On a remote army outpost, a fearsome alien warlord called the Fisher King sets in motion a twisted plan to ensure his own survival. The ripples will be felt around the universe. Is this chain of events inevitable? And can the Doctor do the unthinkable?
Part of the novelty of the two-part stories in the first five series of the revived series of Doctor Who was that they almost felt like more of an event than the monster of the week episodes. They usually featured recurring foe – the return of the Daleks, Weeping Angels and Silurians in Series 3 and 5 respectively, or the new Who debuts of the Cybermen and Sontarans in Series 2 and 4 – or had stories that had a bit more time to breathe, like The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit or Human Nature/Family of Blood Having a series made up almost entirely of two-parters almost strips that novelty away, and requires the writers to work harder to justify the extended runtime. Whilst The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar has a more traditional premise, with the return of Davros and the Daleks, Under the Lake/Before the Flood
Toby Whithouse crafts a second part of the story that plays around with time really effectively. I’m struggling to think of another two parter, certainly in modern Doctor Who, which has the first part set exclusively in the present and sets the second part in both the present (in this story’s case, the C22nd) and the past (the 20th Century). I’ve written in other reviews how I like stories where the show plays around with time and I would like to see it done a lot more. This is a really strong episode anyway, and manages to retain all the best parts of the opening episode. The ghosts manage to maintain their sense of threat, as seen in the scene where they surround Lunn, or when Moran pursues Cass through the corridors of the Drum with the axe. That the story manages to maintain this air of claustrophobia and tension when juxtaposed with the open air surroundings of the military training base in Scotland. I like the scenes set in the past, especially when the Doctor and Bennett get stuck in a time loop and having to avoid themselves to ultimately beat the Fisher King.
Another of the positives of this story is that the crew of the Drum are all likeable. Whithouse has to be commended for not allowing the character of Cass, played by deaf actress Sophie Stone, to become a damsel in distress and instead showing her to be a strong character in her own right and not defined by her disability. O’Donnell is very much in the Osgood mould of the fan of the Doctor and, like Osgood in Death in Heaven, is equally ill-fated. The romantic relationships between Bennett and O’Donnell and Lunn and Cass do feel as though they come out of left field though, but I think it’s more interesting to view in the context of Clara’s development in this story.
The Fisher King is a bit of a mixed bag. The way that director Daniel O’Hara introduces the monster keeps him out of clear view for most of the episode’s run time, and it is much more effective here. We catch glimpses of the creature moving around in pursuit of the Doctor, O’Donnell and Bennett, but we cut away before we see what the Fisher King does to the ultimately doomed O’Donnell at the culmination of this sequence. The main monster is kept mostly in the shadows before his main confrontation with Peter Capaldi, which is much more effective than his eventual reveal. Once the Fisher King is revealed, it is clear that this supposedly intimidating foe is just another man in a long line in a rubber suit, especially when we get shots of the creature in the village. The Fisher King is the culmination of the work of three individuals on the acting side of things, Neil Fingerton provides the intimidating height, Peter Serafinowicz the speaking voice and Corey Taylor, lead singer of metal band Slipknot, the roar, and none of them can take the blame for how the finished product looks on screen.
This isn’t a potential future. This is the future now. It’s already happened. The proof is right there in front of you. I have to die.
No. You can change things.
I can’t. Even the tiniest change, the ramifications could be catastrophic. It could spread carnage and chaos across the universe like ripples on a pond. Oh, well, I’ve had a good innings. This regeneration, it’s a bit of a clerical error anyway. I’ve got to go sometime.
Not with me! Die with whoever comes after me. You do not leave me.The Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald
The Doctor is quite cold in this episode, and feels more like the Twelfth Doctor that we had in his first series. He wants to prove that his theory about the list of names his ghostly avatar is mouthing in the future, so despite his attempts to get O’Donnell to stay on the TARDIS, he is actually curious about what will happen next. This is something that he gets rightfully called out on by Bennett. This is a Doctor with a grand plan that he doesn’t want to let anyone else in the story in on, although he does explain to the audience what is going on in the cold open. It is, perhaps, difficult to picture many other actors to play the Doctor being able to pull this off to the same extent as Capaldi does here, making the fourth wall break feel absolutely natural. This story is an important one for Clara, as it shows us the impact of the death of Danny Pink on her character. Her coping strategy is to become more like the Doctor, adopting an almost laissez-faire attitude when it comes to other’s lives, like when she sends Lunn out to get the phone after the ghosts take it, the one link they have to the Doctor in the past. Her grief at losing Danny makes her outburst about the Doctor ‘dying with who comes after me’ feel more justified than say, Rose’s sense of entitlement that she and the Doctor would continue travelling together. Jenna Coleman puts in a great performance and, despite the fact I would have rather Clara had bowed out in Last Christmas, I think that there was still more room for development and growth. She and Peter Capaldi have such a great chemistry together too, so it would have been a shame not to have more time with these two together.
Verdict: Before the Flood wraps up another two-parter really strongly. I love how inventive Toby Whithouse’s script is. 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), Neil Fingerton (Fisher King), Peter Serafinowicz (Voice of Fisher King) & Corey Taylor (Roar of Fisher King).
Writer: Toby Whithouse
Director: Daniel O’Hara
Original Broadcast Date: 10 October 2015
Behind the Scenes
- This story features a rare occurrence of the Doctor breaking the Fourth Wall, and it marks the first time the character has done so for an extended period of time.
- For this episode only, the opening title theme features a counter-melody of the theme played by Peter Capaldi himself, segueing from him playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the electric guitar.
The scene where the ghost of Moran chases the deaf Cass through the corridors of the Drum is really well directed and feels really tense, as the audience switch between hearing ‘general’ audio, including the axe scraping along the floor, to being able to hear little to nothing.
So, there’s this man, he has a time machine. Up and down history he goes — zip, zip, zip, zip, zip — getting into scrapes. Another thing he has is a passion for the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. Then, one day, he thinks, “What’s the point in having a time machine if you don’t get to meet your heroes?” So, off he goes to 18th Century Germany, but he can’t find Beethoven anywhere. No one’s heard of him. Not even his family have any idea who the time traveller is talking about. Beethoven literally doesn’t exist.
This didn’t happen, by the way. I’ve met Beethoven. Nice chap. Very intense. Loved an arm wrestle. No, this is called the bootstrap paradox. Google it.
The time traveller panics. He can’t bear the thought of a world without the music of Beethoven. Luckily, he’d brought all of his Beethoven sheet music for Ludwig to sign. So, he copies out all the concertos and the symphonies, and he gets them published. He becomes Beethoven. And history continues with barely a feather ruffled.
My question is this: who put those notes and phrases together? Who really composed Beethoven’s Fifth?The Twelfth Doctor
Previous Twelfth Doctor review: Under the Lake