12 October 2015

Doctor Who S9E4 "Before the Flood" review

In my review of last weeks episode of Doctor Who I mentioned how much I was looking forward to seeing how "Before the Flood" would conclude what I believed had the potential to be one of the best stories the show had produced since Stephen Moffat took over as show runner. Well it turns out that my optimism wasn't misplaced - after seeing "Before the Flood" I can confirm that the "Under the Lake" and "Before the Flood" double bill is indeed one of the best stories of Doctor Who since David Tennant left the show. Maybe I'm psychic (paper).

After a brief monologue from The Doctor explaining the concept of the bootstrap paradox before the opening credits roll (reminiscent of last seasons "Listen") we are sent straight back into the action, picking up right from where we left off at the end of "Under the Lake". "Before the Flood" is fairly neatly separated into two parts, one half following The Doctor and a couple of the bases crew members in the past as he investigates the spaceship they found, and the other following Clara as she and the crew members that stayed on the base wait for The Doctor to return.

Despite the different ways in which these two plots progress, "Before the Flood" never feels inconsistent as an episode. The two halves of "Before the Flood" are both interesting in their own way, but it is how the episode brings these plot threads together to conclude the story that really impressed me - for the first time in a long time, Doctor Who starts to play with the concept of time travel and the problems that it can cause in a smart (if not wholly original) way, the kind of thing I'm a sucker for if done well (but annoyingly the kind of thing that Doctor Who very rarely does well).

The Doctor's investigation moves fairly quickly, but still gives itself enough room to avoid being purely an information dump - I couldn't help but laugh at our introduction to the still breathing Prentice (the Tivolian ghost from the base) thanks to his hugely inappropriate masochistic tendencies, and a tense sequence that sees The Doctor and the crew hide from The Fisher King before it has been revealed to the audience is really well done, even if it is on the short side. It's also worth mentioning just how well The Fisher King is realised as a creature - I'm almost always under-whelmed by the aliens that Doctor Who creates, but this time the show has outdone itself thanks to not just to a great visual design but also to Peter Serafinowicz' voice acting and the guttural, primitive roar recorded by Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor, all of which add up to make a truly intimidating monster.
But as entertaining as The Doctor's investigation is, the stand out part of "Before the Flood" is definitely located in the other part of the episode. We were introduced to Cass in "Under the Water", a crew member of the base who happens to be deaf, something which is used to excellent effect in "Before the Flood" when she is being stalked by one of the ghosts. It's fairly standard these days for bad guys to drag a weapon along the ground while they stalk their prey, but when the person being stalked is the only person that can't hear the harsh grinding noise of metal on metal as it slowly gets closer... chilling, and exactly the kind of thing that Doctor Who has been missing of late.

No, the time travel elements of the episode don't work at all when you stop to think about it - but it's an episode of Doctor Who for Christ's sake, a show that threw the time travel rule book out the window about half a decade ago and only ever skimmed through it before that anyway. Overall it's another excellent episode from writer Toby Whitehouse, a name that I will be looking out for in the opening credits of Doctor Who from now on - and someone who (rumour has it) might be taking over from Stephen Moffat as show runner in the future. I'd like that very much.

I still think the Sonic Sunglasses are stupid though.

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