Warning: This post contains spoilers for Before the Flood.
Saturday night saw the latest two-parter conclude as the Doctor scrambled to foil the Fisher King's plan. In the process, we saw the smashing to pieces of the fourth wall, references to future stories and the quite frankly despicable theft of an iPhone by a ghost. Not to mention: who really composed Beethoven's Fifth? Here's what our team thought:
Before the Flood, huh? On one level, this was an impressively ballsy episode that set the stall out by beginning with a scene that broke the fourth wall, and gave us the Doctor Who theme played on guitar. This was a narratively ambitious instalment, and there's moments where that ambition really sparks to create something special. Unfortunately, there's critical flaws here, and this is an episode that missed the mark on some key points. The Fisher King, despite a laudable design and vocal performance, was a vaguely defined dud with garbled and unclear motivations and a pitiful amount of screen-time - and the scenes on the Drum, while frequently tense, relied entirely on character stupidity and irritating contrivances. Still, it's hard to slate an episode that smoothly integrates the bootstrap paradox into the conclusion, and Toby Whithouse has to be congratulated for genuinely trying to innovate in this second instalment. It's a decent episode, then, but certainly an inferior instalment to its predecessor. 7/10
Ben (Assistant Editor)
Although the action is taken back onto dry land, none of what made Under The Lake so successful is missing from Before The Flood. The crew that we grew to love are still just as likeable, and the threat from the ghosts continue as we uncover their dastardly plan. Whilst there are a few elements of this episode that I didn’t enjoy - Prentice the irritating Tivolian and the unnecessary romantic twist at the end - there were enough scares and thrills along the way to keep me excited. The use of time travel in this episode is perhaps the most successful in a while, with the Doctor’s influence giving us satisfying conclusions to the story’s plot. The one disappointment for me was the Fisher King. Although it scared the you-know-what out of my mother, it barely made an impression on me. Whilst the upper half was mildly frightening, the humanoid legs spoilt it for me, making it feel more Scooby Doo than I have come to expect from Doctor Who. Overall this episode was a good conclusion for the two parter and has once again proven that Doctor Who can be scary and entertaining at the same time, but there were a few too many irritating elements for me to fully enjoy it. 7/10
Owen (Instagram & News)
The tension that bolted high throughout Under The Lake continued within Before The Flood - but in a more, methodical, original and exciting way. Yes, it had more problems with the over-complicated and sloppy conclusion, and some rather unnecessary added tweaks that muddled the pacing and chronology, but for the most-part, Before The Flood was as-strong, maybe even stronger that its first part. For me, it understood fear in a sophisticated and marvelous way, the fear wasn't bound to cliche jump-scares, but the fascinating horrors of time-travel. Whilst severely underused, The Fisher King was quite possibly my favourite new villain since The Weeping Angels, unnerving, pale and almost spiritual, it felt horror has been reborn in Doctor Who with quiet and subtle unease. 8.5/10
Before the Flood concluded a good overall mystery story. There was a puzzle that slowly had to be joined together and it wasn’t until the final TARDIS scene that we were fully enlightened. Even then it turns out the there was something bizarrely greater behind the plot, hence the opening monologue where the Doctor gives us an understanding of the ‘bootstrap paradox’ (which as he suggests is worth googling). If I was to be really harsh I could say that I wouldn’t have minded seeing a whole episode dedicated to the Doctor’s adventure with Beethoven (I’m thinking of Series 5’s ‘Vincent’) but as it is we got something far lengthier which still managed to be pretty vague. Undeniably there was some quality throughout, the whole cast contributed to this, but plot wise I felt there were too many convenient moments that shouldn’t have been necessary given the length of two episodes. The Fisher-King is a formidable monster but I felt they could have done so much more with him, there was a lack of gore which left the chilling soundtrack begging (where was the venomous, spiked, purple tongue when O’Donnel is killed?) The romantic angle towards the end was a bit mawkish, too obviously thrown in to balance Bennett’s personal tragedy. Still, eventually there was something pretty cool about the Doctor explaining how he was incredibly clever followed by the revelation that in fact he was beyond incredibly clever. His cheeky shrug at us is ultimately well deserved. 7.5/10
Something incredible is happening in Doctor Who this year. Four episodes and two stories in with barely a foot out of place. With some heavy arc related stuff coming in The Girl Who Died, this is the last episode we’re going to get without major plot hints obscuring our vision of the core story. The direction is wonderful, easily guiding us through the tale being spun by Toby Whithouse. We get given loads of character development with a still fast moving pace to the plot via Clara and Cass. The Doctor’s ghost is incredibly creepy and it never strikes you that he could be a hologram. The Fisher King is slightly underused and it seems strange that, with a name like that, he can drown. It’s also strange, but not totally misguided, to see Cass and Lunn get together at the end of the episode. Beethoven’s Fifth may seem like a stroke of genius now but I think there’s a lot more to it than what we saw. Perhaps sit down and watch this again once Hell Bent has aired because there are more call forwards than you might think. 9/10
Another two parter, another victory for Series 9 of Doctor Who. When the announcement of two parters to make up the majority of S9 was revealed, there was reason to be skeptical; this sort of series structure can lead to the pacing of the narrative to feel stretched and thin, especially if overused. The 4 episodes so far in S9 have followed this structure, yet have gone a long way to diminishing S8's lack of a cohesive story arc. Having these recent 4 episodes so tightly woven together is a giant leap by the writing team in Moffat's reign, an era that for me has been without the narrative strength of the RTD days. This is an experiment that so far is mightily successful. In regards to the two parter consisting of UTL and BTF, it is incredibly difficult to decide which is best. Both are wildly different from each other; UTL the tenser of the two, rife with a damp and terrifying atmosphere in a claustrophobic setting. That is not to say that BTF lacks an engaging atmosphere, far from it, its tone is equally as dark and dangerous as its brother, but this week's episode is one for the brain, not necessarily the heart. This is no more clearer than in the opening, featuring The Doctor elaborating on a concept called the Bootstrap Paradox. Toby Whithouse does a superb job of explaining these tricky concepts without burdening the episode with their existence, they simply serve to encapsulate the episode's plot in a neat ribbon. The complexity of the episode deserves a lot of credit for its execution, but unfortunately it does dampen the heart pounding atmosphere created by the previous episode.
Luckily, BTF stands on its own two feet with great pride and so should the cast, Peter at his brilliant best once again, Jenna the ever wonderful Clara and surrounded by an equally excellent supporting group of characters, no more so than Sophie Stone as Cass. Her implementation into the story as a deaf character is executed so smoothly that I ultimately forgot at times a character with a disability was even present in the show, she simply became one of the group, an achievement both Whithouse and the BBC should take great pleasure in. All of this excellent build up however does not finish with the cleanest landing. The Fisher King, whilst undoubtedly one of the greatest creations of the BBC costume department, does not get his chance in the limelight, defeated by a simple bait and switch by The Doctor. There was an opportunity here to create a truly memorable villain; hopefully he can somehow return one day to become as such. It is testament then to the strength of the atmosphere, acting and narrative that the ending does not hamper the overall excellence of the episode. I can safely say that, following on from the end of my last review, Whithouse has truly redeemed himself in Doctor Who. 9/10
Our team's average totals out at precisely 8/10, slightly down on Under the Lake and the lowest score of the series so far (we're expecting a Sun article tomorrow morning on the ratings crisis). You can see our team's Series 9 leaderboard so far:
- The Magician's Apprentice - 9.25/10
- The Witch's Familiar - 8.92/10
- Under the Lake - 8.2/10
- Before the Flood - 8/10
We'll have a spoiler-free preview for The Girl Who Died up tomorrow, and our spoiler-filled team review will be up Tuesday!