Doctor Who Review: “Under the Lake”

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Sinking Feeling in South Dakota

 Dear DocBlogger:

I’m so happy! It’s like old times again – just the three of us against the world. I know there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together. But in the back of my mind, I can’t shake this feeling of dread. It’s like he’s just not seeing me anymore.

Sinking Feeling in South Dakota

Dear Sinking:

It may all be in your head. Make sure his eyes are still on the prize.

DocBlogger

***

I just want to begin by saying Thank You, Team DW for a wonderful episode. Watching Under the Lake was like breathing clean mountain air: it was familiar (for those of us who live in clean mountains) and invigorating and energizing and a lot more “ands” that would probably bore you. Regardless, it was like reliving the good old days of Seasons 6 and 7 because it offered something unique and fresh.

Spoilers ahead, Sweetie…

The Episode in a Nutshell

An alien spacecraft is discovered and brought into the Drum Underwater Mining Base. As most of the crew board the empty vessel to investigate, noting strange carvings on its interior, a mysterious figure surprises one member (Pritchard), who inadvertently fires up the craft’s engines. Captain Moran pushes his deaf second in command out of harm’s way, only to die in the process. The remaining crew is then confronted by the eye-less ghost of their departed captain.

Three days later, the Tardis brings the Doctor and Clara to the underwater base. As Clara offers good-natured pleas for another adventure, the two investigate and encounter ghosts Moran and the mysterious figure. Neither harm them, instead leading the Doctor and his companion to the alien ship. After they inspect the craft’s interior, the ghosts return, only this time more “murdery.” The ghosts pick up metal weapons and attack, walk through walls, and chase the Doctor and Clara until they are saved by the crew, who are hiding in a Faraday cage that keeps the ghosts out. At this point the backstory is revealed. The base is located next to a submerged village at the bottom of a huge lake, the result of a dam that burst 20 years before. Vector Petroleum has purchased the oil rights beneath the lake and established the base, which is filled with nuclear-powered mining equipment. An artificially induced daylight program begins and we learn that the ghosts only come out at night.

Back at the alien ship, the Doctor sees that one of the power cells and a suspended animation chamber are missing. Pritchard sneaks off as the remaining crew members make their way to a command center where, by process of elimination, the Doctor determines that they are facing actually dead, proper ghosts. The base is suddenly plunged back into night mode as the Tardis’ cloister bells ring, calling the Doctor and Clara to get them away from this unnatural phenomenon. The Doctor makes a half-hearted attempt at keeping Clara in the Tardis and away from danger (“I have a duty of care”), but he knows that regardless of how the Tardis feels about it, they are both going back out there to find out who those ghosts are and what they want.

Pritchard is soon murdered by the ghosts as he attempts to grab the power cell as his booty. His ghost now appears in the mess hall, threatening Clara and another crew member until artificial daylight is restored. Back in the command center, the Doctor determines that the ghosts are learning how to use the base against them. Now-captain Cass decides that they should abandon the base but when they call topside, they discover that the ghosts have used Morse code to request a sub and emergency crews. The Doctor tells topside to cancel the order and consider the base quarantined before convincing the crew to bring on the night as the best way to determine what the ghosts are really after.

They enact a plan to trap the ghosts in the Faraday cage, at which point the Doctor enters the cage as well. Cass, reading the ghosts’ lips via camera, puzzles out that they have been silently chanting “The dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple.” The Doctor cracks the code and realizes that the chant refers to coordinates for the sunken town’s church, and that the more ghosts who chant, the stronger the signal transmitting those coordinates becomes. The crew’s scientist maneuvers an underwater sub into the church, where the missing suspended animation chamber is located and then brought aboard. It can’t be opened, but in going back to the beginning, the Doctor and Cass piece together that the markings inside the spaceship are the key. The missing pilot placed them there and surrounded them with an electromagnetic force field so once seen, they were written into a person’s brain. When that person died, his or her ghost would begin the chant and boost the signal. The Doctor is so impressed that he wants to kiss the plan itself.

Unfortunately a computer malfunction will flood the base with water within 30 seconds. They all flee for the safety of the Tardis but are separated, with Clara, Cass and Cass’ interpreter, Lunn, left on the base. The Doctor and the others board the Tardis with the intent of going back in time before the dam broke to solve the riddle and keep the malfunction from happening. As they wait Clara and her friends spot a new eye-less ghost in the lake’s depths, only to see that it is the Doctor. To Be Continued…

This Is More Like It

I really enjoyed this episode, first because of the lack of Daleks, Cybermen, and Master/Missy characters. Sure, if you thought about it too hard the plot may have seemed a little familiar (a little The Water of Mars, a little The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, a little 2014 Christmas Special) but I’m willing to forgive and forget here.

Secondly, I really liked most of these characters. I enjoyed the deaf captain and her interpreter, particularly their non-stereotypical roles and dialog. Pritchard and the scientist could have used a little more filling in around the edges, but overall, I was interested in the characters’ situation and how they handled it. And don’t get me started on the Doctor/Clara dynamic, which I believe really found its stride in this episode. I am happy to report that I cared about these folks.

Lastly, the action was well-paced and didn’t leave me winded. The writers didn’t overstuff this episode with too much action, dialog and plot, requiring a “deus ex machina” or Hail Mary pass to tie the loose ends together like in The Witch’s Familiar. It does seem like I’ll have to get used to seeing “To Be Continued” at the end of every other episode.

I do prefer my Doctor with his eyes, so I’m hoping Clara can save the day. We’ll have to tune in next week and see.

Liz Bowen, a.k.a DocBlogger

Liz Bowen is a long-time Doctor Who fan and first-time blogger living in Colorado Springs. She enjoys seeing her childhood recreated in cinematic excellence and will waste entire evenings waxing poetic about the technical beauty that is Transformers. She indulges in writing Supernatural fanfic and is working on her first original book.

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