Doctor Who – “Before the Flood”

A twisted survival plan is pieced together by an alien warlord called the Fisher King.

The universe will feel the consequence. Can these events be stopped? Can the Doctor ensure the future’s coming and do the impossible?

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Before the Flood.

X X X X X

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara – Jenna Coleman
Moran – Colin McFarlane
Cass – Sophie Stone
Lunn – Zaqi Ismail
O’Donnell – Morven Christie
Bennett – Arsher Ali
Pritchard – Steven Robertson
Albar Prentis – Paul Kaye
Fisher King – Neil Fingleton
Voice of Fisher King – Peter Serafinowicz
Roar of Fisher King – Corey Taylor

Writer: Toby Whithouse
Director: Daniel O’Hara

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwSQlJmBS2w

Gifs by: J-Ru

X X X X X

“A causal loop is a paradox of time travel that occurs when a later (future) event is the cause of an earlier (past) event, through some sort of time travel. The past event is then partly or entirely the cause of the future event, which is the past event’s cause. Since a causal loop has no independent origin, it is also called a bootstrap paradox, predestination paradox or ontological paradox.[citation needed]” – Wikipedia

“Google it.” – The Doctor

I don’t quite know what to make of Before the Flood. It’s a story packed with some memorable moments and neat twists, but instead of allowing the audience to figure things out for themselves, the script relies on the “tell don’t show” method which is accompanied by the outright smashing of the fourth wall at one point. Add to that the criminal waste of an awesome looking (and sounding) alien menace and Before the Flood combines with its predecessor to make a merely adequate two parter.

Clara sees the Doctor’s ghost hovering in the water during the climax of Under the Lake, which must mean that the Doctor will die during his trip to the abandoned military base in 1980. The Doctor is willing to accept this fact (“this regeneration was a clerical error”) in order to keep the Web of Time intact. But what he won’t accept is Clara’s death, and for that he’ll change history. But as the Doctor enacts his plan to defeat the alien menace and Clara does her best to ensure she keeps him alive, the surviving crew members of the Drum have to ask themselves, who is the bigger threat; the warlord known as the Fisher King, or the Time Lord and his companion?

Toby Whithouse’s script focuses more on the time-travel elements and the tensions between the crew of the Drum and the crew of the TARDIS than it does on the Fisher King, the villain who’s behind the writing on the wall of the spaceship and the use of sentient souls as a transmitter booster. The episode opens with the Doctor directly addressing the audience (as opposed to the Doctor alone in the TARDIS just talking to himself ala Listen and Storm Warning) by using Beethoven’s music to explain what a “bootstrap paradox” is – someone in the future is a huge fan of Beethoven’s music, so they get in a time machine to go back and visit the composer in Vienna. Once arriving in Vienna, the time traveller comes to discover that there never was a composer named Ludwig von Beethoven. However, the time traveller just happens to have all of the sheet music to Beethoven’s symphonies which he had hoped to get autographed. The time traveller has the sheet music published, and viola! Ludwig von Beethoven is known as one of history’s greatest composers. But, there’s one very important question. Who wrote the music in the first place?

This type of paradox is known as a “causal loop” but also called a “bootstrap paradox” after its use in the Robert Heinlein story By His Bootstraps. The bootstrap paradox has been used in numerous stories and movies, including The Terminator and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The Doctor’s explanation of the bootstrap paradox during the cold open flat out tells the audience what to expect while watching this story and what to look out for. The flat out shattering of the fourth wall is something that happens very rarely in Doctor Who. Whithouse does more than shatter the fourth wall; he drops a fusion bomb on it. It’s the kind of scene that would have worked betted as a Red Nose Day skit or a webisode, not as the cold open to the second episode of a two-parter. Not only is it incredibly on the nose and takes the viewer out of the moment but it robs the episode of a lot of its of mystery. Everyone knows the Doctor is going to live, so half the fun of Before the Flood comes from the viewer discovering over the course of episode HOW the Doctor is going to live. Flat out stating “he survives because of a bootstrap paradox, and oh here’s what a bootstrap parabox is” mitigates that enjoyment a bit…or, flat out says to the audience “you’re not going to understand this, so let me hit you with the clue-by-four.” Both would come about from a failure in scriptwriting, and we all know Whithouse is more talented than this. Granted, everything DOES come together at the end in a way that makes narrative sense, but the ending scene also contains a little bit of heavy-handed exposition from the Doctor to tie everything up. A good script wouldn’t need to tack on a scene like this; it would come out naturally during the episode. Compare the time-travel aspects of Before the Flood to the “timey-wimey” aspects of Blink] and how each script explains them to the audience, and one can see how this episode lags behind. The first-person stuff works within the context of the story and was well-shot and handled, it just felt out of place and could have been handled a little less on-the-nose.

There is a point where Whithouse’s script succeeds very well. Drawing upon the same themes from The God Complex, Whithouse focuses on how the survivors of the Drum view the Doctor and Clara. While both of them are trying to save the remaining crew members, their attitudes and methods both draw valid criticisms. The Doctor realizes that the ghosts, who are now chanting the names of the crew members, are chanting these names in the order that the crew members have died, and possibly will die. When the Doctor reveals this to Bennett (the scientist) after O’Donnell (the fangirl with sort-of-funny anger issues) died, Bennett blasts him for it, proclaiming that the Doctor let O’Donnell die to prove his theory and that the only reason the Doctor is now gung-ho about changing history and not being the next to die is because Clara’s name is next on the list. Viewers who’ve seen Deep Breath and Into the Dalek might be on Bennett’s side in this one. Did the Doctor have a theory and decided to let O’Donnell die to prove it because time had already been written? Did the Doctor decided to say “screw time” and try to save Clara by any means necessary? Viewers know the Doctor does what he can to save every life possible, so it’s very interesting to consider how “possible” is defined by the Twelfth Doctor.

To that end, Peter Capaldi does a great job as the Doctor in this episode, easily one of the highlights. Sometimes, the Doctor has to be a heartless pragmatist. Sometimes, he has to be the man who stops the monsters. And sometimes, he just had to be the coolest teacher in the room and show his companion an the bad guys a thing or two. For its flaws, Under the Lake/Before the Flood could serve as a great “introduction” story for newcomers to the series for its time-travel aspects but also for the fact that both stories nail everything both good and bad about the Doctor – a clever alien who values all life and does everything he can to save it, but because he’s an alien acts on a logical plane different from ours while changing people around him, convincing them to take risks and enjoy the thrill of danger. Putting aside the Doctor insisting that he has to die and his assurances to keep both the Web of Time and Clara’s life intact, the scene in the basement of the church (which was incredibly well shot by director Daniel O’Hara) where the Doctor confronts the Fisher King is a perfect example of how the Doctor deals with monsters; by giving them an out, and then breaking them down while working out how to defeat them. And then, the running about and bringing everything all together to close the story out. It’s textbook Who mixed with Capaldi’s cool take on the Twelfth Doctor, though one part threw me a bit – just how casually the Doctor accepted he would have to die when Clara told him there was a ghost. It might be that this season’s theme is “Death and the Doctor,” but that one scene felt just a little rushed as if the script said “and the Doctor realizes he has to die, moving on!”

Back in the Drum, Jenna Coleman takes the “Clara is the Doctor” ball and runs with it this episode. She demands the Doctor not die, telling him to fight with everything he has to ensure he comes back to her, channeling the Doctor’s constant attempts to find the one shining thread of hope and pull on it for all its worth. More importantly for the story, when the ghosts cut off the lines of communication between her and the Doctor Clara is the one who deduces that since Lunn never saw the words inside the spaceship, he could go retrieve the cell phone and not be harmed by the ghost. While Cass protests in her position of commanding officer and friend, Clara convinces Lunn’s that putting himself in harm’s way is the only way to ensure the Doctor can save the day. Lunn chooses to go, much to Cass’ dismay (with some absolutely great British Sign Language moments from Cass who still conveys her emotions for those who don’t know BSL), and she lets Clara know in no uncertain terms that she believes “the Doctor changes people.” Clara kind of blows it off, which I think works as we’ve seen Clara start to become more like the Doctor, especially in her talk about fighting death and living life (but still no mention of Danny Pink!). I’m intrigued to see how it ties into Clara’s story arc in her final season, although knowing it’s her final season does take a bit of the mystery out of it.

Making Under the Lake/Before the Flood a two-parter gives viewers a chance to care about the crew of the Drum. Knowing a bit about the surviving members gives their final fates during this episode emotional weight, and Whithouse succeeds in not bogging down the characters with too much exposition or baggage to distract from the rest of the story. We get why these people care for each other, and makes O’Donnell’s death mean a little more when it follows a moment like this when she experiences the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.

And I’m a sap because this scene was so damn cute, I may have rewound it once or twice.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the episode for me was that we didn’t get to see more of this guy, the Fisher King.

It’s an awesome design, and O’Hara utilizes the shadows in the basement of the church to keep him hidden away until his big reveal. It’s a vast improvement over the alien from The Caretaker. Maybe it was because of the difficulty of using the design more, or maybe it’s the script focusing more on the time-travel aspects, but we only really get a stand-off between the Doctor and the Fisher King in the basement before he gets washed away in a deluge of water. It’s a criminal waste of Peter Serafinowicz, best known for his cameo appearance as Howell in the BBC series Black Books

Oh, and also for serving as the voice actor for Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, Funky Pete from Shaun of the Dead, Denarian “They got my dick message” Saal from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Italian (or maybe British?) agent Aldo from Spy. Seriously, an actor this cool and amazing, I demand to see more of him!

Under the Lake is a great episode and Before the Flood just doesn’t click as well. Two-parters are a bit tricky to pull off – writers get more time to tell the story, but there’s also the risk of padding or rushing the plot along. This story wastes a good villain while laying out the time-travel aspects at the very beginning, robbing the veiwers of some of the story’s mystery. There are a few tense moments and some lighthearted scenes, mixed with Peter Capaldi putting on a masterclass in portraying the Doctor. Before the Flood is still worth a watch, but overall…

(That’s right, he’s the real Doctor, much like Norm MacDonald is the real Colonel Sanders)

Random Thoughts
– As much as I didn’t care for the cold open, the musical accompaniment and Capaldi playing an electric guitar was pretty damn cool.
– Clara realizing that she was calling out for Cass, who was deaf, and calling herself an idiot.
– I can only take the Tivolians in small amounts. Prentiss almost gave me an overdose.
– The screaming Capaldi ghost. Whoa.

– Still love the sonic sunglasses. I make no apologies.
– This scene, which could have been the modern day equivalent of Harry stalking Sarah Jane in Terror of the Zygons. It’s a FANTASTIC use of sound and dramatic tension ruined slightly by Cass touching the floor and gaining Daredevil’s “radar sense” for a moment.

Cobi’s Synopsis – The time-travel aspects are neat and Peter Capaldi is on top of his game, but Before the Flood’s script is too on-the-nose with the explanations and doesn’t give its main villain enough screentime.

Next up – Captured by Vikings, the Doctor and Clara must help protect their village from space warriors from the future…

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…The Girl Who Died.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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2 Responses to Doctor Who – “Before the Flood”

  1. Cygnia says:

    Doing the screams of the Fisher King was Corey Taylor from Slipknot, btw…

  2. You’re absolutely right about the script telling rather than showing. The moment that bothered me was when Clara explains to Cass and Lunn why the ghosts didn’t kill him in the previous episode. We’d already been told that without needing it stated directly. It ground the narrative to a halt at a moment when the tension should have been building.

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