Aired 10 October 2015
‘Before the Flood’ has the momentous task of providing a satisfactory resolution to last week’s ‘Under the Lake;’ not satisfied to rest on his laurels and simply offer more of the same, though, writer Toby Whithouse splits up the Doctor and Clara and offers something wholly unique. The opening half ended with the Doctor seemingly turned into a ghost and floating towards the underwater base, and ‘Before the Flood’ begins with the Doctor breaking the fourth wall while talking about Beethoven and the Bootstrap Paradox. It’s a bit jarring, but that opening exposition ties in neatly to the resolution at the end of the episode, and just like that the proper adventure begins.
Inevitably, the Doctor is a hologram projection rather than a ghost, but the story does maintain enough intrigue that the possibility of Doctor being dead remains viable. The Doctor’s exchange with his ‘ghost’ self is perfect, and special mention must be given to Peter Capaldi who continues to outshine himself with every single performance. At this point it just feels like the role of the Doctor had been waiting for him to come along, and he continues to dominate scenes with a hauntingly alien performance as he blends together kindliness and grumpiness, sharp intelligence and social cluelessness.
‘Before the Flood’ is, by design, full of answers and resolutions, and for the most part they work quite well. The Doctor and Clara are able to communicate by telephone and determine that the ghostly figure of the Doctor is silently muttering a list of names corresponding to those who have died sequentially. The dichotomy of past and future in this setting is lightly touched on but obviously proves vital to the solution. Having the two split up also allows for a nice contrast in settings and the Doctor explores the abandoned Scottish village, although naturally the claustrophobic tension just isn’t as palpable outside as in the base. In fact, it is in this village that ‘Before the Flood’ falls into something of a trap; the ghosts are already very successful antagonistic forces, but clearly there was a desire to up the ante and to offer an even bigger threat as the curtains were pulled back. Thus the Fisher King makes an appearance, and as good as he looks and as threatening as he is, he really doesn’t add that much to the story in the long run and just diverts attention from the already-solid ghost story.
Fortunately, the ghosts aren’t completely sidelined, though, and they still offer plenty of drama when allowed to roam the base. This episode sees Clara and the remainder of the base’s crew locked in the Faraday cage, seemingly safe from the ghostly incursion. When the designated telephone is left outside, Zaqi Ishmail’s character is the one selected to retrieve it since the writing of the ghosts is not in his mind. Considering that it isn’t one of the TARDIS crew in danger, everyone does an impressive job in displaying the tension pervading this situation, both for themselves and for the audience.
In the previous episode, the cloister bells were ringing to prove the severity of the situation, and this time the TARDIS does not allow the Doctor to travel to Clara to save her as he so routinely would otherwise. Instead, he lands about thirty minutes earlier in his own past, leading to his confrontation with the Fisher King and his eventual escape back to the present by suspended animation chamber, in the process tying up another loose end.
‘Before the Flood’ had a lot to accomplish in its running time, and it did so quite well while continuing to take risks and not just offering more of the same. More questions were raised for the future (especially about who the Minister of War is), but the answers provided all make sense and form a logical conclusion to the underlying mystery at hand. Another mention of Clara being changed by traveling with the Doctor is again made, but this moment is fleeting and, at least for this episode, has no real bearing. Overall, though, this is a strong second half to a fantastic story and together these episodes again prove just how beneficial the extended format can be to Doctor Who in this era.