

In 1980, the Fisher King has escaped his stasis pod, killed Prentis and has written the text on the wall. He then kills O’Donnell. Bennett works out that the list the Doctor’s ghost was saying is the order people will die, and is angry at the Doctor as he must have worked that out himself earlier, and didn’t try very hard to stop O’Donnell’s death. The Doctor tries to use the TARDIS to go forward to 2119, but the TARDIS won’t let him, as it is too much of a change in his own timestream.

In 2119, the Doctor’s ghost has let the other ghosts out of the Faraday cage, so Clara, Lunn and Cass have moved themselves into there. They see O’Donnell’s ghost, who steals Clara’s phone, meaning she can’t contact the Doctor. After working out that Lunn is probably safe from the ghosts as he never read the carving, Clara suggests that he should go out and retrieve the phone. Cass is horrified at this idea, and says that Clara has become too much like the Doctor, and that both are uncaring about the lives of the people they meet. Lunn leaves the cage to get the phone. The ghosts circle him, but don’t attack him. He goes after the phone, but the ghosts lock him in the room it is in.

Clara and Cass decide to go out and look for Lunn, but become separated. Moran’s ghost goes after Cass, dragging an axe across the ground. It makes a scraping sound on the floor, but Cass can’t hear this as she is deaf. She begins to suspect she is being followed though, so kneels down and puts her hands to the ground. She feels the vibrations of the axe on the ground, and timing it right she runs straight through Moran’s ghost just as he is about to kill her.

In 1980, the Doctor confronts the Fisher King. The Fisher King says he creates the ghosts as a way of bringing a powerful army of his own species to Earth, where they will invade and conquer the planet. They will “drain the oceans and put humans in chains”. The Doctor says that he has changed the future by erasing the text from the wall. The Fisher King goes back to the spaceship, to find the text still there. But the Doctor has used a power cell to blow up the above dam, flooding the base and drowning the Fisher King. Sensing the danger, the TARDIS takes Bennett back to 2119.

In 2119, Clara, Cass and Lunn have found each other. The stasis pod opens, and out comes the Doctor. He stowed away in there. The Doctor’s “ghost” turns out to be merely a hologram, the same sort they used to create a fake Clara earlier. The Doctor traps the other ghosts in the Faraday cage once more, arranges for UNIT to come and collect them and he will erase memories of the co-ordinates from the survivors. Bennett deeply regrets that he never told O’Donnell he was in love with her, and says he doesn’t want Lunn to have the same regret, and should tell Cass he is in love with her. Cass kisses Lunn after being told this.

A bootstrap paradox is when time travel causes a future event to create a past event, and therefore create the future event, which created the past event, which… It goes round in circles where there is no beginning or end, and so the origin of it is in question. In ‘Before The Flood’ the Doctor goes back to the past event which led to the events in ‘Under The Lake’, and both the past and the future end up communicating with and influencing each other. In the end of ‘Before The Flood’, the Doctor mentions to Clara that he only got the idea for the hologram and what to make it say because Clara told him from the future about seeing it. So where did the idea come from in the first place?

As with ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ and ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, the part two episode of this story had a different style and tone to part one. While ‘Under The Lake’ was a straight-up action-adventure story, ‘Before The Flood’ was more timey-wimey, dealing with paradoxes. It also had echoes of horror movies. It reminded me a bit of the Final Destination series, with the death order having a pre-determined list (even though in the episode this turns out to be false).

One of the most terrifying scenes in the episode is when Moran’s ghost is after Cass. It could easily be in a serial killer horror movie. Cass works well as a horror movie heroine, especially as the list order implied she would be the Final Girl who survives the slaughter and kills the monster. All of the guest cast were good, but Sophie Stone in particular was good as Cass.

The design of the Fisher King is great, a sort of insect-like Grim Reaper, with sharp spikes on him, with a bloodcurdling voice. Three different actors are used to portray him. He is played by Neil Fingleton, he is voiced by Peter Serafinowicz and his roar is provided by Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor. But given that so much work went into the Fisher King, it’s a little wasted, considering it turns out he doesn’t really do very much. He should have been a great villain, but he’s seems little more than a plot device. It would be good to see more of him and/or his species in future episodes.

O’Donnell mentions previous companions Rose, Martha and Amy, and also Harold Saxon (a former incarnation of The Master, who we currently know as Missy). She also mentions a Minister of War, which we haven’t met yet. Could this be important later?

‘Before The Flood’ is fine, but it all feels a little too easily wrapped up somehow. The Fisher King was woefully underused. The episode was a bit of a missed opportunity in some ways, but in other ways there are a lot of good moments. It handles the crossing timelines in the story well. For me, I think Toby Whithouse, the writer of this and ‘Under The Lake’ would be a great choice to be Steven Moffat’s successor as executive producer.

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