Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: "Under the Lake"/"Before the Flood"

I'm a bit late commenting. I could claim allergies, 'cause FSM-knows I've had a ton, but mostly I've just been... digesting.

Undisguised spoilers follow. Read at your own peril and keep in mind this is less of a critical review and more of my frothing rants. I do not make claims to be even-minded, or even coherent.

I figure if "Doctor Who" under Steven Moffatt doesn't have to be coherent, neither do I.

Still there? You were warned...

Let's start with "Under the Lake".

A call-back to the classic "Doctor Who" era, it starts with a claustrophobic scene of an underwater base with a mix of characters. They find a spaceship and inside there is strange writing that affects them somehow.

Then the ghost appears. It activates the drive of the spaceship killing the commander.

The commander comes back as a ghost and the two ghosts (one dressed as a funeral parlor director for reasons) try to kill the rest of the people on the base.

Cue the arrival of the TARDIS. The TARDIS is unhappy for some reason and the Doctor is trying to comfort it. Then out pops Clara and they go exploring.

They find the base seemingly-abandoned in haste.

The Doctor and Clara encounter the two ghosts that tried killing the base crew. The ghosts look at them but do not otherwise react and leave.

The Doctor and Clara follow, find the spaceship, then see the mysterious words within.

Then the ghosts try to kill them.

The Doctor and Clara flee and find the rest of the crew hiding away in a farady cage, the only thing that block the ghosts from walking through walls.

The crew is a mix of a deaf woman (the now-commander), a young guy who interprets her sign language, a science geek, a short mouthy woman who is a fangirl of the Doctor (she was in military intelligence and had access to U.N.I.T. files), and the perfunctory corporate stooge who everyone is supposed to hate.

We find out the ghosts only come out when the base is on "night cycle" and hide away when it's "day".

Nobody knows why the ghosts are trying to kill them.

Turns out the base is set in a flooded valley that used to be a village of some sort back in the '80's.

Cue ahead. The Doctor investigates and the ghosts get clever. They fool the base computer into thinking it's night and manage to kill the corporate stooge.

By reading the lips of the ghosts, they get an arcane message that the Doctor concludes are some kind of coordinates.

They regain control of the base and use a remote sub to go to the coordinates and recover a suspended animation chamber.


The ghosts then return to try to kill them. The Doctor and Clara get separated. The Doctor, geeky guy, and short mouthy woman get to the TARDIS and the Doctor goes back in time to find out what happened when the spaceship crashed.

The episode concludes with Clara looking outside in the water to see the Doctor's ghost...

Overall, a good episode. Nice suspense. Good cast of characters. Nice threat. Fun crowd. I'm tired of Clara, but otherwise, it was good fare.

Then came...

"Before the Flood" tries very hard to wrap things up.

It starts with the Doctor talking about a paradox. He's talking to the audience, so you just know the writer is clubbing you over the head with his clever story point. You can turn off your viewer and stop now.

So, Clara is trying to parse out that the Doctor is dead (as that Moffatt-era cliche is apparently never, ever going away).

The Doctor, mouthy, and geek (I didn't bother to try to learn the names of the characters) are apparently on the platform of a Russian train station. Geek is sick from time travel. Mouthy is super-excited and name-dropping bits about the Doctor's adventures (and hinting at one that hasn't happened yet). She's got "Companion-material" written all over her.

They find the spaceship and it's crewed by an obsequious, masochistic alien who is a funeral attendant taking the body of "The Fisher King" to Earth to be buried. Because reasons.

There's no writing in the spaceship.

The Doctor calls Clara across time-and-space using his incredibly awesome cellular plan. Clara tells him he's dead and a ghost.

Meanwhile, creepy alien funeral dude finds out the Fisher King isn't dead (or still in-place). The writing is on the wall (literally and figurative) and the alien is killed by something offscreen.

The Doctor, Mouthy, and Geek go to the alien ship and note the writing and missing body. The suspended animation pod has also been moved.

Then the alien chases them. They split up and the alien kills mouthy.

In the present, Clara, deaf-lady, and her boy-interpreter all flee back to the faraday cage and hide, leaving the cell phone outside so Clara can see it and know the Doctor is signalling her she can leave the cage.

Mouthy's ghost appears to them, snags the phone, and that's that.

In the past, the Doctor goes through that tired "I can't change my own past" bullshit that stopped being a thing back in the Third Doctor's time. Turns out the Doctor's ghost in the future is repeating a list of names of those who die - in order, including Clara. After Mouthy, she's up.

The Doctor in the past decides "fuck the rules of time travel if it saves my vapid companion!" (I'm paraphrasing) and decides to try to stop the Fisher King (who is apparently creating the ghosts.

Are you confused yet?

Seriously, I'm glossing over a lot of details, and it's not doing the story much justice, but... it's pretty much this wonky.

Anyway, turns out in the present, the interpreter never read the alien words in the spaceship. Clara persuades him to risk his life by going out amidst the ghosts and getting the phone.

Deaf lady has some things to say to Clara. I need to learn sign language now, 'cause I bet that was awesome.

So the ghosts don't kill interpreter-boy. They trap him. Deaf lady and Clara go out looking for him 'cause Deaf lady is totally hot for her interpreter.

They get separated 'cause Clara is dumb as a stone, and Deaf lady is stalked by a ghost in an awesome scene that almost makes up for the over-complicated story.

In the past, the Doctor has left Geek in the TARDIS and confronts the Fisher King. The Fisher King's nefarious plan is to use dead souls as transmitters for his army 'cause... um... reasons. The Fisher King is an awesome, creepy-looking alien with a giant gun he doesn't appear to want to use on the Doctor. Oh, and like everyone in the Universe, the Fisher King knows all kinds of details about the Time Lords.

Apparently there's been universal news specials or something. Y'know, despite the Time Lords being reclusive, super-powerful, and... oh for God's sake, I can't keep doing this. Moving on.

The Doctor tricks the Fisher King into going outside where the Fisher King gets trapped when the dam blocking the valley from getting flooded blows up (thanks to the Doctor's trickery). The TARDIS does its emergency protocol thing and goes back to the present with Geek inside still mourning Mouthy, with whom he was passionately in-love but couldn't say anything. Like pretty much every character ever in the re-imagined series.

Is my irritation showing?

The ghosts are closing on everyone. The suspended animation chamber in the base starts to open and... you guessed it! The Doctor is inside.

His ghost is, of course, a fake. A hologram. The ghosts are lured into the faraday cage with hand-wavy cleverness and the Doctor uses the Sonic Sunglasses to erase the alien symbols from everyone's minds.

Because thinking of doing that earlier on was apparently not an option to him.

Geek tells interpreter to express his love for Deaf lady. He does. There is much lip-locking. Happiness and joy for those two.

The Doctor and Clara get in the TARDIS and leave. The Doctor essentially admits he was going to let everyone die, including himself, until he realized Clara was going to die.

Essentially he concludes his epic dickishness and then states that he "rewrote" his fate by using details Clara gave him over the phone to try to undo his death by instead doing that fancy paradox trick.


Overall, the two episodes had clever points but it was too convoluted by far. And frankly, the show needs to stop with these tropes now:
  • The Doctor dies/is gonna die. We all know it's not going to happen. The show hasn't been canceled. Stop it. Now.
  • Exploring the Doctor mythos and deconstructing him. We don't need our hero deconstructed. If you want to masturbate over your Doctor fantasies, write fanfic.
  • The Doctor will only move if his Companion is in danger. Seriously? I realize the First Doctor was a bit of a dick, but are you seriously going to revive that trope twelve incarnations later?
  • The Sonic Screwdriver/Sunglasses/Magic Wand/Whatever does Deus Ex Machina bullshit. For God's Sake, there's technology and tools out there beyond some sound-generating bit of voodoo. Try something original and new for a change.

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