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Before The Flood

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

Doctor Who Before The Flood

Separated by time, Clara is stuck at the underwater Caithness mining facility in the future under attack by ghostly apparitions, while in the same location in the past the Doctor explores the remote military outpost before it was flooded. A ruthless alien called the Fisher King has engineered a scheme to survive at all costs. As the fate of the past and the present ripples across time, the Doctor may have to break all the rules to stop the alien warlord. Even considering the most unimaginable possibility of all – the Doctor will have to die…

Before The Flood concludes Toby Whitehouse’s first two-part story for Doctor Who. The writer of Being Human (2008-20015) and the Doctor Who episodes School Reunion (2006), The Vampires of Venice (2010), The God Complex (2011), and A Town Called Mercy (2012), has returned for Doctor Who’s ninth series with Under The Lake & Before The Flood – a ghostly underwater time-travelling adventure directed by Daniel OHara that sees the Doctor and Clara facing haunting danger across two time zones.

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Trapped inside the lake-bed mining base The Drum in 2119, Clara (Jenna Coleman), second-in-command Cass (Sophie Stone) and Cass’s sign-language translator Lunn (Zaqui Ismall), now face the grim reality of the Doctor’s own ghost standing outside the base – and the Time Lord makes for a particularly disturbing looking spectre as he gazes through the window! The cliff-hanger for Under the Lake saw the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) becoming a hollow eyed phantom, just like commander Moran (Colin McFarland), Vector Petroleum rep Prichard (Steve Robertson), and Parentis (Paul Kaye, who played Thoros in Game of Thrones), the mysterious top-hat wearing Tivolian (a species created by Toby Whitehouse for his 2011 Doctor Who story The God Complex).

Clara and the crewmembers notice the Time Lords ghost is silently speaking their names instead of the coordinates like the other ghosts. The Doctor telephones Clara from the TARDIS, trying to reason with his own ghost, but the Doctor’s spirit releases the other ghosts trapped in the Faraday Cage. With the mystery of the spaceship with the indecipherable writing on its walls in the main hanger and whatever is sleeping inside the recently recovered suspended animation chamber remaining unresolved in 2119, the Doctor, systems technician O’Donnell (Morven Christie), and marine geologist Bennett (Arsher Ali) have been exploring the same site in 1980 before the dam burst and flooded the old town. The Doctor certainly faces a difficult task, he’s confronted with tragedy, the bizarre anomaly of being stuck in his own time line, and a towering new enemy – the Fisher King. But it is the telephone call the Doctor and Clara have across the waterlogged centuries that divide them which confirms the Time Lords worst fears; he will have to die to save the day. Its already happened, Clara has seen the Doctor’s ghost in the future, there’s no escape from his fate, or is there..?

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This is a fabulous episode for Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as the Doctor and Clara face their most challenging adventure yet, and there are some highly emotional scenes between them – particularly during their timey-wimey phone conversation before Clara, Cass, and Lunn, have to take refuge in the Faraday Cage from the ghosts. Clara has become a bit of a thrill-seeker recently, enjoying the danger that accompanies the Doctor’s adventures. Before The Flood really highlights the profound effect that travelling with the Doctor has had on Clara since Danny’s death, now she has to contemplate the possibility that the Doctor might also die; and these moving scenes reveal just how much Clara’s friendship with the Doctor means to her.

Toby Whitehouse has created some really great characters for this two-part story, the crew of the Drum are a highly-skilled team, and they all get a good share of the action in Before The Flood. Sophie Stone, the first deaf actress in Doctor Who, gives a terrific performance as Cass, whose lip-reading skills and lack of hearing gives her a pivotal role in the unfolding drama. Zaqui Ismall also plays a key role as Lunn, Cass’s designated sign language translator, the ghosts won’t harm him because Cass wouldn’t let him read the strange writing inside the alien vessel, and this proves vital in getting Clara’s phone back from the ghosts. There’s also a powerful scene between Clara and Cass after Lunn bravely sets out from the Faraday Cage to retrieve the phone (the only way they can maintain contact the Doctor in the past), it’s a brilliantly scripted moment, and one that is in no needs of translation either!

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The Doctor, O’Donnell, and Bennett soon discover the alien craft in 1980 on the military training site in Scotland – modelled on a Russian town – was used train troops at the height of the Cold War. It seems the craft is actually a hearse, carrying the body of the Fisher King, the suspended animation chamber and power cell are still intact, and there are no signs of the untranslatable writing on the walls – at least not yet… We also get to see a lot more of the dapper top-hat wearing Tivolian, Parentis, played by Paul Kaye, and discover the intergalactic undertakers role in events here in 1980 before he is killed by the revived Fisher King – who then inscribes the symbols that will make the ghosts into transmitters on the interior of the ship.

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O’Donnell’s zeal for adventure also sadly leads to her untimely death, whereby events take a dramatic turn which even the TARDIS won‘t allow the Doctor run away from. Meanwhile, Clara, Cass, and Lunn must venture outside the safety of the Faraday Cage in the future with homicidal ghosts and an undead version of the Time Lord stalking the base, as Bennett and the Doctor clash bitterly over the Time Lord’s actions in the past concerning O’Donnell, but what exactly has Beethoven’s Fifth got to do with ghosts in the 22nd century, and is the Doctor really powerless to stop the Fisher King’s plan to ensure his own survival?

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The monstrous Fisher King is a fearsome creature. It has taken three people to bring this lumbering alien to life on screen. Neil Fingleton is the man inside the creature costume, and at over 7ft 7in, he’s also Britain’s tallest man. The Fisher King is voiced by the award-winning actor and comedian Peter Serafinowicz (He was the voice for Star Wars Episode I villain Darth Maul, the actor also played Pete in Shaun of the Dead, and Denarian Saal in Marvel‘s Guardians of the Galaxy), and the creatures blood chilling roar is provided by Corey Taylor – the lead singer of the metal band Slipknot. The Fisher King is a truly terrifying foe, the monsters scenes with the Doctor are electrifyingly tense, and their epic showdown resonates across time and space.

The Fisher King is without doubt one of the most dangerously powerful creatures the Doctor has ever faced, and their face-off is a magnificently menacing scene. There are some really dark moments of horror on The Drum as well, particularly when Lunn has to venture out alone to face the ghosts in the shadowy corridors, and later, when Cass is wandering alone, she is followed by Moran’s axe wielding ghost – a scene made all the more terrifying because Cass cannot hear the axe being dragged along the corridor behind her. O’Donnell makes a number of references to the Doctor’s past companions and exploits in this episode. Unfortunately her enthusiasm also puts her in terrible danger, she gets killed by the Fisher King and joins the ranks of the ghosts on The Drum menacing the others, and sadly she will never know how much Bennett really cared for her.

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With the consequences and destruction set to spiral out of control, the Doctor sends Bennett back to the TARDIS while he confronts the Fisher King. The Doctor tricks the alien warlord into leaving the church and the suspended animation chamber behind. Outside the creature discovers the missing power cell the Doctor has placed, which detonates, destroying the dam and flooding the entire area – killing the Fisher King. It’s only really here in the closing stages of the story that things get a little muddled. The time-twisting resolution, with the Doctor emerging from the suspended animation chamber in the future on The Drum, together with a little help from his sonic shades and a neat trick with his cleverly programmed ghost / Doctor / hologram, does all feel a little contrived, but Toby Whitehouse manages to tie everything up so well everything almost reverse engineers itself to paper over the cracks. With the ghosts trapped in the Faraday Cage for UNIT to sort out, romance in the air for Cass and Lunn thanks to Bennett, and the Doctor’s timey-wimey bootstrap paradox laden explanation for Clara everything wraps up in fine style to the strumming of the Doctor’s electric guitar.

Before The Flood is structured around some brain wracking concepts and leaps of logic. I’m certainly not even going to pretend I understood all of it either, but like the Doctor said, you can always google it if you really want too! There are a wealth of continuity points and fun references to look out for, including such things as the brand name of the Doctor’s amplifier for his guitar, and the fun slogan on Prentis’ business card! While not quite as good as Under The Lake, Before The Flood still provides a breathtakingly exciting conclusion to this story, and Toby Whitehouse’s excellent multi-layered scripts for Under the Lake & Before The Flood mixes deep-sea adventure, with time travel, and ghosts to make this one of the highlights of Series 9. Boasting strong performances from the entire cast, with some clever 4th wall shattering moments from Capaldi’s Doctor, a menacing monster, stunning special effects, an amazing rock version of the opening theme tune, and the brilliant direction by Daniel O’Hara, this two-part story recaptures the essence of the classic series and seamlessly blends it with the fast-paced excitement of the new series to forge something very special indeed!

Images & Clip Belong: BBC

And just for fun here’s that rock version of the Doctor Who theme!

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