In last week’s horrific cliffhanger on “Doctor Who,” after facing ghosts in an underwater mining facility called The Drum, The Doctor himself has become a ghost! What really happened in the past to bring us to this point in the now? Start your TARDIS and meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “Before the Flood!”
Under the Lake
Here’s a quick synopsis of what happened last time (or for my detailed, spoiler-filled review, click here): The Doctor and Clara arrive at The Drum, an underwater facility in the 22nd century that since finding an alien spaceship has been under attack by ghosts. These ghosts seem to be intent on turning the rest of the crew into ghosts like them.
The Doctor, once convinced of the existence of these creatures as actual ghosts, discovers their sinister purpose. They are sending out some sort of signal into space, perhaps a distress call, but more likely a message to an invasion force, that is amplified by the number of ghosts sending it. A plan is made to get the heck out of there, but that’s when our heroes get separated. The Doctor says he’ll use the TARDIS, go back in time to before this happened, and rescue all of them. That’s when the ghost of The Doctor appears. Something went horribly, horribly wrong in the past…
In our opening we have The Doctor talking to us intimately as he walks around the TARDIS. He suggests a paradox he calls the Bootstrap Paradox, in which a time traveler idolizes Beethoven and so goes back to 18th century Germany to meet him. When he gets there, no Beethoven, he never existed. So the time traveler, who brought the composer’s sheet music for him to autograph, ends up copying all of them, publishing them, and becoming Beethoven. So who really composed that music?
And with that question in our minds, The Doctor breaks into Beethoven’s Fifth on his guitar, and into a heavily guitar laden theme and credits sequence. Curious. As we start in Scotland in 1980 – before the flood – with O’Donnell, the UNIT fangirl from the Drum crew namedropping like crazy, mentioning former companions Rose, Martha, and Amy, as well as Harold Saxon (who we know to be that last regeneration of The Master), the moon hatching a big bat, and the Minister of War (whom neither we nor The Doctor have met yet). There’s gotta be some paradoxes in that conversation alone.
The Hearse and the Rules
This Scottish town, decorated as a Russian one from Cold War training exercises, is where the ship first landed in 1980. They find the ship, without interior markings, with its batteries and the body. Greeted by the truly annoying Tivolian undertaker, he explains the body is the Fisher King, who had enslaved his people, and his arrangements require the body be buried on an outlying planet. As he continues to try to surrender to The Doctor, the Tivolian notes that he knows nothing about the carvings or the signal. It is notable to the expanding Who universe that the race that replaced the Fisher King as Tivoli’s oppressors are the Arcateenians from the first season of “Torchwood.”
When The Doctor calls Clara, yes, through time (don’t ask, it’s a thing), she tells him she’s seen his ghost. He suggests that if he dies, he has to die. I’m puzzled. Are writer Toby Whithouse and showrunner Steven Moffat simply ignoring the rules? If The Doctor dies, he’ll regenerate, not become a ghost – that’s the first thing. Secondly, isn’t Clara the Impossible Girl? Isn’t it her job to save The Doctor, against impossible odds? Clara even notes how the rules are unacceptable to her, perhaps this is a sign of a new “Doctor Who” era?
The Fisher King and the Fangirl
Perhaps the Fisher King is not dead? As the Undertaker enters the ship while The Doctor and company make his extra-temporal phone call, he finds the body gone and the writing on the wall. As Admiral Ackbar would say, “It’s a trap!” The Fisher King, who had enslaved and ruled the Tivolians for over a decade is on the loose. And his first victim is O’Donnell, just to test The Doctor’s theory that he could not change the past. After Osgood, and now O’Donnell, are the powers-that-be trying to tell us something? Is it not safe to be a Who fangirl?
The Fisher King is a rather frightening Who monster, and played for optimal hide-behind-the-sofa fright. His roar and scream are supplied by Slipknot‘s Corey Taylor, how’s that for scary? Dark corridors, wandering ghosts with axes, and a scary monsters, all perfect for a cool October evening. I know I’m going to have a hard time sleeping tonight. But really, what is scarier, this monster, or the fact that The Doctor seems willing to sacrifice others to see if and how he can save Clara. Just Clara? What about the rest of the crew, the rest of mankind, the rest of the planet?
Breaking the Rules
The resolution of this story all comes down to breaking the rules. The Fisher King has broken the rules, The Doctor has broken rules, and Whithouse and Moffat are breaking rules. This is a brave new era of “Doctor Who” as Whithouse is out-Moffatting Moffat and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is making the role and the show his own. The sunglasses, the guitars, the stalking about the TARDIS and breaking the fourth wall – this is a new Doctor, finally taking form, and becoming likable, as well as different. Bravo, Peter Capaldi.
Add in all the Back to the Future Part II madness of not interfering with your past selves – even thought The Doctor has a history of doing just that, hello? – I still dug it. I don’t know what to expect next, but I’m looking forward to whatever next. “Doctor Who” is on a roll this season. Bring on Missy and the Daleks, bring on the Minister of War, I can’t wait. …but who really composed Beethoven’s Fifth?
Next: Maisie Williams from “Game of Thrones,” Vikings, Space Warriors from the Future, and “The Girl Who Died.”