Doctor Who Review: “Before the Flood”

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Puzzled in Pennsylvania

Dear DocBlogger:

He’s such a risk taker, but sometimes I don’t think he realizes how much of a risk I’m taking too. He does things he knows he shouldn’t for all the right reasons, then won’t do things he should for all the wrong ones. It’s like he’s this paradox.

Puzzled in Pennsylvania

Dear Puzzled:

It sounds like he’s taking his own advice. Help him pull himself up by his bootstraps.

DocBlogger

***

Before the Flood reached out to me, grabbed me by the shirt and shook me around, then threw me back into the sofa and dared me to question its authority in the first 10 minutes. I looked around to get the license plate of the truck that just hit me. More on my thoughts concerning the format and content of the introductory scene in a bit, but I’ll tell you, I don’t ever want to be in the bathroom when another Doctor Who episode starts.

Spoilers ahead, Sweetie…

The Episode in a Nutshell

After the prologue, the Doctor, O’Donnell and Bennett exit the Tardis in the 1980s, where they determine that their town is an abandoned Cold War military training area. The spaceship is actually a hearse and the “mole guy” is a funeral director named Prentis who has come to bury his charge, the Fisher King, in a desolate outpost (a.k.a. Earth).

Back in the future, Clara shows the Doctor his ghost via FaceTime. Our Doctor immediately concedes that he must die, at which point Clara gives him her perfunctory “you can’t leave me like this” speech to incent him to do whatever it takes to change the future (one of those unbroken rules that, to her point, seem to get broken so regularly that perhaps it’s really more of a guideline). The Doctor realizes that his ghost is chanting a list of people that ultimately are determined to be a death order.

Curiously, the Fisher King awakens and kills Prentis and then O’Donnell. Bennett rightly gives the Doctor hell over it, seeing as how the Doctor didn’t really try to prevent her death and instead seemed to be testing the death order theory. The Doctor takes his licking but explains that he isn’t going to change history to save himself; he’s going to do it to save Clara, as she’s next on the list. At that point O’Donnell’s ghost appears back at the submerged base and takes off with the phone. Clara sends Lunn after it as the ghosts won’t harm him since he never saw the spaceship’s message and can’t be a beacon.

The Doctor and the Fisher King face off with lots of male ego and posturing (it’s my planet, you can’t have it). Since the Fisher King bent the rules of life and death, the Doctor decides he doesn’t care about the outcome of his time tinkering. He tells his adversary that he has changed the message etched into the spaceship, so no more beacons. When the Fisher King goes to check, he realizes that one of the ship’s power cells is missing just as the dam explodes, the town is flooded and he is killed (again?).

The Tardis decides to behave and all are reunited back at the base. The ghosts are trapped in the Faraday cage and the ghost Doctor is revealed to be a hologram which, after remembering the Clara hologram trick in Under the Lake, must have caused tens of thousands (if not millions) of facepalms around the world. Sonic sunglasses are used to scrub the message from our merry band and Bennett encourages Lunn to confess his love for Cass, as he never had a chance to do with O’Donnell.

TImey What?

Friends this was a very interesting episode on many levels. Let’s start with the first scene. You know how in Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me, Powers goes “cross-eyed” with the implications of going back in time to visit himself and Basil calms him by cooing, “I suggest you don’t worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself” and then breaks the fourth wall by addressing the audience and adding “That goes for you all too”? That was the first 10 minutes of this episode for me. The Doctor addressed us personally to explain why going back into one’s own time stream is such a horrendously bad idea. The “bootstrap paradox” basically gives us a “which came first?” understanding of what might happen when one goes back in time and, armed with knowledge of future events, creates that future. I don’t know which one of those actions – the Doctor having a private conversation with me or explaining how he may or may not be Ludvig Von Beethoven – was more astounding.

The question is: “why?” This was a full-frontal in terms of directly engaging the audience. We had seen little peeks of similar behavior from this Doctor, but this was such a shift. The dialog could have easily been created as an interchange between the Doctor and Clara in the concluding wrap-up. That’s always been one of the companion’s main functions – to decode the Doctor for us mere mortals at home. Perhaps we are being weaned away from Clara and will continue to get what we need straight from the Doctor’s mouth.

Initially, while I loved the form and function of the “bootstrap paradox” explanation at the beginning of this episode, reverse engineering a solution based on making a fake version of your supposed dead body, then using a Beethoven metaphor to explain why it’s okay, seemed a little like cheating. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was a distinctively Doctor Who approach to solving a problem. While we don’t see when the Doctor realized that he wasn’t looking at his ghost and he didn’t have to die, I am confident that watching the phone’s screen somehow clued him in on the fact that he’s looking at a genius idea he is about to have.

I found another little jewel in the interchange between Cass and Clara when the latter urges Lunn to go after the missing phone. Cass is furious and points out that traveling with the Doctor has taught Clara to have no qualms with putting other people at risk. Clara replies that it has actually taught her to do what needs to be done. This was like a revelation. She was freely admitting what I was griping about in my first blog of the season – at some point, the “no one will die today” mantra that is pivotal to our Doctor’s empathy for humankind was abandoned for “the ends justifies the means.”

And let’s talk about the now-recurring theme concerning the Doctor’s eminent death. I won’t pretend to completely understand how it reconciled in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, but here we are, face to face with a dead Doctor who then sends our live Doctor into a tailspin. He quickly accepts of his impending doom. “I have to die,” he says, because even the tiniest change to past events that are certain can be catastrophic. This season seems to be preoccupied with having us think the boys across the pond might kill off the one character we know isn’t going to die. It would make more sense to create that kind of tension over the Doctor’s companion. Let’s face it; Clara has a shelf life, but the Doctor, well we’re all certain he’s going to make it to next week. It’s an interesting piece of the puzzle that is Season 9.

Under the Lake/Before the Flood offered some really good Doctor Who TV. I can’t wait to tune in next week and see where this season takes us.

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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