Doctor Who: 904 “Before the Flood” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Toby Whithouse has brought to us yet another exceptional episode. ‘Under the Lake’ was a fantastic start to the story and I had high hopes that its second part would be as good, if not better. It turned out to be the latter.
There was so many great ideas brought to the table. I loved the opening sequence where the Doctor broke the fourth-wall, something fairly new to the show, and speaking of the origins of Beethoven. In a timey-wimey turn of events the Doctor actually created him due to visiting his idol in the past but discovered he didn’t exist. His arrival in the past, accompanied with Beethoven’s records from the future, actually established the musician’s destiny. Unbeknownst to us at the time, this actually gave us a somewhat description of how the Doctor would in fact solve the episode’s threat. And who can forget the Doctor once again jamming to his electric guitar and accompanying Murray Gold’s theme with riffs that could start a mosh-pit.
‘Before the Flood’ was interesting because we had two storylines to follow, making the episode almost split between two tones and direction. I liked this as it granted the episode more depth. The storyline set in 1980s Scotland reminded me a lot of the Seventh Doctor serial ‘The Curse of Fenric’. Then of course we had the elements of the first part returning for the underwater base scenes, though the ghosts were less of a spectacle this week in favour of concentrating more on the Fisher King.
I enjoyed the themes of paradox used in this episode’s narrative and how it played a massive part in the resolution. The Doctor made it apparent throughout that history had already happened through the events seen in the future. The ghosts are there, therefore those who died must always die, including the Doctor. The realisation of the Doctor’s own future didn’t faze him too much as he happily declared he had a good life and that his current incarnation was “a bit of a clerical error anyway.” Clara’s reaction to this revelation was the most surprising. As we learnt from last week’s episode, Clara had become too attached to her adventures aboard the TARDIS and with the news that that might come to an end scared her to death. She freaked out and demanded the Doctor to cheat death and time so that her adventures wouldn’t end. It would appear that this is the extent of her after-effects towards Danny’s death; without the Doctor she has nothing. She needs him to keep herself together and motivated.
Further scenes also declared shocking changes in Clara’s persona, namely her willingness to risk Lunn’s life in order to retrieve her phone from the ghosts. Though in theory Lunn would be safe, due to not looking at the symbols, it was still a risk, one that Cass didn’t appreciate in the slightest. I also loved how Cass challenged Clara’s new persona by questioning whether she always used to be happy with endangering others. Clara’s response was truly unexpected and sad by declaring that “he taught me to do what has to be done”. This shows how far Clara has fallen.
Last series Clara was questioning the Twelfth Doctor’s every harsh decision, even going as far as threatening to leave and exiling him from the TARDIS in the name of her beliefs. Now, she has turned into the Doctor, becoming cold, calculative, somewhat manipulative and alien. Clara has become, essentially, what Jackie Tyler feared Rose would become if she kept travelling. Worse with Clara as her life has been touched and twisted by the Doctor’s life in radical ways that after all this time, and with nothing left to hold her back, she has perhaps lost who she was. At least all is not lost as she still retains a sense of compassion, resembling her old self, through her understanding of Bennett’s pain at the end.
The Fisher King certainly stole the spot for “BEST DESIGNED MONSTER”. It was brilliantly put together. What made the Fisher King so superb was that it had three elements to it. There was first the design. The design team should really give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done. To me, it had a nice blend of Sea Devil, Predator and Pyramid-Head. It looked stunning and downright over-towering. The second element was the voice. Peter Serafinowicz did a great job at portraying the Fisher King.
He made the creature sound menacing, powerful and totally ruthless in its desire to return to power. Serafinowicz and Peter Capaldi played off each other perfectly and I enjoyed every second of them together. It was a great confrontation, to which even got the Twelfth Doctor rattled. Finally there was the roar. I still can’t believe that the production team got Corey Taylor, singer of Slipknot, to film on Doctor Who. I never even knew that Taylor liked the show, so it’s very welcoming to hear that he really loves the show and took his time out to provide some vocals. I mean, let’s face it, if you want a really good, terrifying roar, you go to Taylor.
Once again Whithouse demonstrated his skill for crafting unique characters. He has a way of making us feel invested in them because we can relate to them or simply understand their motivation for being there. ‘The God Complex’ was greatly remembered for character Rita because of these reasons. Some even said afterwards that she had the potential to be a companion. With this second part the surviving characters got fleshed out even more, especially with Bennett who didn’t really have much to say in ‘Under the Lake’. The scenes in which he challenged the Doctor’s approach to saving the day was stunning. It was a horrible reminder that the Twelfth Doctor does have a tendency of looking down on little people and has a habit of using them to test theories. But, despite this, we were reminded that his companions are very important to him and that he would gladly die for them. Clara became his motivation for cheating time and ultimately the reason he defeated the Fisher King.
It was interesting seeing Prentis get some character development through his scenes in the past. Whithouse once again represented his creation, the Tivolian, perfectly by showcasing their cunning and sly nature. Their obsession for being enslaved was even more up-front this time round and Prentis’s delight in trying to get the Doctor to enslave him was almost sickening to watch. His race truly are a disgrace and a devious bunch.
Cass and Lunn continued to develop nicely, with Lunn’s ability to evade the ghosts granting him a tense scene of bypassing the creature’s by himself. Cass was by the far the greatest character of this two-parter, and this was added by her being deaf. I know that sounds horrible but it’s more of a compliment: It showed how a character with a disability could shine out above the rest of the supporting cast. Even when expressing worry or anger, despite no voice, her expressions displayed everything we needed to know and we understood and fell in love with her. My favourite moment was her confronting Moran. Many of us were thinking that her disability might get her killed but then suddenly she turned the tables in the cleverest way. By using the vibrations in the floor, Cass detected danger and managed to avoid it.
I’m glad we got to see more of O’Donnell’s inner fan-girl this week as last week it sort of got brushed over. Having got to travel in the TARDIS we saw her have her little moments of being overjoyed, as well as her obsessive knowledge about the Doctor through her previous workplace. It was just a shame that her character had to die. She always showcased courage and a keen intelligence. In the end Bennett was left with a broken heart after we all discovered they both had feelings for one another. This death ended up, in a roundabout kind of way, having good repercussions through Cass and Lunn getting together. Bennett’s sadness towards not saying anything to O’Donnell before it was too late made him want to give that advice to his friends. In a very “awe” moment Cass and Lunn found their happiness.
The resolution to the narrative was one of the best examples of timey- wimey experiences since Steven Moffat’s tricks in ‘The Big Bang’. What I loved the most was you didn’t feel cheated, you felt like praising Whithouse. Every single element put into play slowly revealed the grand reveal of the Doctor saving the day through time travel nonsense. It resembled the resolution from ‘Time Crash’ where the Tenth Doctor only knew what to do because he remembered the Fifth Doctor watching him do it. It borderlines “simple but effective”. The simple idea that the Doctor got the idea of how to save the day through watching a future hologram of himself telling him what to do. Brilliant piece of paradox which meant the Doctor could reverse-engineer his own plan into action through seeing how it finalises.
This was a solid conclusion to what can be described as a “superb” two- part narrative. This story has been a selling point to me and should have been the standards of the opening two-parter. At least with ‘The Girl Who Died’ coming up next week I am confident that we have an outstanding series ahead. Also, I’m interested in seeing what “the Minister of War” entails. Hopefully it doesn’t disappoint. It’s fair to say my enthusiasm for Doctor Who is finally back. Bring on next week.