Under the Lake

Every time I think it couldn’t get more extraordinary, it surprises me. It’s impossible. I hate it. It’s evil. It’s astonishing. I want to kiss it to death.

The Twelfth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Clara try to help when an underwater base comes under attack.

Review

Under the Lake is a base under siege story, something which has been a staple of Doctor Who since the Troughton era of the show. What happens here though is an interesting twist on the idea, and the story really revels in having two parts to play with.

Toby Whithouse presents us with s story that the audience thinks they’ve seen before but manages to compress a classic base under siege story into a two part structure. The two part format allows the story room to breathe, giving the Doctor and Clara time to explore the base before they encounter the ghosts of Moran and Prentis, as well as later on in the story where the Doctor and the crew are allowed time to postulate what the ghosts are and how they work. It’s a tightly driven narrative and it does romp along at a fairly decent pace, slightly losing its way around the middle but it manages to regain it before the cliffhanger. The cliffhanger is slightly obvious – a new ghost appears and it is of the Doctor, meaning that something must have happened in the past – and is a slight problem with credibility after seeing Clara die in the cliffhanger to The Magician’s Apprentice, but this is at least an interesting twist on it. Whithouse also doesn’t bow to the temptation to separate the Doctor and the TARDIS in the usual way, whilst maintaining there are reasons why return would not be easy, and these leads to the split of the Doctor, Clara and the crew of the Drum towards the end of the episode which is an interesting twist. The idea that seeing the writing carved into the side of the ship makes people act as a transmitter after death is an effective one, leading to the ghosts wanting to murder more members of the crew and even being prepared to bring a rescue submarine down to the Drum via Morse Code.

Daniel O’Hara’s direction is solid here too, and I think the best demonstration of this is the chase scene through the corridors, which feels exciting, scary and frenetic, especially when Pritchard’s ghost manages to track down Lunn. It also manages to convince that there is labrinyth of corridors for the characters to run down, rather than presumably a limited number of sets, which helps make the Drum feel as big and grand as it appears in its establishing shots. Pritchard’s death scene is another good example of what O’Hara does here, as it is an unsettling scene from the moment he arrives back on the base, and the realisation that he has been killed put me in mind of Scooti’s death in The Impossible Planet. Finally, in the scene where the Doctor and Clara return to the TARDIS when the Cloister Bell starts ringing, the console room looks beautiful, bathed in red light and smoke. The ghosts are effectively creepy, probably because they don’t have eyes, which is always a bit spooky.

The majority of the crew are likable here, with the exception of the capitalist Pritchard, who is the traditional capitalist out for profits and not concerned about the lives of the fellow crew members, who is a pretty standard character for Doctor Who stories. Colin McFarlane is good in his all too brief appearance as a human, before being turned into a ghost when the alien’s ship’s engines unexpectedly ignite, sacrificing himself to save Cass. Speaking of Cass, it is lovely to see a character with an impairment like deafness that does not impact on the fact that she is the most suited person for a command position on the base following the death of Moran and Sophie Stone certainly embodies leadership and thoughtfulness through her acting, and even the translations by Lunn don’t feel jarring. O’Donnell is a fan of the Doctor’s, in a similar fashion to Osgood, but the characters feel distinct enough from each other, and Bennett is the coward, but one that the Doctor is able to manipulate his curiosity to get him to agree to things – like at the very end of the story.

So who’s in charge now? I need to know who to ignore.

The Twelfth Doctor

The Twelfth Doctor continues on his developmental journey here, and is perfectly played by Peter Capaldi. I love his distracted energy as he ponders why the TARDIS is making a fuss about landing on the base, to the extent that he’s not even listening to Clara and his enthusiasm about the ghosts is exactly what you’d expect from any other Doctor. Of course, with this particular incarnation, he leaves his empathy at the door, forgetting that the crew have recently lost a friend, leading to the scene with Clara’s pre-made cards suited to this situation. Capaldi’s gravitas and charisma never makes him anything less than incredibly watchable, and makes his humour, like the moment where he realises that he has deleted sign language for semaphore, entertaining.

Clara’s characterisation here generates a lot of comment, but I think that it is a natural progression for the character. It is difficult to know what to do with a companion after they have been with the Doctor for a certain amount of time, and Clara starts to fall into this situation in Series 9. After losing Danny in Series 8, the writing team seem to see her as a character who is eager for adventures, presumably to stop her from returning home and to the reality of her life. Clara attempted to travel with the Doctor on her own terms, controlling when she travels with him or not, but now she’s realised that there’s no real advantage to living this way and has thrown herself fully into life aboard the TARDIS. The Doctor’s the only one who truly knows what she’s been through and he seems unaffected by loss, so of course she’s going to try and mirror him. Jenna Coleman does a good job of conveying how this change has come about, even moving like Capaldi’s Doctor when she follows him up into the white spacecraft.

Verdict: Under the Lake is a strong first part to a story, full of scares and intrigue. The pacing does drop at points though, but it is picked up by an invigorating chase scene through the corridors of the base. It does what any good first part of a two part story should do – make you keen to find out what happens next. 9/10

Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Colin McFarlane (Moran), Sophie Stone (Cass), Zaqi Ismail (Lunn), Morven Christie (O’Donnell), Arsher Ali (Bennett), Steven Robertson (Pritchard) & Paul Kaye (Prentis).

Writer: Toby Whithouse

Director: Daniel O’Hara

Original Broadcast Date: 3 October 2015

Behind the Scenes

  • The working title for this episode and the following one was Ghost in the Machine.
  • This is the first episode since The Unicorn and the Wasp not to feature the sonic screwdriver.

Cast Notes

  • Colin McFarlane had previously provided the voices for the Heavenly Host in Voyage of the Damned and played General Austin Pierce in Torchwood: Children of Earth. He has also appeared in numerous Big Finish audio plays in series such as The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, Charlotte Pollard and The War Master.
  • Zaqi Ismail would go on to play John Hobshaw in Thin Time and Sardo in Masterful, both for Big Finish.
  • Sophie Stone is the second deaf actor to appear in Doctor Who after Tim Barlow in Destiny of the Daleks.

Best Moment

It has to be the cue cards, including the one that so clearly relates to an apology to Sarah Jane for leaving her in Aberdeen in The Hand of Fear.

Best Quote

So, we are fighting an unknown homicidal force that has taken the form of your commanding officer and a cowardly alien, under water, in a nuclear reactor. Anything else I should know? Someone with a peanut allergy or something?

The Twelfth Doctor

Previous Twelfth Doctor review: The Witch’s Familiar

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