Sunday, 4 October 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.3: Under The Lake

One last nitpick - the Black Guy Dies First in this episode.
Not sure whose fault that is.
And on gilded wings the angel came. One of the few writers in this present era of the show who doesn't make me collapse into thorough despair is Toby Whithouse, former writer of Being Human and the writer of The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy, two Eleven episodes which I genuinely love. This is because his stories tend to be about things, with themes and stuff, as well as managing to deliver quick, witty dialogue that doesn't devolve into lewd jokes. Some of his character work can be a little out of turn with the rest of the show's writers, and he's not immune to mistakes, but if this week meant anything to me, it was as proof that Toby Whithouse can write this show a hell of a lot better than its showrunner - even if Under The Lake went over a lot of old ground.
     The Doctor and Clara arrive at an undersea base an unspecified amount of time in the future, in which a group of terrified scientists and soldiers have been attempting to avoid the ghosts of an ancient alien and their former commander. The ghosts silently mouth the same phrase over and over again, are attempting to kill and resurrect the crew, and vanish when the floodlights come on. The Doctor and Clara choose to stay and investigate, even after another crew member joins the roster of the dead. With the help of the leader of the group, Cass, and her interpreter, The Doctor realises that the words spoken by the ghosts are in fact riddle-like co-ordinates pointing to the church in the sunken town the base is adjacent to. As The Doctor chooses to go back in time to before the flood to find out what was in the church, Clara is left behind - and is shocked to find the ghost of the Twelfth Doctor.
     So, standard NuWho variation on a Base-Under-Siege story - largish group of secondary characters, following several archetypes - harsh but fair leader, scientist voice of reason, cowardly guy, traitor guy (although in this case he only turns traitor because he dies) and, in this case, we also have Cass' sign interpreter. I like the inclusion of a deaf character, both for the way it provided representation and for the way it worked into the story seamlessly. Cass' ability to lipread was a crucial point in the story, and I loved the fact that her deafness was so completely normal. It also didn't hurt that the team wasn't wonderbread this week, which is sometimes a problem in BuS stories.
The Doctor helps a team of well-developed scientists.
     Say what you want about the "meat-and-potatoes" nature of the Base-Under-Siege story, it does help to provide a lot of tension and mystery which come inbuilt into that format. Whithouse built up the mystery and suspense in this story across the entire runtime, and it was the first episode in a while where I really felt like the show was filling its 42 minutes. This brilliant use of the tension provided by the format of this story is not something I think will transfer to next week - the way that these two-parters are being told has them much more loosely connected to one another than in prior series. This made the cliffhanger - the groan-worthy cliffhanger of "The Doctor's going to die", which I'm really sick and tired of by now - feel more irritating in its appearance than the tension bomb it should be.
     Aside from a few nitpicks, I was able to watch Under The Lake and easily, unironically enjoy it. This format has, in the past in NuWho, been the undoing of some other writers - Chibnall never developed his "base" members enough, and RTD's attempt at the genre in Voyage of the Damned went as well can be expected. I perhaps wish that Whithouse would step outside the bounds of this genre, and it looks in fact like that's what he's about to do with this story's conclusion, but either way he's still a fantastic writer and I really enjoyed this episode. Which makes a nice change.


NEXT WEEK: The thrilling conclusion, in Before The Flood.

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