Sunday, October 11, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 4: Before The Flood

Last week's episode felt very much like an old school Doctor Who story, complete with shocking cliffhanger. This week's conclusion was much less so, veering off into convoluted time travel territory. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.

Now that I think about it, for a show about a guy with a time machine, Doctor Who doesn't feature all that much time travel. Sure, he uses the TARDIS to get to a particular era each week, but once he's there he very rarely uses time travel to undo a bad decision or resolve the plot. It's always a welcome change when the writers remember this is a show about time.

Toby Whithouse wrote this episode, as well as its predecessor. There are rumors floating around the interwebs that he might be next in line as show runner when Stephen Moffat leaves. I think that would be a great idea, and the sooner it happens the better.

The Plot:
Get comfortable, it's complicated. The episode begins with the Doctor explaining the Bootstrap Paradox (in which an outcome precedes its own cause) directly to the audience. Or maybe he's explaining it to Clara. Or maybe it's an entry in his video diary, who knows?

After leaving Clara, Lunn and Cass trapped in the Drum, the Doctor, Bennett and O'Donnell travel in the TARDIS to 1980, before the military base was flooded. There they see the alien ship parked nearby, and the Doctor determines that it's actually a space hearse. So apparently that's a thing.

Suddenly Prentis the Tivolian appears, alive and well. Prentis was the main ghost haunting the Drum in 2119. He tells the Doctor he's transporting a dead conqueror called the Fisher King inside a stasis chamber in the ship, with the intention of burying him on a savage outpost. Or in other words, on Earth.

Back in the Drum in 2119, Clara is horrified by the ghost of the Doctor. Cass, who's deaf/mute and can read lips, says that the Doctor is silently mouthing a list of names. Clara realizes it's a list of all the Drum personnel who have died or will die, in order. She's also on the list. 

The Doctor calls Clara on the TARDIS phone (which can apparently transcend time), and she tells him he's dead so that he can prevent whatever killed him. He says it's impossible because it's already happened and he can't break the rules of Time and change things (except of course when he can). 

In 1980, the Fisher King apparently wasn't dead, and escapes the hearse ship, killing Prentis (and presumably turning him into the ghost that haunts the Drum). It then kills O'Donnell. The Doctor confronts the Fisher King in the church in the military town, who's there with his stasis chamber. After a lengthy verbal battle, the Doctor changes his mind and decides to alter the future. He tricks the Fisher King into leaving the church (and the safety of his stasis chamber), as the Doctor detonates the nearby dam. The flood waters cover the military base and kill the Fisher King.

Back in 2119, the stasis chamber (which is now in the hearse ship in the Drum's cargo hold) opens, revealing the Doctor inside. He says his ghost isn't really his dead soul, but a hologram he created. He programmed it to recite a list of the dead, including Clara's name, to inspire him to try and change history. He locks the other real ghosts inside the Faraday cage, where they'll be disposed of by UNIT.

Clara asks the Doctor how he knew what to make his ghost hologram say. He says he just told it to say what she told him it said in the future. In other words, effect preceded cause. A Bootstrap Paradox.

 As the episode opens, the Doctor stares straight at the camera as he explains the concept of the Bootstrap Paradox. He does so by telling the story of a time traveler who's a fan of Beethoven, and goes to 18th century Germany to meet him. There he finds that no one's ever heard of Beethoven, who apparently never existed. The time traveler than copies down all his symphonies and publishing them, essentially becoming Beethoven himself. 

It's never stated for sure, but it's implied that the Doctor is the time traveler in the story. If that's true, it creates a continuity problem. In 2007's The Lazarus Experiment, the Doctor casually mentions that Beethoven taught him to play the organ. Either Beethoven was real or he wasn't, it can't be both. Maybe we can chalk this up as another example of "The Doctor Lies."

By the way, the Bootstrap Paradox is an actual scientific theory. It was used to great effect in the fan-favorite episode Blink, in which the Doctor sends video messages on DVDs to Sally Sparrow, but he only knows what to say because she gives him transcripts at the end of the episode.

 The new and improved Twelfth Doctor trots out his guitar again, playing a rock version of the theme song. His guitar amp is branded with the Magpie Electricals logo. The Doctor faced Mr. Magpie, the owner of the company, in the 2006 episode The Idiot's Lantern. The logo has popped up several times throughout the series, even showing up in the 33rd Century on the Starship UK in The Beast Below.

 Didn't the ghosts flood the Drum at the end of last week's episode? So how come this week Clara and the others are able to run anywhere inside the base at will? Did the ghosts drain it while we weren't looking?

• I'm very confused by the Drum. It's supposed to be a mining facility, but it lies at the bottom of a lake. A lake that can't be more than a few hundred feet deep, that was formed in 1980 when the Doctor blew up a dam.

Why would it be at the bottom of the lake? Heck, even oil rigs are built above the ocean, not below it. If there's so much of value under the lake, wouldn't it have been easier (and cheaper!) to simply drain it, instead of building a huge mining complex at the bottom?

 The Doctor off-handedly tells Bennett and O'Donnell, "This regeneration is something of a clerical error." What the hell does that mean? Is that yet another reference to the fact that we've seen his face before (in The Fires Of Pompeii)? Or is he talking about the fact that he looks decades older than his previous incarnation?

 O'Donnell seems to know quite a bit about the Doctor and his exploits. She even mentions Rose, Martha and Amy. Oddly enough she doesn't mention Donna. Maybe the Doctor wiped Donna from UNIT's records to protect her from her Doctor/Donna alter ego? 
O'Donnell also mentions Harold Saxon (who was actually The Master in disguise in The Sound Of Drums. She then mentions the Minister Of War, whom the Doctor's never heard of. Is this some ominous foreshadowing of an upcoming plot, or just a throwaway line?
 When Bennett meets the bizarre Prentis, he says "My first proper alien and he's an idiot." Um... so what's the Doctor then, chopped liver? He's already met an alien! The Doctor looks like a normal human though, so I guess maybe he means his first actually alien looking alien?

Speaking of Prentis, in this episode we get to see him in his pre-ghost state. As mentioned last week, the Tivolian race first appeared in The God Complex, which was also written by Toby Whithouse. 
Prentis says his world was enslaved by the Arcateenians. They were first mentioned in the 2006 Torchwood episode Greeks Bearing Gifts, again, written by Whithouse.
 A nice little time-bending touch in the episode-- when the Doctor and company first meet Prentis, O'Donnell hears a noise and looks off to her right. 

Later when the Doctor and Bennett go further back in time, they witness their initial meeting with Prentiss from a distance. Bennett starts to dart toward O'Donnell to warn her of her impending death, but the Doctor tackles him, making the noise that she hears. Timey-whimey

• When the Doctor finds out he's dead in the future, and his ghost is mouthing a list of Drum personnel who died, he accepts it as inevitable, saying he can't alter the future because it's against the rules. Later he has a change of heart, and decides to break the rules in order to save Clara. Bennett is outraged that the Doctor only wants to save his companion.

I'm with Bennet-- if the Doctor can bend the rules to save Clara, then why not save everyone else who died?

 The Fisher King is a very impressive design, but it's mouth is a bit off-putting. It looks a lot like a giant pulsating vagina.

By the way, the Fisher King isn't just a Robin Williams movie, it's part of the King Arthur legend. In that story, the Fisher King, sometimes known as the Wounded King, was the last in a long line of men who guarded the Holy Grail.

What that has to do with this story, and why an alien from another planet would call itself this, I have no idea. Why would an alien warlord be familiar with Arthurian legend?

The Fisher King was portrayed by three different actors. The body was Neil Fingleton, who recently played a giant north of The Wall in Game Of Thrones. His speaking voice was Peter Serafinowicz, who starred in Shaun Of The Dead (as Shaun's flatmate Pete) and Guardians Of The Galaxy as Denarian Saal. He was also the voice of Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. The roar of the Fisher King was provided by Corey Taylor from the heavy metal group Slipknot.

• At one point Cass cautiously searches the Drum for the missing Lunn. She's followed by the ghost of Moran, who's dragging a huge ax behind her. Because Cass is deaf, she's oblivious to the danger.

These scenes were very eerie and very well done, as we cut from Moran's ax making an incredibly loud scraping noise as it dragged across the metal floor, to Cass walking in absolute silence.

• I totally called it! Last week I said the Doctor had to be the one inside the alien stasis chamber, and that's just what happened. It wasn't hard to guess-- the Doctor couldn't get the chamber unlocked, and there was no reason for that unless its occupant was supposed to be a shocking surprise. And what occupant would have been more surprising than the Doctor himself?

 At the end of the episode the Doctor seems unnerved by the Bootstrap Paradox, but he's experienced the phenomenon at least twice before that I know of. It happened when the Tenth Doctor knew how to separate his TARDIS from that of the Fifth Doctor by hearing him come up with the idea in the mini episode Time Crash. It happened again in the mini episodes Space and Time, when the TARDIS materialized inside itself and the Eleventh Doctor fixed it by pressing the "wibbly lever," which he'd just heard from a version of himself from several seconds in the future.

I suppose it's possible for him to have experienced the phenomenon before and still be weirded out by it, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

1 comment:

  1. The clerical error was a reference to the fact that he was given extra regenerations by the Time Lords. By all rights, this regeneration shouldn't ever have happened. At least that's what I took it to mean.


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