“It is so deep
So beautifully liquid”
Smoke City, Underwater Love
“…cowardly, vain curators who suddenly remembered they had teeth and became the most war-like race in the galaxy”
The Fisher King, Before the Flood
“Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?”
The Specials, Ghost Town
Under the Lake
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 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 little 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. And all because he though he could get his hands on a bit of alien tech. This 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 Tivolian 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.
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.
Before the Flood
Rather uniquely, this episode opens with the Doctor breaking the fourth wall to explain the bootstrap paradox using Beethoven as an example.
Do you know what the bootstrap paradox is? No? What are they teaching in schools nowadays? Meh!
Wikipedia explains it thus:
“A causal loop is a temporal paradox that occurs when a later (future) event is the cause of an earlier (past) event, through some sort of time travel. The past event is then partly or entirely the cause of the future event, which is the past event’s cause. Since a causal loop has no independent origin, it is also called a bootstrap paradox, predestination paradox or ontological paradox.”
Or as Douglas Adams says in Life, the Universe and Everything:
“He never got around to writing the poems, of course, which was a problem, but an easily solved one. The manufacturers of correcting fluid simply packed him off for a week somewhere with a copy of a later edition of his book and a stack of dried habra leaves to copy them out on to, making the odd deliberate mistake and correction on the way.
Many people now say that the poems are suddenly worthless. Others argue that they are exactly the same as they always were, so what’s changed? The first people say that that isn’t the point. They aren’t quite sure what the point is, but they are quite sure that that isn’t it.”
Douglas Adams does tend to be enjoyed by far more people than Wikipedia.
After this bit of exposition, the Doctor then plays a bit of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 before going into the opening titles. I normally wouldn’t mention the titles but this time I will because they have been redone with electric guitars. A great improvement on the previous music but I doubt they will keep it though sadly.
A lot of the Anti-Moffateers complained about this breaking of the fourth wall. They said that it had never been done before etc. This is true if you ignore the First Doctor’s Christmas message in The Daleks’ Master Plan in 1966. It also happened when Morgus, governmental villain, from The Caves of Androzani broke the fourth wall in the early 1980s. But I guess you can’t expect these people to know much about the history of the show.
Anyhow, the Doctor, Bennett and O’Donnell arrive in 1980 in what looks like a Russian town but is actually an army base used for training facilities in case the Russians needed a bit of invading. This was the latter years of the cold war.
O’Donnell knows about the Doctor. For us fans, she makes references to Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Amy Pond, Harold Saxon but then she goes on to mention someone who we have not heard about: the Minister of War. We have to presume that this might be the Big Bad of the final two episodes of this season but it could equally just be a throwaway reference meant to make us think and conjure up convoluted fan theories. I predicted that Davros would regain a working body in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar and I think that it still might happen. Could Davros be the Minister of War?
They encounter the mole ghost who turns out to be a Tivolian funeral director called Prentis. Paul Kaye excels in this part. You can’t help but feel that at any moment he might nervously bite your face through sheer anxiety. The only problem being that we don’t get to see much of him besides unless as a silent mascara-addicted ghostie. This is a shame. Paul Kaye is a great actor and it could be argued that he is wasted in this part.
At this point in time the ghost-creating words have not been carved into the wall of the ship, a space-hearse. So that it good. But even better is the fact that the deceased being transported is dead. That is good too because this body belonged to a warlord called the Fisher King.
Back in 2119, Clara, Lunn and Cass are still looking at the Doctor’s ghost who seems to be whispering different words from those of the other ghosts. He is reciting a list of names: “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, and Grubb”. Actually, no, he is reciting the names of the crew and himself and Clara plus Prentis’ name.
The Doctor calls Clara and is slightly shocked when he discovers that his ghost has appeared. Now that he knows he will become a ghost, he knows that his life is finite. You can rewrite time but not when it is written in stone, as the previous Doctor once said more or less. If he doesn’t allow himself to be killed, then history could get busted. That is the problem of a Time Lord because they know what must be and what can never be. I bet the Doctor wishes he had become a milkman instead of a swashbuckling hero now…
When the Doctor tries to speak to his ghostly self, the rascal unlocks the Faraday cage, releases his spooky chums and makes rude hand gestures. If you can’t
1980. The Fisher King isn’t quite as dead as might be expected but who among us really thought he was pushing up the daisies? Coming back from the dead would make anyone a little grumpy, so it is understandable when the Fisher King kills Prentis, carves the co-ordinates into the wall of the space-hearse and then goes out looking for more people to boost his signal. What a nice chap he is.
The Fisher King is meant to be scary and he is when in a dark room. Outside, not so much. He has a little of the Tractator about him. It isn’t a bad-looking monster but darkness really is the Fisher King’s friend.
The Doctor, O’Donnell and Bennett are running for their lives. Of course they get split up because splitting up when being chased is always a great idea. Not.
The Doctor and Bennett hear O’Donnell being killed and when they find her, she is just hanging on to life before dying. This is one of the most poignant deaths in the show because of Bennett’s anger and sadness and…sigh, it is just incredibly sad.
The Doctor knows that the list of the people given to him by his ghost self is a list of the dead in the order in which they are killed. Bennett is, as you might imagine, narked off by this. Given that Clara is next to be killed, he reckons the Doctor will save her instead of the others. The Doctor refutes this, he will save Clara and not himself, he won’t do a thing to change his apparent fate. Not that he could even if he wished because when they try to return to the future, they are diverted half an hour into the past.
The Doctor cannot move out of the timestream. He cannot alter his death from happening. His death is a fixed point.
The Doctor and Bennett watch their earlier selves. They can’t do a thing to change the events of the past or is it the present? There are no good nouns when you are a traveller in time.
Back in 2119, O’Donnell’s ectoplasmic spook appears and thieves Clara’s phone. These ghosts are clever. Now they can’t contact the Doctor. But all is not lost because Lunn is the only member of the crew not to have seen the ghost-making co-ordinates. Theoretically he is safe because the ghosts won’t ghostify him until he has seen the co-ordinates. Yeah, right. They trap him but don’t kill him.
Cass is really angry at Clara for endangering the life of Lunn and convinces her through sign language and scowls that they should go after him. Clara agrees. Because this is a really brilliant idea. Pft!
Back in the ersatz USSR, with Bennett tucked up in the TARDIS, the Doctor pulls on his big boy panties and goes to have it out with the Fisher King. Of course, the alien skull-headed tyrant is planning on invading the Earth. No surprises there. It is a common theme in this two-parter, anger. The Doctor is angry because of the Fisher King’s method of beaming a signal into space. Violating the dead in this manner is akin to rape. It is an abuse against nature.
The Doctor has been tricksy. He tricks the ghost maker into going back to the space-hearse by saying that the writing has been erased. And the Fisher King fools for this? Intelligence is clearly not a requirement for a blood-drenched despot.
Remember Pritchard’s death in the first part of this adventure? He was after that power cell that was missing in the hearse. Now we find out what happens to it. It was the reason why the dam burst. Ironically, he died for nothing. See, greed is not good despite whatever Gordon Gekko might say to try and convince you otherwise.
He uses the TARDIS’ security protocol to send him back to the future (pun intended) and when the flood comes crashing down onto the town and the Fisher King, the Doctor jumps into the stasis chamber. It is at this moment when watching that I punched the air. I predicted the Doctor escaping by this method. Seriously chuffed.
Please note that we do not actually know if the Fisher King is dead. If people can return from the dead on the soap opera Eastenders, then returning from the dead on Doctor Who is practically a given. In the Whoniverse, Heaven and Hell has revolving doors…
The final part of this episode is in 2119. Clara and Cass have found Lunn. Wonderfully acted scene with Cass being stalked by Moran’s spectre. She can’t hear his axe grinding against the floor plating behind her. Is it superfluous if I note how Beethoven was deaf just like Cass? I am sure that you all made the connection, right? He could play because he sensed the vibrations in the piano keys. Likewise, Cass feels the vibrations of the axe. Super super fine! Love this scene so much. Do you see how clever the writer Toby Whithouse is being here? This scene also has a touch of the Daredevil comic book series too, which is nice.
The Doctor pops out of the stasis pod. He is alive much to the surprise of everyone. He then causally mentions that his ghost was really a hologram controlled by his sonic sunglasses. He hasn’t broken the laws of time, he has just bent them a little. The Eleventh Doctor did much the same thing in The Wedding of River Song.
The Fisher King’s roar can be heard but nope, skullboy hasn’t returned from the dead. Just the Doctor’s hologrammatic self using a recording of the roar to lure the ghosts into the Faraday chamber. Hold on, how can a hologram hold a phone? Perhaps it is a hard light hologram like Red Dwarf‘s Rimmer.
The Doctor then chomps on a cigar and says, “I love it when a plan comes together” as the ghosts whisper “I ain’t getting in no Faraday cage. Oh, wait. We already are. D’oh!”
Is that it? No, not quite. Apparently UNIT still exist in this day and age. They will have to be called in to remove the Faraday room. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem about that. The Doctor erases the co-ordinates from their minds. His threat is no more (unless he is the upcoming Minister of War).
There is a touching scene where Lunn is convinced to tell Cass about his feelings for her. It really broke my heart to see this. I wish somebody would love me like that…sigh. I will say no more about this bit of the story.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor explains that the order of the people mentioned by his hologram was made-up. From Clara’s name onwards, he didn’t have a clue who would be the next to get themselves deaded. Her place as the next victim was there to motivate the Doctor. But how did he know what to make the hologram say? Because Clara told him. The bootstrap paradox in action.
Sophie Stone as Cass, simply wonderful. 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. I hope that we can see more of her in the future. In other shows I meant. It would be a waste if her talents were not shared. Her and Zaqi Ismail (Lunn) act well together and have a convincing relationship with one another.
Arsher Ali plays Bennett rather nicely. he doesn’t have much to do but that scene with him holding O’Donnell’s body as she dies… As I said earlier, poignant.
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are great in this two-parter. Capaldi having some righteous anger and clever clogginess to entertain us with.
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.
Coleman does her usual big-eyed big brave kitty cat routine which is always a pleasure to watch.
Yeah. Another strong two-part adventure. I really loved this. I haven’t mentioned all the great bits of this story, I am not trying to spoiler you (not too much at least). Watch this story for yourself. I highly recommend it.