Doctor Who: 9.04 Before The Flood
After the chills and thrills of last week's Under The Lake, the second half of Toby Whitehouse's Doctor Who story is a strangely different beast. While it still has a couple of horror movie moments, Before The Flood is a rather more sedate affair at times but it doesn't fail to deliver some big moral dilemmas and great character moments from all the cast.
If there were those who thought only Cass and Lunn got any real development in the first half, then one of the many reasons justifying the story having two parts is the chance to flesh out some of the other supporting characters. Separated by the flooded corridors, only O'Donnell and Bennett travel back with the Doctor. Serving as two temporary companions, there is an argument that either could have joined the TARDIS full time.
Take O'Donnell whose main purpose last week was to try and get the lights up and running. In Before The Flood Morven Christie breathes boundless enthusiasm and depth to the role. I loved her geek out over the TARDIS being bigger on the inside to Bennett and her knowledge of the Doctor demonstrated a keen intellect and thirst for adventure that would serve her well in future endeavours.
The idea of her dangling a colleague out of the window in her military intelligence days had us warming up to her just minutes after they landed in the past and between throwback lines to Martha, Harold Saxon and a future tease of the Minister of War, she immediately had a strong connection with the Doctor. In fact, like that other great Whitehouse character Rita in series six's The God Complex the episode went as far to suggest that was all ready to join the TARDIS before she was brutally killed off by the Fisher King.
Bennett too emerged as a far more interesting character, forced to watch his unrequited love O'Donnell from a distance as he and the Doctor travelled back just prior to her death and then raging against the Doctor for calculating that O'Donnell had to die in order to guess the next sequence of events that would lead to his and Clara's demise. It was that kind of moral drama we used to see between the Eleventh Doctor and Rory and with Clara much more pally these days, he would have brought an interesting dynamic to the TARDIS.
The trip to the past had scope for its own story, without the mystery established two hundred years in the future. An abandoned Cold War training facility in the middle of 1980's Scotland, and the arrival of an alien hearse transported a terrifying war criminal. We finally got to see Paye Kaye pre-ghost as the alien undertaker Prentis, a member of the same timid alien race we saw David Walliams play in The God Complex. Prentis was a fun little character, offering up his home planet for subjugation, though he didn't last long and compared to rest of the very strong supporting cast, Kaye felt a little wasted in the role.
The Fisher King was the stuff of nightmares which slightly older kids will love (there's an action figure and a half) assuming the terrors of the preceding story have got them this far. Peter Serafinowicz brought great menace to the voice performance along with Slipknot's Corey Taylor. The assumption running through the episode is that he will be the creature to wake up in the base 200 years later...so it was a possibly slightly obvious (see the Pandorica in The Big Bang) but still rather ingenious that it is the Doctor who sleeps inside the capsule, having killed the Fisher King centuries earlier by blowing the dam with the missing power cell discussed last week. It was a great full circle moment.
Meanwhile back in the future, Clara got to show her worth as Doctor Mark II, facing off against ghosts, trying to keep Cass and Lunn alive and trying to work out just how the hell she would help the Doctor change history and prevent all their deaths. There was still time for plenty of scares too, from the moment that the ghost Doctor floated through the walls into the base - the enemy wearing a hero's face to the sudden appearance of ghost O'Donnell at the window of the Faraday cage.
The idea that Lunn did not have the message in his head and couldn't be harmed or reprogrammed by the ghosts led a tense piece of nail biting drama as he faced off against the swarm of ghosts, while there was still time for one more piece of horror movie-standard terror as the ghost of Moran dragged an axe along the ground behind Cass, who obviously couldn't hear him. Nice use of the blade scraping against the ground when we were watching him and nothing when the camera was on her.
As for that cliffhanger from last week? Well that was the real crux of the episode. If the Doctor sees himself as a ghost in the future can he really change history? Some might argue that the Doctor ghost that entered the base was actually a hologram version was a bit of a cop out but at least the episode has fun with the premise, acknowledging that there really was a dead ghost version of the Doctor in the future.
The pre title sequence tells a tale of the Doctor going back in time to meet Beethoven only to find he never really existed. As he addresses the audience in the TARDIS the Doctor asks how could he have heard Beethoven's 5th symphony if was never written? (And most intriguingly, is the Twelfth Doctor actually Beethoven now?) It's the same idea as the Doctor ghost. He couldn't have averted history if he hadn't really died in the future. The ghost had to become the frame of reference he needed to change the outcome. It's an idea that will probably divide audiences, just like the Tesseract Doctor-death loophole in the sixth series.
Still kudos to see Capaldi rocking it out in the guitar with a rock version of Beethoven's 5th and that great guitar riff in the title music.
Before The Flood didn't quite deliver on the tense drama and horror of last week even though it did prove to be a satisfying to conclusion to the story and probably Toby Whitehouse's best entry in the show yet. Is it the weakest episode of series nine? Yes but it is still great; the standard of series nine continues to remain very high. Next week Game Of Thrones's Maisie Williams is a episode filled with Vikings versus robots! It looks as this year's winning streak will continue for some time yet!