[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 9 Episode 4, "Before The Flood"

Courtesy of the BBC
As I was watching Before the Flood, I had a revelation. In the past, I've noticed at about this number of episodes into a series, that Steven Moffat puts an undercurrent into each of his series. I'm not taking about arcs, those are obvious when they do them. I'm taking about a thesis, an underpinning that gives the series structure if only on the most basic level. A hint of direction to give the writers to nudge them in the correct tonal direction. Or, I'm over-analyzing things. For instance, two series back, every episode was a subtle remake of a classic episode that had a bad reputation. Invasion of the Dinosaurs became Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; The Gunslingers became A Town Called Mercy, and so on. And it occurred to me while watching this episode what Moffat is doing this season. And it's rather brilliant.

Every episode is a homage to a former Doctor's era. And they are doing them in order. And by no means of coincidence, there are twelve episodes in this series: one for each of the formers, and the finale for Capaldi to distinguish himself. Does this hold up? Well, episode one featured an anachronistic historical setting, as was the usual for the First Doctor, and featured classic Daleks in the heart of Skaro. I'd say that's a check. Episode two was very much a science fiction morality story, as often cropped up around the Second Doctor, and saw the Daleks meet another final end, something that happened a lot during that era. Last week, as many people (and myself) mentioned, it felt very much like the sort of adventure Three and Sarah Jane would have went one. Lots of claustrophobic tunnels, vaguely supernatural threats, and use of real scientific concepts in a fantasy setting.

Which brings us to this episode, which wouldn't have felt more natural if Capaldi had been flouncing about the Cold War in a big scarf asking people with they wanted gelatin treats. There was a lot of outside bits, a lot of sad faces at the end, and the Fisher King had a very strong James Acheson vibe to him. All and all, a very Fourth Doctor sort of outing. All the more so when the episode turned out to be slightly disappointing in it's resolutions, but more than made up for it with it's style.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which make it a point to get invaded at least twice every Tuesday.

This episode had a lot of ambition, and a lot to live up to, as Whithouse wrote a practically perfect episode as the lead in. With the specter of the Doctor hanging over everything, we follow him and two of the surviving crew members back to the 1980's, to see how things were going before there were ghosts running around. And then things got a bit timey-whimy. As I mentioned last week, doing so broke one of the fundamental rules of time travel; namely, that you cannot leave a set of established events once you have become part of them. This episode did own that fact by making it clear that the Doctor going back to the beginning was part of established events. And once there, he was unable to go anywhere else. Things had to follow through with themselves. It even went a bit Back to the Future Part 2 for a bit, with multiple time zoned versions of character running about, waiting to catch up with when they should be. Though, if there was one massive continuity error, it was that O'Donnell's ghost should have been in the base from minute one, same as Prentis. In fact, think of how much more chilling it would have been last episode to have the ghost of someone who hadn't died yet hanging about?

Ah, O'Donnell. I see that Moffat is still directing writers to create incredible engaging, sympathetic, enthusiastic, incredibly detailed characters who give us all the hope in the world that they might join the TARDIS in some fashion, and then kill them horribly. In retrospect, it's all the more amazing that Shona survived the Christmas Special. O'Donnell was a breath of exuberant air, much like Osgood. And much like Osgood, she was killed to serve a very particular plot point: that the Doctor talks a good game about saving people, but he only really puts in the effort when it's his personal friends. More and more, Moffat's interpretations of the Doctor is that he can't see the trees for the forest. He's grand when working to save planets full of people. Nice, anonymous, general subdivision people. But he's pretty crap at recognizing the importance of the individuals in front of him. As exemplified by his cards last week; it was good for a laugh, but does the champion of the universe and protector of Earth really needs cue cards to say he's sorry? Its a long way from "In nine hundred years of time and space and I've never met anybody who wasn't important."

O'Donnell died so that the Doctor would save Clara. And now we're entering the cycle of Clara might die, oh no she won't, until finally she does, or she doesn't. Either way, like last year, the series will end without Clara in the TARDIS, and the Doctor alone again. Everyone else is focusing so much on Clara's behavior becoming as callused as the Doctor's, but no one is much put off by the exceeding way in which the Doctor himself has become callused. When Clara does leave, how much will it really effect him? Clearly, she's a priority when she's in his line of sight, but once she's gone - and I'm betting she leaves, rather than dies - will he simply move on, until someone new catches his eye. I know the tradition is that one companion departs, and another takes their place. But tradition is the worst reason for doing anything. And my favourite era of the show was that period during Four and Five when there were multiple companions in the TARDIS, and when one departed, they all mourned, but the Doctor had support from the others to help him through, and likewise when the Doctor died and regenerated, he had more than one confused school teacher helping him out. I feel like so much as been made of the Doctor-Companion relationship that Moffat and the writers are forgetting the benefits of a multi-companion system. And Rory doesn't count, because Moffat was never as interested in Rory as he was Amy.

This episode fell in on itself because it needed to wrap up more than it could reasonably explain. And you can usually tell as cop-out ending by how little sense it makes compared to literally anything else. So, the Doctor's ghost was really a projection of the sonic sunglasses from inside the sealed status coffin. And that is convenient, because it requires no actual explanation. It's a kin to magic. Its a had wave that says, no better idea could be thought up so this is the best we've got. I was actually expecting an everybody lives scenario, fully expecting the ghosts to be just slightly out of phase with reality, and the Faraday cage able to pull them back into solidity. Really, what this episode was, was a first class showcase of how to blow the tires after a really good run-up. Every major piece of foreshadowing from episode one managed to be pretty much nothing of consequence. All the flighting back and forth to the Faraday cage turned out to be largely for nothing. The Fisher King, while impressively designed, turned out to be not much of a threat at all, and the casket and missing power cell, and pretty much everything else turned out to be for not. So, while the episode looked very nice, and featured some very funny, very touching, and very honest moments, the whole was less than the sum of it's parts.

But last week was still really good, wasn't it?

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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