We all have to face death some day, be it ours or someone else’s.
So, this is a little bit late, for which I apologise. It’s all those irritating real world commitments, getting in the way of things, as ever.
Now, Before the Flood. I was not so keen on last week’s Under the Lake, which I basically considered to be a fairly run of the mill base under siege style story, with very little else going on. There just wasn’t much that I was impressed by, sadly. Very little stood out – it was diverting enough, but there didn’t feel like there was much substance to it.
And, when the episode began, I actually quite enjoyed it. It seemed to me that Before the Flood was really improving upon its predecessor, picking up on its mistakes, and filling in the gaps that had been left. The opening with Peter Capaldi talking to the audience was really entertaining, and it was a nice break in terms of the conventional openings, where we might run around a little and then get a jump scare, or find a dead body, before the titles begin.
And, you know, this episode had a lot of the same strengths as the previous episode, I’ve got to make that clear. The direction was really strong (something that stood out to me was the zoom in on the Doctor, Bennett and O’Donnell as they first heard the roar of the Fisher King), and the set design remained impressive.
There were still some tense moments and shocks throughout, and that can be difficult to create, so the episode does well there. The Doctor’s ghost had a few good moments, and Lunn’s journey to get the phone was quite tense in places too.
The Fisher King had a really great, imposing design too. Peter Serafinowicz (Darth Maul!) did a great voice, and Corey Taylor (the Slipknot fellow!) had a pretty impressive scream. So, you know, it came together to create a fairly impressive monster, with a lot of potential. (Squandered potential, in the end, given that the monster didn’t really do anything, but it gets some points for looking cool.)
Clara also had some interesting stuff to do this week – which is one of the few areas where Before the Flood did improve upon Under the Lake. Jenna Coleman is a brilliant actress, and I am again inclined to suggest that Clara might be the best companion of the new series. Ordering the Doctor to “die with whoever comes next” was a really well done scene, and everyone involved deserves plaudits for that.
But, again, as with last week, where it fell down was on the writing.
Fact is, the episode is predicated upon an entirely nonsensical premise. The whole morality of whether or not you should change time is a completely fictional morality – the rules are hazily defined, the context changes regularly, and the outcome is different with every passing episode. Doctor Who does this all the time; sometimes it’s alright to change time, and sometimes it’s not. They have no hard and fast rules, because different writers want to do different things, so they can’t have any semblance of consistency.
But that makes it very difficult to take these episodes seriously. At the very least, it makes them difficult to write and get right – it takes a very deft and subtle approach to the dilemma to make it work. Something like Father’s Day does a fairly good job of it, actually. The Fires of Pompeii does too, actually.
Before the Flood does not. Now, it’s in a harder position anyway, that’s true, because it’s come after years of timey-wimey stories where the get out clause is to change time, but maintain the appearance of the timeline prior to the change – that having been the entire resolution to The Wedding of River Song, and arguably of The Day of the Doctor too.
In this instance, though, Before the Flood totally shoots itself in the foot. Because it opens by explaining how you can seemingly change time, but let history carry on “with hardly a feather ruffled”, as it were – and even then goes on to do this! The Doctor, of course, survives by maintaining the appearance of the original timeline. That’s why we have a holographic ghost of the Doctor, rather than his actual ghost.
Yet at the very same time, Toby Whithouse has expected us to take seriously the idea that the Doctor will die (we know he won’t, okay? We know) and we are supposed to accept that blatant, cheap, awful fridging of O’Donnell. It’s ridiculous.
If the Doctor can save himself, why can’t he save O’Donnell? That nonsense about seeing dead people? That wasn’t an ethical dilemma, it was an aesthetic dilemma. And yet the backbone of the episode was centred around this. An entirely hollow and empty piece of “drama”.
At this point, I’m inclined to suggest that we need to put a ban on all time travel stories, because they clearly do not work anymore. They need a rest, until someone has a new idea. Because here, there was not a new idea. It was just… nothing. There wasn’t enough there.
So, sure, very strong direction, good acting – and admittedly some good writing in places – but it’s all let down by the fact that, at its core, the episode was just sort of empty. 6/10