Sunday, October 18, 2015

Doctor Who 9.04: "Before the Flood"

“So break them. And anyway, you owe me. You’ve made yourself essential to me. You’ve given me something else . . . to be. And you can’t do that and then die. It’s not fair.”

I appreciated that this second part of a two-part episode that finds the Doctor and Clara in a haunted underwater base didn’t try to pile twist upon twist at the end. I’d like to think that writer Toby Whithouse (who I really wish would be the next “Doctor Who” showrunner – please, Toby, for the good of Who, agree to do it already!) was a moderating influence on showrunner Stephen Moffat’s worst instincts. Instead of twist upon twist, there was just one clever aspect to the plot we had to keep track of: the Bootstrap Paradox. And to make things even easier, Whithouse had the Doctor explain it to us in a rather unusual breaking-the-fourth-wall monologue at the beginning of the episode. Distilled down: if you travel in time and accidentally mess something up, then fix it yourself, are you the originator of the thing you fixed, or is the person you always thought originated it still the originator? The example we get in this episode is, if you accidentally make Beethoven not exist, but put his Fifth Symphony out into the world anyway, who wrote the Fifth Symphony?

After the Bootstrap Paradox monologue, we pick back up where the previous episode left off. The Doctor and two crew members, O’Donnell and Bennett, are on Earth. Specifically they are in the UK, on a base used for training for warfare in Russia, circa 1980. They are at that location because it is the origin point of the signal that has been turning everyone into ghosts, and they are hoping to destroy it. The ship they were just on is there, but there are no symbols written on the wall yet. They realize it’s a hearse carrying the body of the two-parter’s villain, the Fisher King. They also meet the undertaker, who is an alien named Prentis. He comes from a species that for some reason delights in being oppressed by other species. I didn’t quite understand that bit, but thankfully it didn’t last for long.

Back on the underwater ship, a ghost version of the Doctor has appeared. This is extremely troubling to Clara and the remaining crew because it means that the Doctor has likely died. As they are fretting over the ghost, the Doctor makes a phone call to Clara to tell her about his discovery of the hearse and the Fisher King. Clara tells him about the ghost, and the Doctor says that means he has no choice but to die, because the future they are seeing has already happened. Eventually, Clara convinces him to at least make an effort at preventing his death. It appears that what happened with Danny is still really weighing on her (as you’d expect). To numb the pain, she has thrown herself full-on into adventuring with the Doctor, and she’s petrified that is about to be taken from her too.

When we next see the ship circa-1980, the symbols are now written on the wall. Something growls in the shadows and kills Prentis. This is notable, because Ghost Doctor had just been repeating a bunch of names in a list, and Prentis was one of them. Underwater, Ghost Doctor manages to transport himself into the room where Clara and the crew have holed up. He seems to be trying to disable the Faraday cage, and he lets out all the ghosts, saying, essentially, that tonight’s the night everyone is going to be doomed. In a phone conversation, the Doctor tells Clara to get herself and the crew to the Faraday cage. The only complication is that the phone won’t work there. He instructs her to leave the phone just outside the room, keep a close eye on it, and only leave the Faraday cage if she sees the phone ringing.

The Doctor, O’Donnell, and Bennett go back to the ship, and they see that Prentis is dead. Soon enough, the Fisher King starts growling and chasing them, too. For some reason I don’t quite understand, O’Donnell thinks it would be a good idea to split up. She goes one way while the Doctor and Bennett go another. Unsurprisingly, O’Donnell doesn’t survive the decision – she is killed by the Fisher King. Almost immediately, her ghost appears on the future ship, and she steals Clara’s phone. Bennett was apparently in love with O’Donnell, so he is really pissed about her death, and he accuses the Doctor of only caring to save himself. Clara was next on Ghost Doctor’s list after O’Donnell, though, so that is who the Doctor is actually trying to save. The Doctor jumps back in the TARDIS to try and head to the future to rescue Clara directly, but the TARDIS won’t allow it. She deposits him right back in 1980, half an hour before the events we just witnessed. The Doctor takes this as a sign that he’s going to have to fight the Fisher King directly.

On the underwater ship, Clara asks Lunn to go retrieve the phone. He is the only one who hasn’t looked at the symbols on the wall, so the ghosts aren’t after him. Cass is extremely pissed off about this, since she and Lunn are very close (he’s her sign language interpreter), and she basically accuses Clara of only caring about herself. It’s interesting that both the Doctor and Clara have been accused by the crew members of acting selfishly and not caring who they have to sacrifice to succeed. Despite Cass’ misgivings, Clara’s plan sort-of works. The ghosts do not attack Lunn, and he is able to retrieve the phone. Unfortunately, the ghosts then lock him inside the nearest room so he can’t get back to Clara and Cass.

We do finally get a good look at the Fisher King, and he’s ridiculous in an old-school Doctor Who guys in rubber suits kind of way. He tells the Doctor that he wants to create enough ghosts to form an armada to conquer Earth. Lovely fellow. The Doctor is finally convinced to stop worrying about the ripple effects his actions might have, and he decides to end the Fisher King once and for all. He tells the Fisher King that the symbols are already gone from the ship, and when the Fisher King goes to investigate this, a bomb goes off, destroying a dam and drowning the Fisher King.

Things are looking pretty dire on the underwater ship when the Doctor appears inside the suspended animation tube. The Ghost Doctor was actually a hologram, inspired by the actual Ghost Doctor in a previous version of the timeline. The Doctor traps all the ghosts in the Faraday cage by making this hologram emit the call of the Fisher King. In the Faraday cage, the ghosts will eventually fade away. He also uses the sonic sunglasses to wipe the memory of the symbols from everyone’s brains. They might lose some other memories too (like “how to drink liquids”), but the Doctor tells them not to worry about it. There’s a little denouement where Bennett encourages Lunn to tell Cass he loves her, because he lost his chance with the woman he loved, so that ends happily as the Doctor and Clara leave for their next adventure.

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