The Doctor, Clara and an assorted mix of archetypes are trapped by ghosts that look like they have had teenage girls applying mascara to their faces. Yes, this story is basically panda city! Added to this is the fact that they are are all on an abandoned underwater base. I sure hope the mascara doesn’t run with all that water about…
Our heroes are in the space year 2119. This is just over one hundred years from now according to my calculator. They arrive on an underwater mining base. the Drum. Although given how the ghosts trap the living (and vice versa), maybe it should be called the Snare Drum? The Drum is at the bottom of an artificial lake, sitting amongst the remains of a flooded village.
The unlucky crew (Moran, Cass, Lunn, O’Donnell, Bennet, and Pritchard) have unearthed (unlaked?) a black spaceship. The ship reminded me of those boxy shuttles that you used to see on the classic Star Trek. A ghostly Tivoli (remember the mole alien from The God Complex?) apparently played by Paul Kaye (*takes closer look* Oh, so it is!). Oddly, he is dressed in Victorian clobber. Odd but extremely cool. Who doesn’t like a ghostly Victorian mole man? Besides ghostly Victorian worms that is.
This ghost mole is hollow-eyed rather than overdosed on mascara. It is an odd effect that brings to mind Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Claudia Winkleman. It can look like a pair of sunglasses from a distance but when you get up close, unsettling.
When the ship is examined, the crew discover mysterious symbols on the inside of it. They look a liitle like kanji to me. Kanji is, as I understand it, a form of Japanese writing which is used mostly by the younger generation.
While the crew are having a look, the mole ghost corners Moran the crew’s commanding officer and kills him. Then Moran reappears as a ghost and the caca hits the fan.
Our heroes (the Doctor and Clara that is, not Dangermouse and Penfold) apport onto the mining base three days later. They wander about the facility until they find the ghosts. The Doctor is immediately in love with them and who can blame him? The ghosts are great. Yeah, so they go about killing people but look how wicked-cool they look!
They are lead to the spaceship and we might expect the writing to be translated but no, the TARDIS isn’t able to. The ghosts reappear and start attacking. After a brief chase, the Doctor and Clara find a Faraday cage where the survivors have been lurking. The ghosts are unable to penetrate the walls of the cage.
Cass, the elected leader of the crew, tells the Doctor and Clara about what happened. Not through speech mind you, through sign language translated by Lunn, her interpreter. You would have thought that future medical advances would have rendered a cure for deafness but no.
When the base enters into day mode, it is now safe for the crew to leave the room. The ghosts are unable to appear during the day mode regardless of whether it is actually daytime or not. This suggests that they may be more than just ghosts. Why can they only appear when the base goes into night shift?
The Doctor pooh-poohs the idea of ghosts. This is consistent with previous stories where he has been equally dismissive. But now he comes around to the idea. This does not bode well…
…but it bodes a little better than the general bodeyness that happens when the base suddenly goes back into night mode. The ghosts have control of the base! Not as scary as ‘the angels have the phonebox’ but in this context, quite frightening. The crew manage to shift back into day mode but the damage has been done.
The mining company’s representative, Pritchard, has been killed by the ghosts. Which leads to a great scene where they think he is still alive until his corpse floats past the window and what they thought was Pritchard is actually his eyelinered ghost. Pritchard was mainly an archetype character, you know the kind, greedy, profit-orientated etc. But still, he didn’t deserve to die.
Cass is all for high-tailing it off the base and getting back ashore but when she calls for a rescue submarine, she and the others find that one is already on the way. Them sneaky ghosts have sent the onshore crew a message so that they can entice more people to be converted. This is further proof that the ghosts are more than they seem. Why would ghosts want company? The Doctor, wise to the ghostly scheme, cancels the sub and has it sent back.
Understandably the Doctor wants answers. So he has Clara and the crew entice the ghosts into the Faraday cage and… Should I explain what a Faraday cage is? OK. Here is how Wikipedia explains it:
“A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure formed by conductive material or by a mesh of such material, used to block electric fields. Faraday cages are named after the English scientist Michael Faraday, who invented them in 1836.”
Got it? Good? Alrighty then, the ghosts are lured into the chamber and Cass lip-reads them. Note how they have used her disability in a positive way here. Showing that disabled people are every bit as valid as undisabled people. This is, by the way, a good thing.
The ghosts are repeating, “the dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple”. What does this mean? Are they quoting part of the titles of Terry Brooks’ books? The Dark Legacy of Shannara, The Sword of Shannara…? This joke is much funnier if you are a fan of fantasy writers, trust me on this.
But why are the ghosts repeating this mantra over and over and over and over and over again? What the heck is going on? There is a verb in German that means ‘to whisper angrily’: zischeln. This, I think is a good way to describe what these ghosts do. The Doctor figures out that the phrase is a set of co-ordinates. The ghosts are somehow transmitting this signal out into space. With each ghost that joins the ranks of the eyeliner brigade, this signal gets stronger.
They decipher the co-ordinates and send a remote sub into the lake. They find a stasis pod which cannot be opened. So what is inside the pod? An alien invader? Benjamin Sisko? Ana Matronic? I have a theory as to what is inside this but I will leave my thoughts until after the cliffhanger. But I am pretty sure it isn’t the Tivoli mole man. The Tivoli are an alien race known for their sheer cowardice. This is far too sinister for them, nuh-uh.
The symbols inside the ship are the co-ordinates written down. They re-wire the synapses so that when a person dies, that set of co-ordinates is all that the ghosts can say. It boosts the signal. This begs the question, wouldn’t an aerial do the job just as well?
Knowing this, the Doctor says that he needs to go back in time to before the lake was created, back to when the ship crashed in the town. Easy-peasey? Not quite. They get separated on the mad dash to the TARDIS because the ghosts have let in all the water from the lake. What scamps they are! The Doctor, O’Donnell and Bennett on one side, Clara, Cass and Lunn on the other. The TARDIS cannot be used to rescue the others because of the ghosts. So how does the Doctor intend on returning? I think I know but it ties in with my theory that I mentioned earlier.
The TARDIS leaves and Clara and the others see a new ghost outside. The Doctor. Yup, didn’t see that one coming, did ya?
Remember the stasis casket? I reckon the Doctor is in that. That is my theory But how can he exist in two different places? As a ghost and in the box? Maybe the casket can return people back to life? Anyway, the smart money is on the Doctor.
I loved how Peter Capaldi plays the Doctor as seemingly all-knowing and then flipping his performance so that he appears utterly clueless in how he reacts to the humans. Brilliant. Capaldi is such a good Doctor and he rightly steals every scene he is in.
I also liked Sophie Stone as Cass. As a genuinely disabled person, I thought that this was a good touch. It is about time we had more positive disabled role models. Plus she is a damn fine actress.
So far, I am greatly enjoying this adventure. Some people have called it derivative but I don’t agree. This is a splendidly well-thought out two-parter. The best since the previous one, um.
Tune in next week for the concluding part of this adventure. I, for one, can’t wait for the second part of this story.