Doctor Who: “Under the Lake”

“Under the Lake,” the third episode of season 9, is a welcome step up from last week’s disappointing “The Witch’s Familiar.” A base under siege, a spooky threat that’s actually alien in origin, a mysterious spaceship found on the ocean floor — this is practically an episode from the classic era!

The script by Toby Whithouse is pretty strong (I’ll always love him for writing “School Reunion” in season 2) and the cast is game. My only problems are, as usual for Moffat-era Doctor Who, the characterizations of Clara and the Doctor. Clara’s gung-ho “let’s have an adventure” attitude had me rolling my eyes from the get-go. I’m hoping they play more with this idea that she’s overcompensating for the loss of Danny, but given the lack of consistency from episode to episode I wouldn’t be surprised to see the whole idea dropped just as quickly as it was raised.

The Doctor is actually in fine form for most of the episode, the usual Moffatisms not withstanding (“I want to kiss it to death”? Really?). The bit with the apology cue cards, while funny, definitely allows us to check off the “Suddenly, The Doctor Doesn’t Seem To Know Anything About Humans Despite Spending 1000s Of Years Around Them” box on the Doctor Who bingo card. I think we can check off the “Overuse of Fan Wank” box, too, for the fawning crew member who’s heard of the Doctor and is a big, gushing fan. (What ever happened to the Doctor removing his name from databases all over the universe in season 7 so that history would forget about him? Oh yeah, Moffat happened.)

Like the last story, this one is also a two-parter, so I’ll have to reserve overall judgment until it’s complete. However, judging from the scenes in the teaser for next time, it appears we once again have the Doctor being certain that he’s going to die, a mere one week after a story that was pretty much all about the Doctor being certain that he was going to die (despite having a counter to Davros’s trap and an escape plan in mind from the start, apparently). But given the strength of this first part, I’m holding out hope for the second.

However, the sonic shades have got to go. They have got to go. In a TV series full of ridiculous things, the sonic shades are beyond ridiculous.

And now, a fun bit of Doctor Who neepery! One of the Doctor’s apology cue cards reads: “It was my fault, I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen.” This is a direct reference to the Fourth Doctor accidentally dropping Sarah Jane Smith off in Aberdeen instead of her home in South Croydon when she left the TARDIS at the end of the 1976 serial “The Hand of Fear.” Toby Whithouse really seems to love Sarah Jane Smith. Who can blame him? She was my first companion (I suspect she might have been his, too) and will always be the one I measure others against.

4 responses to “Doctor Who: “Under the Lake””

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    I agree with basically everything you said. Boring, but there it is!

    I am desperately ready for Jenna Coleman to find other work that is more worthy of her skills. She’s done things I found wonderful (Dalek Oswin and Victorian Clara, for example) and so it’s not her; they’ve just never figured out who the character should be and it’s far past time to move on and try again. I truly don’t think Clara is even salvageable so I don’t really even care if they say she’s overcompensating or whatever. The less she’s in the episode, the better. And again: no slight intended to Ms. Coleman. Not her fault at all.

    I do note, if you’ll forgive me, that your review credits Whithouse with everything good and saddles Moffat with everything annoying. This may indeed be the case, as the annoying bits are familiar as you point out, but I reserve judgment somewhat. The urge to drop all reason to pursue a funny line weighs on every writer and anyone can have a weak moment, I suppose.

    That said… the cue cards actually conceptually connect back at least into the Russell era; I remember in particular in Utopia when the Doctor was being particularly insensitive and Martha had to prompt him to remember he was neeping about people’s actual lives and losses. Nine was really rude, and then there was Six… and One (okay, he had the excuse of being relatively new to humans.) Okay, yeah, this time it was a little exaggerated for the joke, but in fairness, it was a funny joke…

    I came away from this one saying “now they’re doing Doctor Who” and that’s pretty much where I’m at.

    But yes. The glasses must go. Or at least make them seem in any way technological, for crying out loud. But really, just no.

    • Nick says:

      I like Clara a thousand times better with Capaldi’s Doctor than I did with Matt Smith’s, but I’m ready for a change, too. I expect she’ll be replaced with just another manic pixie dream girl anyway, though. In the end, there wasn’t much personality difference between Clara and Amy.

      Steven Moffat is the executive producer, which also makes him script editor. Obviously, there’s no way of knowing what Whithouse wrote and what Moffat added, but I have my suspicions. 😉

      The sonic shades are horrible and must go immediately!

  2. R. Francis Smith says:

    As we’ve discussed and fervently agreed before, it’s time for a male companion in the Jamie tradition. Not necessarily just him (I don’t think Jamie was ever the sole companion for any length of time, The Two Doctors notwithstanding), but yeah, one who isn’t just the boyfriend of the manic pixie dream girl (although Rory did have his moments.)

    I also would kind of like it to be someone who isn’t modern. You know. Like Jamie. 🙂

    • Nick says:

      I’m guessing there will never be a solo male companion. The Doctor plus a female companion has become too codified in the revamp.

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