This reviewer must admit something to you. I had lost my faith in the good Doctor after the first two episodes of this series. I was worried that I had grown out of Doctor Who, which at 20 years old wouldn’t be an altogether ridiculous idea, nevertheless I was concerned. However, upon the advice of this section’s editor, I sat down to see if something could be scraped together by writer Toby Whithouse. I was richly rewarded with ‘Under the Lake’.
The episode has some plot details that had been used before which had me worried initially. The setting, an underwater base with nuclear elements, is not all too far from the Eleventh Doctor episode ‘Cold War’. Bases – of one sort or another – are also a regular occurrence in the world of Doctor Who as far back as you can think and I was apprehensive that Whithouse would go all fanboy on us and try to recreate ‘The Moonbase’ or something. As it happens, I think he did, but he did it well.
The story focuses on an underwater base in a futuristic Scotland where new oil fields have been found. Within the pre title sequence the mission’s leader – and voice of ITV’s The Cube, Colin McFarlane– has been killed in an incident involving a mysterious artefact found on the lake’s floor. Within minutes he returns, but as a ghost!
It’s worth mentioning perhaps at this point that ghosts have been done a lot on Doctor Who and I tell you with a slightly heavy heart, dear reader, that these ghosts are never ghosts. A clever piece of dialogue from The Doctor alludes to this obsession with the not quite ethereal in the realm of the Timelord. Sometimes these “ghosts” are done well (see ‘The Unquiet Dead’) or terribly (see ‘Hide’). ‘Under the Lake’ seemed to execute the idea of ghosts well making them both believable and necessary.
A point that must be raised is the cast itself. The BBC and Doctor Who are often accused of “box-ticking” when it comes to casting. Diversity is definitely important on TV, yet sometimes you end up wondering whether the actors were the best for the parts they had. This cast were very diverse, but it didn’t seemed forced at all. Cass played by Sophie Stone is the first deaf actor on Doctor Who and her role suites her perfectly. Another reviewer noted that she didn’t seem like a victim and it is exactly that; she is there, leading her team, the fact that she is deaf is not important to her role, it’s just her.
The cliffhanger was also deliciously satisfying; the Doctor dying, but not dying is something that I usually have an issue with. The inevitability of further travels with the Timelord takes some suspension of belief often forced upon the viewer. However, just this once, the viewer was made to feel sufficiently worried for the Doctor; that he actually could die and it was worrying.
Next week’s teaser trailer looked to continue this good spell for Doctor Who; hopefully Toby Whithouse has left the best until last for us as we continue with ‘Before the Flood’.