Doctor Who: “Before the Flood”

“Before the Flood” is the second part of the second two-parter in a season that will be all two-parters, because Steven Moffat has heard your complaints about the lack of two-parters in seasons 7 and 8 (minus the finale), which would have given the stories room to breathe (and also make sense), and he has decreed, “You dare to criticize me? Fuck you, now you get a season of all two-parters!”* And then he curled up in a ball and cried and wondered why he’s still executive producing this show, just like a lot of us are wondering. Anyway…

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

The previous week’s episode, “Under the Lake,” was pretty good and set up an interesting, semi-supernatural mystery. The conclusion, “Before the Flood,” wasn’t quite as good, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be. You see, I guessed the Doctor was in the stasis chamber pretty much right away, because I know how this show works now, its formula has become all but set in stone, but I was expecting some timey-wimey bullshit to be the explanation. Instead, it actually made logical sense this time! (Although I suspect it was not a surprise to anyone else, either.)

In this episode we get to see the Doctor facing certain, unavoidable death in a way that puts the events of the lake in Utah, Trenzalore, and even just the previous story in this very season, to shame. Here, the Doctor just fucking deals with it instead of all that nonsense we’ve seen before — no confession dial, no weeks of partying beforehand, no all of time and space in jeopardy, just quiet resignation of his fate and the hope that he can save Clara before it’s too late. I like seeing the Doctor try to figure a way out while understanding that history can’t be changed, rather than breaking that rules with timey-wimey nonsense to save himself at the last minute. (I’m looking rather pointedly at the two of you, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and “The Wedding of River Song.”) This story gets many, many points for not letting the Doctor use time travel as a way out, which always comes off feeling cheap.

Another thing I liked in this episode was the Fisher King, the presumed dead but not really dead alien in the Tivoli hearse. Not only was the creature itself very well designed, but they let it be really, really intelligent instead of just scary. I loved how it knew about the Time Lords and threw the Doctor’s unwillingness to change the future back in his face. Good stuff.

Also, the electric guitar version of the theme song? Please make that the actual, recurring theme song! It’s leagues ahead of the shrill, electronic version they’re using now.

Unfortunately, parts of the episode felt stale to me. It wasn’t just that I knew how the stasis chamber was going to play out (although that felt like it was right out of “The Pandorica Opens” in season 5), but other elements, too. O’Donnell’s nerdy excitement that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than the outside ought to have been joyously contagious, except we’ve seen it so many damn times already that I really think from now on they’d be better off not having anyone say anything about it at all. O’Donnell’s off the cuff mention of the Doctor’s previous companions Rose, Martha, and Amy also felt weird to me. Usually I like these kinds of callbacks, but — the fact that everyone was supposed to have forgotten about the Doctor during his season 7 computer memory banks wipe aside — the show feels so different now from the days of Rose and Martha that it felt jarring to hear their names. I felt strangely protective, like, “You don’t deserve to talk about them anymore, show!” Which is pretty ridiculous of me, I admit.

I didn’t care for the opening monologue. Not all the stuff about Beethoven and the bootstrap paradox, that was interesting, but rather the way it felt entirely removed from everything else in the episode. A smarter script would have integrated that speech into a scene with Clara or maybe O’Donnell and Bennett so the call back at the end would feel more deserved. As it was, it felt completely outside of the story, and if you were to trim both the monologue and the callback nothing about the episode would be any different.

Lastly, with the Doctor’s ghost turning out to be a hologram he projected from his sonic sunglasses** there’s a sense of disappointment when we learn that part of his message was just randomly ordered names. Why not just end the list with Clara’s name? It would have had the same result, without the verbal shrug of admitting the rest was added for no reason. It makes the Doctor’s plan sound sloppier than it was, and makes the script feel unnecessarily manipulative.

Overall, not a bad story, but it could have used some polishing and more fresh moments. The show might benefit from having someone who can go through the scripts and cross things off that have been done to death already.

Oh, and one last note: I’m wondering if the “Minister of War” reference will be this year’s “Bad Wolf,” with hints of things to come.

 

 

*To be fair, though, I think a season of all two-parters might be a good thing in terms of allowing the stories more time to develop, like those old four-parters of the classic series.

** The sonic sunglasses have to go. They have to go. Changing the screwdriver to shades does not mitigate the show’s over reliance on a sonic device, it just alters the shape of the device. This is no fix. If you want to get rid of the sonic screwdriver, have the guts to actually get rid of it.

2 responses to “Doctor Who: “Before the Flood””

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    And now to be truly boring: I pretty much agree across the board.

    I will say that I was gripped with fear (well, so to speak) most of the episode that they were going to cheat. I actually am willing to accept Wedding of River Song… sort of… but only because I compare it to Time of the Doctor, where they just outright cheated with no excuse. I told my family that when the Doctor is lecturing Clara about how there’s no way around it, he has to die, that she should say only one word to him: “Trenzalore.”

    And then they didn’t cheat — or rather, the Doctor completely did, fulfilling the observable terms of his locked-in future without it being all bad and stuff, so sort of like a Wedding of River Song except making actual sense and without all the “all of time and space collapses into one thing!” nonsense. They also had poor Bennett _not_ go the Father’s Day route and I thought that was a nice avoidance of revisiting a plotline (although it made the whole “we see ourselves!” weirdly pointless, unless I missed some significance of it.)

    So yeah, I was pretty happy, even though, as you say, it was so completely obvious that the Doctor was in the suspended animation chamber that my daughters saw it coming. And that would have been fine (indeed, by the time it happened, the plot had made it inevitable, as there wasn’t anyone left for it to be) if he’d just hopped out without all the attempts to build it up, said “okay, now we need to capture some ghosts” and scooted off to the next thing without all the directorial indulgence. Again… less is more.

    I think by classic standards this was a good horror story, maaaaaybe even worthy of the Holmes era on an off day, maybe, and while there was a fair bit of running about there was also some time to talk it out and let it breathe. The deaf character was clearly a macguffin but I don’t care, I appreciated her being there and she was given a personality and intelligence and agency and everything. The intro discussion was, as you said, a little disconnected, but apparently that’s just a thing for Twelve (remember Listen, for example) that we’ll have from time to time. I paused after it to make sure the kids at least loosely got Bootstrap Paradox as clearly it was going to come up, but then when it did it was so mundanely Doctor Who (c’mon, there’s no even counting paradoxes of that sort in the show) that it seemed like they needn’t have even mentioned it except clearly the writer really wanted to. Fine, fine.

    And plugging the glasses into the control board really was the last straw. I look forward to their shattery demise.

    R

    • Nick says:

      I can accept nothing in “The Wedding of River Song.” After all this hubbub about how the Doctor MUST die because it’s a fixed point in time and if he doesn’t the universe will contract into nothing, he cheats death anyway with a robot duplicate. Unacceptable.

      The sonic shades cannot be shattered fast enough. Like, just start the next episode with someone stepping on them.

      I agree there was no real reason to go back in time half an hour, except to show how much Bennett wanted to save O’Donnell. So okay, character moment, fair enough. Not everything has to be plot heavy.

      I think in “Listen” the monologue worked because it was about talking to yourself when no one was around. Who was the Doctor talking to here? He was looking directly at the camera, as if to say he’s talking to the audience, but what’s the point of that? Maybe they’ll call back to it later in the season to explain, but I kind of doubt it.

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