Picture shows: Paul Kaye as Prentis, Colin McFarlane as Moran, Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara and Steven Robertson as Pritchard
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DOCTOR WHO: Mr. Harvey Looks UNDER THE LAKE

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Season 9, Episode 3 “Under The Lake”

God, I love me some two-parters. As we wait for tonight’s “Before the Flood”, let’s take a look at the first half of this second story of Season 9.

OK, confession time. One of the things I’ve always disliked about the New Series is the episode length. Let me explain.

If you’ve read the reviews of Doctor Who I’ve written for Scifi4Me before, then you know that I’m an old-school fan. Cut my Who teeth on PBS broadcasts of Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor in the 80’s, in the days when episodes were 25 minutes long, but stories lasted an average of 4-5 episodes per story.

For the kids at home, that’s about 100-120 minutes per story. Compare that to an average of 44 minutes per New Who episode.

If there is any consistent complaint over the last 10 years of the New Series, is that this story or that story seems rushed, or the ending of this story or that story seems rushed. The reason for that is, of course, that you only have an average of 44 minutes to tell a story, establish characters we’re supposed to care about, create a valid threat for the Doctor/world/whatever and solve whatever conflict has been set up.

Sometimes this… is amazing television.

“Dalek”
“The Empty Child”

“School Reunion”
“The Girl In The Fireplace”
“The Shakespeare Code”
“Blink”

“Amy’s Choice”
“Vincent and The Doctor”
“The Doctor’s Wife”
“The Girl Who Waited”

“The Bells of St. John”
“Cold War”
“Hide”

“Into the Dalek”
“Listen”
“Mummy on the Orient Express”
“Flatline”

And sometimes we get “Fear Her”.”Midnight”. “The Curse of the Black Spot”. “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”. “Kill the Moon”. “In the Forest of the Night”.

God, I hate “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”.

This is not to say the two-parters of the new series, or the longer specials of the 2008-2010 series, were without fault. For every “Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways” or “Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit”, you had “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”. For every “Human Nature/Family of Blood”, you had “The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords”.

Obviously your mileage may vary… you may love some of the episodes I don’t, and that’s OK. You may also remember that some of those longer Original Series stories could drag, or be prime examples of padding the story, but at least they had time.

So when the word came that this 9th Season would be 2-parter heavy, and started out as strong as it has, well… this old fan couldn’t be happier. But does “Under The Lake” deliver?

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Toby Whithouse is a writer that seems to divide the fans for some reason. Occasionally mentioned as being a possible successor to Moffat as showrunner, he first wrote for Doctor Who back in 2006’s “School Reunion”, bringing back Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. He then returned for “Vampires of Venice”, “The God Complex”, and “A Town Called Mercy” before penning this episode and the upcoming “Before the Flood”. Of those, I personally wasn’t a fan of “Vampires of Venice” all that much, and I think it hasn’t aged all that well, but the rest? Solid stories, and in the case of “School Reunion” and “The God Complex”, personal favorites of mine.

Here he takes a staple of Doctor Who – the Base Under Siege – and runs with it in a way that continues the Moffat/Capaldi focus on bringing elements of the Original Series into the world of the 12th Doctor. This base underwater in Scotland could be “The Moonbase” from the 2nd Doctor’s run, or “The Ark in Space” from the 4th’s. The basics are simple: The Doctor and his Companion(s) arrive at a place where the other characters are trapped in some way, fighting against a force from without or within, in a military or science-based facility. One by one, the inhabitants are picked off, and the arrival of the Doctor allows for a chance, if only a chance, of survival. The modern variants include “Cold War”, with the submarine serving as the base, and “Mummy on the Orient Express” using a train. Here, it literally is a Base Under Siege, with what appears to be ghosts as the threat, alongside a mysterious alien spacecraft.

Picture shows: Jenna Coleman as Clara
Jenna Coleman as Clara

First of all, let’s talk about Miss Oswald. Our Miss Clara is displaying a pretty dangerous attitude here, and considering that we know that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show this season, well… the continued survival of the Impossible Girl is not a sure thing at all. Here we see a woman who, after the death of Danny, has thrown herself completely into the life the Doctor leads, and as he points out, there’s only room for one of him. Her thirst for new adventures, new thrills, while trying to maintain her Earthly life, is a recipe for disaster, and one that lends credence to both the popular fan theory that Clara will die for good this season, and that the appearance of River Song in the Christmas Special will be in response to the Doctor dealing with her death.

Of course, this all speculation at this point, but while Clara’s running towards danger is hardly unique in the history of Companions, she seems a little too eager, a little too reckless. Sure, there are funny bits here — the failed high-five for one — but this may be a most disturbing arc for fans of Clara Oswald. Jenna Coleman does a great job here, bringing both that dangerous enthusiasm to the character, as well as the fun chemistry between Clara and the Doctor to the screen.

Peter Capaldi, the titular character, is just so much fun here. For the old school fan, if one closes one’s eyes and just listens — and I really wasn’t intending the pun there — one can hear so many of the previous Incarnations of the Doctor peeking through. As he said in “The Magician’s Apprentice”, it is his party, and all his selves are invited.

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Peter Capaldi as The Doctor

What Capaldi has done here, at least to my ears and eyes, is take a good chunk of the traits of his predecessors and blend them together into something that is both unique and familiar. The arrogance of the 10th, the 6th and the 1st Doctors? Check. The cunning of the 7th and the 2nd? Check. The alienness of the 4th and the 11th? Check, and can’t you just see Tom Baker sliding into this story like a glove? The scientific curiosity of the 3rd and the awkward compassion of the 5th? Check and Check.

It does seem that Capaldi’s approach is to make the Doctor as much a sum of his history as a sum of his parts, and especially here in his second season in the role, it just works so very well. True, I haven’t seen much that hearkens back to the 8th or the War Doctor that has stood out, but we’re only three episodes in. That is seems to work so well is both a testament to Capaldi’s talent, and the core consistency of who the Doctor is, no matter the face he wears.

Paul Kaye as Prentis and Colin McFarlane as Moran
Paul Kaye as Prentis and Colin McFarlane as Moran

Our guest cast is, at first glance, pretty standard, but quickly becomes something both a touch frustrating and quite interesting. Frustrating that the brief appearance of Colin McFarlane is such a stereotypical military man, and he’s such a good actor that we see not-dead for so very short a time. He’s done a ton of British television, but American audiences may recognize him from his roles in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and his considerable voice work. He’s someone who seems a touch wasted in the role of a ghost, and I wish we’d gotten more of the living Moran.

Also playing to the stereotype is Steven Robertson’s Pritchard, the company man who clearly graduated from the same business school as Paul Reiser’s Burke in Aliens. Clearly loathed by everyone else on the base, his best bits are his trying to talk to the Doctor and getting the brushoff, as well as the moment after his death when he’s oh-so-close to killing Zaqi Ismail’s Lunn, to which we’ll return in a moment. Still, for all the echoes of Company Men on display, it’s a part that goes hand in hand with the Base Under Siege storylines of Who past, so I can’t complain too much.

A first for Doctor Who, and kind of a surprising first, in that it took so long to add a deaf character to the show. Sophie Stone — the first deaf actress to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art — plays Cass, the 2nd in command of the base and the leader of the crew when the Doctor and Clara arrive. Stone’s personal journey is quite interesting, and she’s had great success in a field that doesn’t always encourage those with disabilities to flourish. Here, there is an extra element of tension in the addition of her deafness as a character trait, as her only sign-language-trained crewmember, Lunn, finds himself endangered by the Ghosts. There is more to Cass than it seems at first as well: Aside from being a capable commander, she also keeps Lunn out of the ship and away from the symbols that make the crew the targets of the ghosts, which is… curious, to put it mildly. There doesn’t seem to be a reason other than “it’s not safe”, which would apply to to the whole base, unless you knew that seeing the symbols made you a target. Whether or not it is an intuition and/or over-protectiveness, or something deeper in Cass we haven’t seen yet, we shall hopefully see in the second half. She is intriguing, and that largely rests on Stone’s great performance.

Paul Kaye as Prentis
Paul Kaye as Prentis

Rounding out our guest stars are Morven Christie’s O’Donnell, who is a huge fan of the Doctor’s work; Arsher Ali’s Bennet, who reminds me of Rory in a quite nice way; and the aforementioned Lunn, played by Zaqi Ismail, who also serves as Cass’ translator. All three seem, for now, defined mostly by those traits, but it’s only 44 minutes of story to cram a lot of characters into, and sets them all up nicely for the second half.

And overall, “Under the Lake” dodges the main potential downside of the two-part format: All buildup, no payoff. Here, questions are asked, answers are given, and new threats arise, all building to the cliffhanger ending. It’s those questions and the threat of what’s behind the Ghosts that splits our dynamic duo and the crew apart and sends the Doctor back in time to see what caused these events. Aaaannnnd leads to, apparently, the Doctor becoming a Ghost himself.

Of course we know he’ll find a way to survive… he is, after all, the Doctor. But the how of it, well… That’s always the fun part.

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Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

One thought on “DOCTOR WHO: Mr. Harvey Looks UNDER THE LAKE

  • Also a fan of longer episodes here! Liked reading the additional facts about the cast members… And the speculation about Clara’s character arc this season.

    Reply

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