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.


  • “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.

TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Under the Lake” (09.03, 2015)

Written by Toby Whithouse

Directed by Daniel O’Hara

Okay, let’s get the inevitable sonic discussion out of the way . . .

The Sonic Screwdriver has been a part of Doctor Who since at least very near the beginning back in 1963. However, it began life as a piece of alien technology that nonetheless actually did what its name would imply: it functioned as a screwdriver, just doing so with sonic vibrations instead of mechanical force. Its functions have grown since, to the point that the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors have essentially been able to use it to resolve any plot point they wished. Its appearance has changed repeatedly, and we learned from an angry Amy Pond that it is in fact a Sonic Probe rather than a screwdriver, which the Eleventh Doctor essentially said he called a screwdriver just for fun. It has really changed so much and so often that it hasn’t been the same thing. So, the Twelfth Doctor ditching it for sunglasses isn’t some sort of affront to the series’s history. Continue reading

The Best of Doctor Who: No. 5, “The God Complex” (06.11, 2011)

Written by Toby Whithouse

Directed by Nick Hurran

“I stole your childhood and now I’ve lead you by the hand to your death. But the worst thing is, I knew. I knew this would happen. This is what always happens. Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain, because I wanted to be adored. Look at you, glorious Pond. The girl who waited for me. I’m not a hero. I really am just a mad man in a box. And it’s time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams. It’s time to stop waiting.”

I was very disappointed in season six of Doctor Who. After how great season five was, the messy season that came unraveled at the end seemed pretty poor by comparison. However, it still had some wonderful moments, especially including this little disconnected one-off episode tucked away in the middle of the unraveling.

The Doctor, like any truly complex character (or actual person), contains numerous contradictions, one of which is his combination of guilt-ridden self-loathing and arrogant self-love. While the self-love is more apparent and pretty clearly a mask for his guilt–“I am so impressive!”–the self-loathing is an important part of his character and extraordinarily powerful, and his speech to Amy is one of the two strongest examples. (The other will come up later in the countdown. In fact, it will be tomorrow’s episode.)

The episode begins with a terrifying setting: a dumpy ’80s hotel, complete with cheesy music and garish decor. Slowly, the Doctor and the Ponds discover that the rooms in the hotel are filled with everyone’s greatest fears, ranging from a giant gorilla to insulting teenaged girls. A Minotaur travels the halls, somehow taking away those who finally crack from the fear (though what it does with them is completely unknown).

Eventually, the Doctor figures out that the Minotaur is feeding on people’s faith, using fear to make people cling to that faith. Amy and Rory have been safe, he says, because they don’t believe in anything. The college student believes in conspiracies, the Muslim believes in God, but Amy and Rory don’t have a faith to feed off of. And then, it finds one in Amy–her faith in the Doctor. The Doctor decides that the only way to save her from the Minotaur is to convince her to forget her faith in him, giving her the speech above. He attacks her faith, using his self-loathing, and it works. It’s a turning point in their relationship, as he for the first time loses his power over her, as she is left wondering about the accuracy of his description and perhaps for the first time recognizing how little the Doctor thinks of himself.

It’s also noteworthy how well Karen Gillan and Matt Smith play the scene. If there is one scene that makes the perfect example of how much Gillan improved over the course of her run on the show, it’s her reaction to the Doctor’s speech. And the earnestness with which Smith delivers it, countering his usual goofiness, is a significant part of why it works.

It’s an episode that gives us a fantastic horror setting and then uses it to play out an important aspect of the Doctor’s personality as well as of his relationship with Amy Pond. And it has its own sense of humor, even if it’s much more serious than most episodes. Horror with a sense of humor and an understanding of the Doctor and his relationships–what more can you expect from Doctor Who?