TV Review: Doctor Who – Series 9 Episode 4: ‘Before the Flood’

Despite a few questionable moments, the fourth episode of this series is a thrilling introduction to the show for new viewers, says

 

★★★★☆

Image: BBC

Image: BBC

Well! The second of our two-parters for this series of Doctor Who just aired and overall, I have to say it’s actually fairly great.

After last week, when the Doctor and Clara ran around dodging ghosts in a labyrinthine underwater base like a high-budget reboot of Pac-Man, the Time Lord decides to get to the bottom of the mystery by zipping back to the village where the ghosts were created. There’s just one problem – Clara, back in the present, just ran into the Doctor, and he’s dead. Can the Doctor avert this future? What’s causing the ghosts? Can Clara and the base crew survive the Ghosts of Invasions Yet To Come? And who really wrote Beethoven’s 5th?

I’ve seen this two-parter described as a great story for showing new viewers what Doctor Who actually is, and I can see where that opinion comes from. The first episode’s a tight little base-under-siege story with creepy ghosts and a compelling supporting cast, and this one’s a timey-wimey puzzle box (admittedly using the same conceit as Blink and Time Heist, but in the episode’s defence it’s an interesting conceit), so it’s a nice showcase for what the show can do.

It also manages to hook the viewer in from the opening. The Doctor monologuing into a camera about the bootstrap paradox could have failed miserably, though it might have appeased those fans who missed the educational era of the show before all that aliens and Daleks rubbish showed up. But between Capaldi’s acting and the fast-paced, flowing direction, it stands out as a highlight of the episode. And, full disclosure – I’m fully on board for having this week’s introduction be the official theme from now until Capaldi leaves. All hail the guiTARDIS.

In terms of other things I liked, in terms of aliens, it was nice to see the Tivolians back (the cowardly mole-people from The God Complex), and the towering, roaring Fisher King was a worthy adversary I’d actually like to see again, with his knowledge of the Time Lords and a downright impressive costume that brought him to life (although the headdress did wobble a bit when he walked, so thankfully Doctor Who isn’t quite free of dodgy special effects). It’s a shame we didn’t get that much of him this time round.

Sharp-eyed viewers, or actually just viewers with eyes, might also have noticed we’re doing the “Doctor has to dodge his predetermined death” plot again (after the last two-parter, and The Time of the Doctor, and The Name of the Doctor, and…) Maybe complaining about the hero of the TV show actually facing peril and death every episode is an awkward complaint to have, but dwelling on it too much robs the episode of tension, since we know the show won’t be Doctor Who’s Quietly-Rotting Corpse anytime soon.

No, the tension is in how he gets out of it, and between the timey-wimey shenanigans with the bootstrap paradox and the neat Chekhov’s Gun of the hologram, this episode actually makes that a lot more compelling than the previous two-parter did. Another thing I liked – Cass was great, whether chewing Clara out for putting her love interest in danger or unleashing her inner Daredevil to spot a ghost’s axe. Plus, she and Lunn were sweet together. Bennett and O’Donnell’s relationship, meanwhile, was a bit rushed (it essentially boiled down to “she touched him once, so now they’re in love and he can be really sad when she dies”).

Now, Clara. This whole two-parter she felt a bit…off. The first episode played her up as the feisty adrenaline-junkie looking for adventure, much more so than any other episode thus far, and this time she had a few lines that felt outright callous (telling the Doctor “you can die with the next one, but not me”). That was jarring, but I get the feeling it’s (perhaps clumsy) foreshadowing for a terrible fate down the road. Besides, when your boyfriend and main link to the real world becomes a Cyberman, it might mess you up a bit.

What else? The sonic sunglasses still make me cringe my entire face off, but they’ve promised the screwdriver’s coming back soon. So we have that.

Overall, I liked it! There were holes, and to be honest it never really makes that step from “very good” to “five-star brilliance”, but it’s a perfectly solid episode I would definitely go back and watch again. Next week, Vikings and a surprise cameo from Maisie Williams! Valar regeneratis!

 

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