04 “Before the Flood” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

This is a new sensation.

At this point in a series of Doctor Who, I’m usually feeling a little reticent, wavering on the hit-and-miss quality that it always seems to oscillate around. Not this time around though. Three episodes in, and all have struck the right notes for me.

I do wonder if what is essentially a family show is perhaps at risk of becoming too dark. Some of the worst episodes of new Who, in my opinion, have been those which go too absurd, too flat out silly. But given that that’s where the series has gone more often than it has gone the darker and more serious route. It feels like we’re onto new ground, and it’s rather an exciting move.

With the ghosts plaguing Clara and co in the future, the Doctor travels back to 1980 to find out how this all started. He comes face to face with his own fate, and a classic predestination paradox — as well as an intergalactic warlord called the Fisher King.

So when we left the last episode, the Doctor had taken the delightfully novel step of headed back to when all of this began, to figure out what the hell is going on, whereupon his own ghost appeared at the underwater base in the future. Meaning he’s going to die.

What we have here is actual time travel playing a significant role in a Doctor Who episode. Very out there. And the Doctor even introduces it with a story about a time-travelling Beethoven fan travelling back to meet the composer — only to find that there is no Beethoven, and to use his future knowledge of Beethoven to become Beethoven (“I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?” -Ed). It’s rather cool, but it did rather give the game away as to the ending, I felt.

So whilst the Doctor runs around a cold war model Soviet town, in the future Clara, along with Cass and Lunn, have a creepy Doctor ghost to contend with. He’s even saying a different creepy mantra, which turns out to be a list of everyone’s names.

In the past, the Doctor, along with O’Donnell and Bennett, finds the alien ship pre-drowning, along with its pilot. Who is an undertaker, from the most surrender-ey race in the galaxy. And he’s there to lay to rest the corpse of their most recently deposed subjugator, the Fisher King. Except, for a dead bloke, he seems mighty prone to wandering around.

So yes, the Fisher King is alive and well. And he scratches the words into the ship, which when read by someone who dies turns them into a ghost to transmit the Fisher King’s location to his people. So that they can send an armada and invade earth.

I quite liked the Fisher King, though aside from murdering O’Donnell and threatening the Doctor, he doesn’t get a great deal to do. There’s a nice line about the Time Lords as being vain and cowardly, until they “remembered that they had teeth”. But it’s his killing O’Donnell which is the key, because it fills in the next step of a the sequence — the list of names that the Doctor’s ghost is silently reciting is in the order that they will die, and Clara is next.

So the Doctor goes plan-happy to save Clara, who is being chased around the future base by a growing collection of ghosts. They’ve finally figured out that since Lunn didn’t see the carvings in the ship, so he ghosts have zero interest in him. Sadly, he’s a bit of an idiot, and gets lured into a trap. But we get to see Cass getting very upset about Clara sending her translator out into danger, and another glimpse of Clara becoming as reckless with other people’s lives as the Doctor is.

The Doctor, though, has apparently accepted his fate. His ghost is mucking around in future, now saying something about the chamber opening tonight, and he isn’t about to go all “Waters of Mars” Time Lord victorious again, so what can he do? He sends Bennett — who is pissed off at the Doctor letting O’Donnell die, but pulling out all the stops to save Clara, who’s next in line — back to the future (Heh -Ed) in the TARDIS. And then he tells the Fisher King that he’s erased the the writing from the ship to stop the ghost future ever happening — which he hasn’t — whilst he uses a power cell from the ship to blow up the damn and drown the whole valley.

But, surprise surprise, the Doctor is NOT dead. I believe I called it last week, that the Doctor would be in the stasis chamber. And to absolutely nobody’s surprise, he’s been slumbering underwater for the last few hundred years. And he’s got a plan. He uses a recording of the Fisher King’s roar to lure the ghosts to the Faraday chamber, and then erases the writing from everyone’s minds and a jaded Bennett convinces Lunn to declare his love for Cass.

All well and good then. Except, the Beethoven paradox. The Doctor knew to use the stasis chamber because Clara told him that the hologram was talking about it opening. The Doctor knew to create the holographic ghost, because Clara showed it to him. The Doctor only knew what to do because he had already seen that he had done it. So which Doctor, and when, ultimately came up with the plan?

So, eh. I didn’t hate this episode. It had a lot of nice features, even if the Fisher King didn’t get enough screen time. And the timey-wimey falls apart a bit if you think about it too hard, but I do appreciate it when they actually use the time travel facet for something other than changing the wallpaper.  One thing I do wish we could get away from is the whole the Doctor is going to die schtick. There’s most of a series left, of course he isn’t going to bloody die!

The self-destructive effect that the Doctor has on those around him is really coming out as a theme this time around. The fact is that most of the deaths were probably preventable, and Clara is becoming every bit as reckless with human lives as the Doctor usually is. One interesting facet, though, is that the Doctor’s incentive for solving the mystery and saving the day was that he thought Clara was next. His affection for her drove him to win.

So that’s something, I guess.

Closing thoughts:

  • So the Doctor’s guitar is a feature now.
  • From the somewhat clumsy exposition, I’m guessing the “minister of war” is going to feature in this series’ climax.
  • All that was missing from that model town was Harrison Ford in a fridge.
  • To be fair to him, the Doctor has a good stab at the whole Time Lord victorious routine, when he finds out that Clara is in danger. Only an uncooperative TARDIS stops him.
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