Under The Lake was surprising, in that it concluded with yet another welcome cliffhanger; following the opening Dalek 2 parter. After season 8’s, poor and stuttering one-story format.
And of this is to become a feature of season 9. Then Who may finally be returning to some of the vestiges that served it so well, during the classic era.
Under The Lake itself, could have been an effective one episode filler, such was the delights on offer. However, as the story clearly had so much more mileage in it. It wisely ended on a shock clifhanger note, until the following week’s Before The Flood.
For years on here, I have been savagely blasting modern Who for spoiling good stories. By shoehorning them into rushed 45 (perfect for 3 adbreaks) running time formats.
If we learned anything from the double opener The Magician’s Apprentice/Witches Familiar it was that – if this starting later in the evening, more adult Who, is to thrive. It needs more time to breathe and characterize/set the scene/tone.
Back to Under The Lake/Before The Flood, which had atmosphere and suspenseful buildup, in spades. Some might have felt it was a tad slow and had too much dialogue. I tend to think this was deliberate and the better for it.
Much in the vein of a classic episode, Under The Lake set the scene without the Doctor present (who turned up later in the Tardis 10 minutes later).
It began with a bunch of army-types in an underwater base, salvaging a sunken alien spacecraft. Much different from the usual Doctor and Clara opening salvo where they decide where they want to travel this week. It worked really well.
Next; the ghosts; which were completely memorable/bizarre/unsettling with their blank sockety eyes and flickering bodies and perchance for handling everyday objects – as deadly weapons.
Under The Lake went for the Scooby Doo mystery piece, with the Doc and Clara attempting to work out why/what/who the ghosts were. It had the added hook of a sunken mystery spaceship and an unknown pilot locked in a cryo-pod. Who can it be?
This Who was boldly not pulling any punches in the horror stakes either and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it I wouldn’t let my young son watch it, for fear of giving him nightmares.
Blank faced ghosts wielding spearguns and wrenches and possessing the ability to drown hapless victims, by opening airlocks. A ghost dragging a hatchet alog the floor after a deaf victim. Still Who has to be commended, for blurring the line between kidadulthood.
There was even time for an Alien 3 homage, with volunteers in long dark grimy corridors. Acting as bait and attempting to play chase with the ghosts and manoveur them into a trap.
The Doctor was on fine form here, with his rambling speeches and eureka moments. Capaldi continues to evolve and grow into the role. Exploring a newer, calmer and compassionate Doc but with the best of the arrogant and unsympathetic hallmarks of season 8. Very Sixth Doctor!
Even Clara had a nice backstepped part here, after last seasons over-exposure. Acting much more like the staple companion needed, rather than the maindraw. It worked really well. Especially the cuecard prompts, when the Doctor was trying to be sympathetic about the deceased base-captain.
The other characters playing the base-personnel were given just enough lines to draw them out of cannon-fodder charactures. Especially, Sophie Stone – as Cass; who was an interestingly effective replacement leader-type-character; deaf but fluent in sign language and premonitions aswell.
It ended on another shockingly good cliffhanger and setup interest with a mystery/conundrum, for next week. With the Doctor having left the undersea base, to explore a nearby flooded town and himself becoming a blank-faced ghost.
Before The Flood explored this further, with the Doctor visiting an abandoned town made to look like a Russian village for coldwar training.
He met the undertaker – “Prentis” (Paul Kaye), an underused character actor here, who was an alien who enjoyed being repressed by other races. Prentis was very quickly killed off by the thing in the spaceship. Just to add, Kaye would make a good future Doctor too.
When we finally met the “thing” in the spaceship; known as “The Fisher King”. It was definitely memorable and kind of reminded me of the heavy metal band who won Eurovision, a few years ago.
The Doctor had a list of who would die next and Clara was on it. Wonder if this is a theme to be carried on? With the news Clara is leaving this year.
There also seemed to be a theme or undercurrent of how much tinkering the Doctor can get away with – in space and time. Which was a conundrum that plagued Doctor no. 11 (Tennant) throughout his final (new) season 4.
It was a madcap and fittingly bizarre conclusion to the last week’s fitting opener. Toby Whithouse, bringing his Being Human writing flare and staking his potential showrunner candidacy here.
Whithouse pulled all of the stops out into a methodically slow, well-fleshed out and entertaining scarefest. With good performances, witty dialogue and lashings of classic homages.
If Who carries on in this double parter fine-form, I will let-off a couple of later season stinkers off, judging by how good the first 4 episodes have been. More cliffhangers please!