Monday, October 5, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 3: Under The Lake

Now this is more like it! 

There was little or nothing new in this week's episode, as this "Base Under Seige" plot has been done many times before in the history of the show. But that was the appeal— this seemed like an old-school Doctor Who episode, complete with scary monsters, multiple parts (although just two instead of the typical four) and even the much-missed cliffhanger ending. More of this, please, Stephen Moffat, and less of your usual convoluted drivel.

Peter Capaldi finally seems to have settled into the role of the Doctor this season. He's still an alien know-it-all, but he's lightening up a bit and finally seems to be having fun with the role. More of this too, please.

Under The Lake was written by Toby Whithouse, who's penned several other pretty good episodes, including School Reunion, which reintroduced ultimate companion Sarah Jane Smith to the Whoniverse! Whithouse also wrote Vampires Of Venice and A Town Called Mercy, and created the British supernatural drama Being Human. You know, I wouldn't mind seeing Whithouse take over Doctor Who as show runner once Steven Moffat is forcibly removed and run out of town on a rail. Oops! Sorry, that's just me fantasizing.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We begin inside the Drum, an underwater mining facility in 2119 Scotland. The Drum was built near a flooded military town (complete with a church), and the crew has made an amazing discovery— an alien spaceship on the underwater floor. 

The crew brings the ship inside the Drum, where it activates itself, killing base leader Moran. Suddenly a strange looking ghostly figure dressed in Victorian garb (complete with top hat) appears. The ghost of Moran materializes then next to him, as the crew does the logical thing and runs for their lives.

A few days later, the Doctor and Clara land inside the Drum and find it seemingly deserted. They're chased by the two ghosts, and take refuge in a protected room with the rest of the crew.

Cass, the new leader, tells the Doctor that the ghosts can't enter the room because it's a Faraday Cage, which somehow keeps them out. The ghosts also can only come out at night, so the crew's safe during the Drum's artificial day cycle.

The Doctor examines the alien ship in the hold and discovers its missing a power cell and a suspended animation chamber. It also contains strange alien writing scrawled on the wall. Another of the base's residents, Pritchard, is killed by the ghosts and joins them.

The Doctor notices the ghosts are all silently mouthing words. He traps the ghosts inside the Faraday Cage so he can safely study them. He uses his Sonic Sunglasses (sigh...) to transmit video of the ghosts to Cass, who's deaf. She reads their lips and says they're saying, "The dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple" over and over.

The Doctor, using his best 1966 Batman and Robin deduction skills, interprets the message as coordinates. The "dark" is space, the "sword" is the one in the constellation of Orion, which, if viewed from across the galaxy, contains Earth (!), the "forsaken" is the abandoned underwater military town, and the "temple" is the church.

The Doctor goes on to reason that some alien force is transforming people into ghosts to turn them into transmitters and send out a signal to lead something to the church.

The crew uses an unmanned sub to explore the underwater church, and find the spaceship's missing suspended animation pod there. They bring it into the Drum, but the Doctor's unable to open it. Just then the ghosts figure out how to flood the base. The Doctor, Clara and the crew race for the TARDIS. Unfortunately Clara, Cass and Lunn are separated from the Doctor's group, and trapped by rising waters. The Doctor tells Clara he's going to use the TARDIS to go back in time to before the military town was flooded to find answers, and swears he'll be back for her.

The Doctor and the others leave in the TARDIS. Clara looks out a window and sees the ghost of the Doctor floating in the underwater void.

Thoughts:
• I've often thought the TARDIS must generate some sort of "Acceptance Field" around the Doctor, since he quite often pops up in places he couldn't possibly be (like space stations or remote Arctic bases) and the people there never question him, and happily defer to his authority.

The same thing happens in this episode. The Doctor and Clara suddenly appear in a sealed underwater base, and none of the residents think anything about it. This time though there's an explanation for their unconditional acceptance. The Doctor says he's from UNIT, and computer expert O'Donnell has actually heard of him, and says she's a big fan. As far as I know, that's never happened before in the series.

By the way, isn't the Doctor's involvement with UNIT supposed to be a tip top secret? How does O'Donnell know about it?

• The TARDIS materializes inside the Drum, deep under water. The Doctor senses the TARDIS is unhappy though, saying, "What's wrong? You're not happy. Why aren't you happy? Why have you brought us here?" He even has to put on the emergency brake to keep it from leaving. 

If it's so scared of the Drum and its resident ghosts, why'd it bring the Doctor there in the first place?

• Why is it so hot inside the underwater base? The Drum crew are all dressed in t-shirts and shorts and they're still sweating. Isn't it generally cold deep under water? Seems like the last thing the base should be is hot.

And if it is really hot inside the base, why aren't the Doctor and Clara affected? Neither of them sweat a drop throughout the episode.

• I liked the Doctor's "empathy cards," that prompt him with the appropriate response and help him relate to humans.

By the way, the card that reads, "It was my fault, I should have known you didn't live in Aberdeen" is a reference to popular companion Sarah Jane Smith. Back in 1976, the Fourth Doctor abruptly stranded Sarah Jane in Aberdeen instead of her home town of Croydon.

• Cass, the deaf/mute leader of the Drum, is played by actress Sophie Stone, who's actually deaf in real life.

• The Doctor wore his horrible shirt again. You know, the one he wore last year, that looks like a car battery exploded and ate holes in it. That thing really needs to be destroyed in a laundry accident.

• This episode was a bit similar to ALIEN, complete with an isolated, claustrophobic space, wandering monsters, grunts just trying to do their job and even a "company man" who cares more about profits than human lives.

• We find out that the ghosts can only come out during the base's artificial night cycle. At one point the ghosts even switch the base to night mode so they can attack. O'Donnell, the resident computer whiz, easily switches it back to day time.

So why didn't O'Donnell just freeze the base in day cycle the minute the crew discovered the ghost's nocturnal preference? That way they wouldn't be able to appear and the crew wouldn't have to hide in terror inside the Faraday Cage every night. Whoops!

• The three ghosts silently mouthing words over and over was very eerie and effective.

• What was up with the odd scene in which the Doctor seemingly scolds Clara, and says "There's room for just one Doctor in the TARDIS." It seemed like that scene was going somewhere and had a point, but then it was dropped, never to be mentioned again. I'm betting a few scenes were cut for time.

• Dear lord, the Doctor's sonic sunglasses are the worst thing to happen to the show in years. They need to go, immediately.

In a recent interview, actor Peter Capaldi addressed the sonic controversy, saying, "The sonic screwdriver hasn't gone. The sonic sunglasses are an adjunct to the sonic screwdriver and have arrived because the Doctor likes Ray-Bans! You press them and they go 'zzzzz' and they do great things."

Let's hope he's right and the screwdriver appears again very, very soon.

• The Doctor recognizes the ghost in the top hat as a Tivolian. We've seen this race before-- Gibbs, in the episode The God Comples, was from Tivoli. Tivolians are famous for being a cowardly race, and proudly refer to their world as "the most invaded planet in the galaxy).

• The Doctor initially doesn't believe the creatures are ghosts, and says they're also not holograms, flesh avatars (first seen in The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People), Autons (seen in Spearhead From Space and Rose) or souls trapped in the Nethersphere (Dark Water and Death In Heaven).

• The Doctor and the Drum crew find a suspended animation chamber that was inside the alien ship, and bring it inside the Drum. The Doctor says it "probably" contains the ship's pilot, but can't get it open.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that the Doctor's the one in the suspended animation chamber. Why else would they not have been able to open it in Part 1?

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