TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Before the Flood” (09.04, 2015)

Written by Toby Whithouse

Directed by Daniel O’Hara

For the second time this season we had a two-episode story arc. Historically, Doctor Who‘s stories have typically not been single-episodes contained, but the new series has been much more interested in single-episode arcs. Since Moffat has been in charge, there’s been a pattern for most seasons that he writes a season-long arc of about five episodes that begin and end the season with an episode or two in the middle. It hasn’t been completely unwilling to use multi-episodic stories, but it’s still interesting that there are two of them opening this season.

The last episode ended with the cliffhanger of the Doctor’s “ghost” appearing before Clara. That particular cliffhanger is a little difficult to swallow just because it’s part of the show’s formula that people assign supernatural, known explanations to things that are really just alien or futuristic and unknown. The one thing we definitely knew that the “ghosts” were not is ghosts, which means that the Doctor’s “ghost” is a sign that the Doctor eventually figures it out, not a sign of his death. However, it was interesting watching the Doctor trying to puzzle everything out based on what the “ghost” was doing. He had to use his own solution to discover his solution.

And that’s why this episode began with a discussion of a time-traveling paradox. The Doctor ends the episode by essentially recreating that paradox. It’s rather obvious and predictable, but it’s also fantastic fun. Is it a new idea for a time-travel show? No. But it’s still an idea that’s interesting and fun to watch, and this episode does a good job of using its narrative structure to hide enough from us that we can’t see every step coming. I often commented that Breaking Bad was really interesting in that the end of an arc was clear but the way it got there was so circuitous that it still remained surprising. This episode pulls the same trick.

The Fisher King is really nothing more than a MacGuffin, and that’s good because he’s really an uninteresting villain. It’s an update of a legend that has already been updated many, many times (the Fisher King legend–at least they didn’t try to hide it!) and really doesn’t include any surprises in its update. And the monster itself looks pretty similar to the Predator–enough that it really is strikingly unoriginal. It’s a nicely-built suit and doesn’t look cheesy, but it’s fairly sci-fi standard.

The preparation for Clara’s exit continues, with people asking if she has become willing to risk others’ lives because of her time with the Doctor. The Doctor’s questioning of her was a bit much before but this is such a direct, obvious reference that it’s frankly annoying. I don’t mind laying the groundwork for getting rid of Clara–that’s better than having it come out of the blue. But they could be more subtle.

All told, this episode was one of the more straightforward, traditional sci-fi episodes of Doctor Who that you can ever see, with all the good and the bad that contains. It’s not the series at its best, but it works well enough.

Notes

  • “Or how to drink liquids” made me laugh. You knew the last one was going to be something important and weird but it was still surprising and hilarious.
  • The Fisher King isn’t really a fun or interesting legend to me, so I think it’s drastically overused, and Doctor Who has used similar ideas enough that they don’t feel interesting.
  • I guess I have to get used to the Sonic Glasses.
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