Doctor Who 'Before The Flood' [TV-EPISODE REVIEW]

Honestly, I was actually not expecting much from 'Before The Flood' as the promotional material made it out to be very different from 'Under The Lake' that there was a major possibility it would jump the shark and completely butcher everything that was so masterfully set up. Luckily I did not need to worry as 'Before The Flood' continues what 'Under The Lake' started in spectacular fashion and ended up being a more than satisfying conclusion to the second two-parter of Series 9. Yep, the hotstreak continues.

Never have I seen such a golden opening for a 'Doctor Who' season. Four episodes in and the worst of the lot is still amazing stuff and would easily be one of the highlights of any other season. If this is how the rest of the season will be - then Series 5 is going to have to step aside because we will have a new champion in the town of "best New Who series". But I am getting way ahead of myself. Simply put, 'Before The Flood' is amazing. Toby Whithouse definitely had a clear endgame with this story and it is more than deserving of being heraled as his best script for the show yet - and HE is more than deserving of being in heavy consideration for the next showrunner. I will say though, this will easily be one of the most divisive episodes we have gotten from Series 9 so far as it is not afraid of going all out with some of its ideas and not all of them work all the way through. Some people will have a problem with the opening, some people will have a problem with the ending, etc. But what has to be said though is that this is undoubtedly a masterfully written screenplay that was brought to life on the screen with such confidence that cannot be ignored.

Right from the start The Doctor decides to tear down the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience. No, he does not wish us a merry christmas - but he does give us a new kick-ass version of the 'Doctor Who' theme song. The whole scene works surprisingly well as Capaldi is such a good actor that he can easily carry it all on his shoulders and make it work. We also get a fair warning of what is to come using a very good example (Who really composed Beethoven's Fifth?). Then of course the intro. An intro I can already imagine a lot of people hoping it will stay and I will gladly join that group as it was an awesome surprise and it reminded me of why I love 'Doctor Who' so much... because 'Doctor Who' can get away with shit like this.

Once the story gets going though, we see that Whithouse is not going to let the tension go anytime soon that was so well developed in the last episode despite the completely different location and events that unfold. What we get is another case of timey wimey and paradoxes that takes the story in a completely different direction. What is fascinating though is just how well it actually works. Of course the episode is going to get beaten down by people who did not pay enough attention as this turns into a very exposition heavy script by the end (which I was actually fine with). What I love about this season in particular at the moment is just how confident it is. Not a single episode has been afraid in taking risks and 'Before the Flood' is a prime example of that. The Doctor breaking the fourth wall in the opening scene, the intro getting an electric guitar cover, the Fisher King not doing a whole lot of intense villian stuff, some questions not getting a fully fleshed answers, etc... Seeing as episode 9 'Sleep No More' is apparently a found-footage episode I can only assume that this confidence will not go away any time soon.

Once again, Daniel O'Hara knocks it out of the park as he is now allowed to stretch his legs a lot more with these different locations. The scene with Cass in the corridor as the ghost of Moran is following her with an axe in his hands is INSPIRED directing and it was something that 'Doctor Who' has never, ever done before and deserves a whole lot more credit than it is currently being given. The only problem I had is the shot when the Fisher King is walking out of the church and towards the ship as it did make him look like a guy in a costume - but that is still a very minor issue.

The Fisher King himself is a terrific creature with a wonderfully unsettling voice by Peter Serafinowicz. The scene with him and The Doctor is fantastically written and definitely one of the highlights of the entire story. People are going to be complaining about him not having THAT big of a presence but honestly I kind of like that he was more in the background and the Doctor did not have to fist fight him or something in order to win. Not all badguys in the show has to be the smartest and most evil creature in the universe. The Fisher King was just another monster - that still managed to kill several people mind you so he was not useless. There is also not THAT much they can do with him and I appreciate that they did not try and recreate the Doctor and Davros scenes from 'The Witch's Familiar' THIS soon as they could not have the two talk for a lot of the episode again.

In my review of 'Under the Lake' I mentioned how I did not find the supporting characters all that interesting or memorable... well I firmly take that back as while I was watching 'Before The Flood' I easily remembered all of their names, who they were and most important; I cared about them. I did not want any of them to die and they DO in fact make the list of the excellent guest characters of the Capaldi era that Series 8 excelled at so much. Arsher Ali as Bennett was the clear standout as he and the Doctor share several very emotional and tense scenes that once again brings up this rather selfish and "uncaring" Doctor we have. The worst part of it though is that while The Doctor is a selfish man, what he did really was the best plan they could have come up with and once you realize that - the emotions surrounding a characters death just becomes so much worse. Wonderful writing and I desperately hope they keep going with it until the inevitable will happen.

Whether or not this surpasses 'Under The Lake' is an interesting question. It is definitely a more flawed episode from a writing perspective - but at the same time it is also more entertaining and it poses more interesting dilemmas and morals while the first part is a lot more traditional in its storytelling. Really they are both on equal ground which is quite rare for a 'Doctor Who' two-parter.

Overall, this is undoubtedly the best script Toby Whithouse has ever penned for the show. The extra episode allowed him a lot more time to develop the story and characters in a very satisfying manner and he shows that he GETS 'Doctor Who'. He understands why the show works and I really liked how he showed both types of typical 'Doctor Who' in the story with 'Under The Lake' being a lot more classic Troughton-esque and 'Before The Flood' being more classic modern Who with still a lot of classic sprinkled throughout. The cast are all really good here, Daniel O'Hara's direction is spot on (we shall never forget the scene with Cass alone in the corridor) and while it does kind of lose itself a bit near the end - the magic never left and the magic of the Series 9 train has not stopped. But the question remains, who really composed Beethovens Fifth?


- Lucas

1 comment: Leave Your Comments

  1. Interesting episode, I thought. O'Donnel's death, for me at least, fell flat- she herself was a relatively promising, but ultimately poor, Osgood copy and the death was just a fridging of a potentially interesting character for ANGSTY scenes between Bennet and The Doctor grounded in ANGSTY stuff. Character handwaving. The same goes for the faux-happy ending. Lunn loved Cass? It just seems like a poor way to explain in mainstream, familiar, terms a type of relationship not seen often in TV owing to little representation of def people. I wouldn't've felt that way if it had been built u in the previous episode, but I didn't think it was, not even in the performances. It felt sentimental and unearned. after the wonderful precision with which both The Witch's Familiar and Under the Lake were scripted, this felt particularly slapdash. But, still, another very good episode Who is on fire! The first scene had me crying with laughter. It was utterly ingenious, and the pay-off at the end really ended the episode on a great note. The demise of The fisher King was explosively done by the FX team, and felt like such a good way to set up the whole story. The Holmesian "A-ha!" moment was simply glorious. The theme of communication was continued from the previous episode, and the plotting was nearly superlative. To rank the first 4 Season 35/Series 9 episodes:
    1. The Witch's Familiar. 9.8 stars. Thematically rich, nostalgic, well designed, and overall a great episode. The tone of the cold open just felt a bit off compared to the rest of it, though it was brilliant on its own merits.
    2. Under The Lake. 9.6 stars. A very good traditional Doctor Who episode.
    3. Before The Flood. 9.4 stars. My criticisms still stand but excellent overall.
    4. The Magician's Apprentice. 8.4 stars. Great fun of course, but it had some pacing problems IMO.
    Good review as usual. I'll shut up now! *everyone reading breathes a sigh of relief*