Before the Flood Review
Well, that’s what I get for getting my hopes up about a Whithouse story I suppose. This was just crap. Unambitious, unimaginative, uninteresting crap made at best semi-competently. By some margin the worst episode of the Capaldi era, and saved from being Whithouse’s worst script only by the fact that A Town Called Mercy is appreciably worse. Maybe. I’m not even sure. God this was shit.
Where do I even start? The beginning, I suppose – the tediously overlong description of the bootstrap paradox, which, let’s recall, was basically the resolution to the entire Madame Kovarian saga back in Time of the Doctor where it was considered simple enough to just dash off in a line of dialogue. Or, for that matter, the setup of Blink, which managed to make its entire length without having to go out of its way to explain its plot resolution in the abstract before doing it. But now, apparently, time-wime is something that has to be explained in advance of its invocation in what has to be the single least suspense-laden cold open in series history.
But it’s not as though things start looking up afterwards. I remarked in last week’s podcast that Whithouse’s stories have an unfortunate tendency to collapse into “x in a y” formulations, but never before has he managed anything quite so spectacularly pointless as the inexplicably empty fake Russian village. I can only assume it was selected because someone realized that an abandoned generic village and an underwater base almost completely lacking in interesting visual design was going to add up to the least visually engaging episode ever and so decided to throw some Soviet propaganda posters around. Because why not.
At least O’Donnell finally gets some interesting characterization and background after being neglected for most of the first episode. Oh wait, it’s just so she can be fridged to provide angst for the story’s most pointless character, not that this angst translates into Bennet actually doing anything in the entire story. I mean, aside from the obligatory “scold the Doctor for being callous” scene, because evidently Whithouse really can’t go a story without hitting that note. Actually, he doubles down by doing the exact same thing with Clara, which is even more depressing given that it’s the first thing Clara’s actually been given to do since she figured out where the Doctor was for Missy, such that Whithouse’s autopilot setting actually qualifies as interesting for her in context.
Then, for good measure, the O’Donnell/Bennet “relationship out of nowhere” move only exists to set up the equally out of nowhere Cass/Lund relationship at the end. Because apparently Cass’s emotional investment in her interpreter can only be explained by a desire to fuck him and not just by the fact that, you know, they’re longtime friends and colleagues. (I don’t know nearly enough about the deaf community to know whether falling in love with one’s interpreter is a stereotype, although it seems so obvious and uncreative a move that the only way it would fail to be a stereotype is due to insufficient deaf representation in the first place.)
Meanwhile, among the non-human characters, Paul Kaye gets a single scene in which he gets to actually act, and he spends it doing jokes already done by David Walliams a few years ago, which is one of the more staggering misuses of an actor in recent memory. At least the bizarrely brief appearance of Ben Crompton last season was genuinely brief – the sort of thing where you go “oh, he only had a day or two free, OK then.” But Paul Kaye is actually all over these two episodes; it’s just that he’s mostly a mute ghost. He’s plenty menacing, sure, but it’s a bizarre way to use one of the best comedic actors going right now.
And then there’s the Fisher King. It’s not that I mind giving a monster that epic and audacious a name; quite the contrary, I love the idea of the Doctor fighting the Fisher King. What I’m somewhat less enamored with is the Fisher King being a fairly generic alien of such vast power that he can conquer the Tivolians. With a costume design that looks like someone thought “I wonder if the Vervoids would still look like massive walking vaginas if they were skeletons?” As it happens, yes. Yes they do.
Shall we move on to the plot? For instance, what’s the point of the Doctor crossing his own timestream? Were things just underrunning? Because it contributes nothing to the plot. Also, perhaps having the Doctor try to call Clara again after making such a fuss over her keeping her phone would have been good? Just how was the Fisher King making the ghosts? (This being, after all, something the Doctor fixates on at the start of the story.) And perhaps most importantly, has there ever been a resolution as lame as “the ghost was a hologram controlled by the sonic sunglasses magically waking up and hacking the base computers at exactly the right moment?”
A flop was always going to be a risk after Under the Lake, which liking required a sort of zealous decision to go “this is clever, not inept.” In some ways, this was the inevitable result. And for all that this review has been, basically, an unceasing torrent of abuse heaped upon the episode, it probably doesn’t even deserve that, except inasmuch as a review has to have something, and I can’t quite capture the vague sensation of wishing this were over so I could go grab dinner in text, so anger will have to do.
- Part of the problem is actually an old problem inherited from two-parters in the Davison era, only stretched to forty-five minute episodes. Basically, given that the formula for a two-parter is “the game-changing cliffhanger and starting the second part from a new premise” these days, there’s the same problem that, say, Black Orchid had whereby the entire story is structured around putting the transition at a particular point. Almost everything about this would have been improved if the two-time setting had been introduced at about 25 minutes instead of 45. The only problem is that the thing that wouldn’t have been improved is transmitting it over two weeks on BBC One.
- Jack, on Twitter this morning, referred to the first chunk of Under the Lake as “visual Big Finish.” I think that’s an excellent way to criticize the whole thing, really.
- The idea that what the Fisher King was doing to make ghosts was a greater offense than breaking the fabric of time is… curious (although ultimately part of the Doctor’s deception I suppose). Unless the show means to be investing very seriously in the notion of a soul that can meaningfully be wronged this would seem to be no different than Cybermen in terms of denying people their deaths.
- I am starting to think that the two-parters idea might end up having backfired. Although I admit I’m terribly curious how this dramatically split timeframe Maisie Williams duo is going to work. But of course, that’s largely because it doesn’t seem to be a normative two-parter.
- In any case, with this episode gone I can finally smile and be terribly excited about the rest of the season, so that’s nice.
Funny Quote From Someone Posting In The #moffat hate Tag on Tumblr
“Before the Flood was pretty bloody great. A completed narrative!!! With explanations!!!!”
- Under the Lake
- The Magician’s Apprentice
- The Witch’s Familiar
- Before the Flood
- The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar
- Under the Lake/Before the Flood
October 10, 2015 @ 8:18 pm
“It’s like, ‘how much more Whithouse could this be?’ and the answer is ‘None. None more Whithouse.'”
October 11, 2015 @ 5:43 am
To be fair, it didn’t have a transphobic joke. It could have been a bit more Whithouse.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:19 pm
Ahh, I usually agree with you on most reviews, Phil, but here we part company. This episode creeped me out & put a smile on my face multiple times…I found it very satisfying. I also found that both parts felt much longer in 45 minutes, and not in a boring way.
Ah well…different strokes and all.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:24 pm
Starting to get worried that this’ll be a bad year, and the two parters will go down as a failed experiment. This was awful. It was incoherent and frequently unintentionally funny (the Fisher King’s floppy suit, the Fisher King being mildly annoyed at the dam bursting, the interpreter being in a trap and then easily escaping, the blind lady being blue Daredevil). What a let down.
October 11, 2015 @ 6:33 am
I think so much of the problem here is the intentions are good and it’s very easy to see how this could have been lifted from an incredibly pedestrian, average episode to a really terrific one. The Fisher King is a case in point – shot in shadow as nothing more than a silhouette it’s really terrific, and has a lot of potential. Kneeling in front of an oncoming wall of water in Jesus-crucifiction mode? Not so much. The village here as well – that could be a really intriguing, interesting place to set an episode like this, and it looks like a lot of work has gone into the details here, but it amounts to absolutely nothing. At all. This episode could have been shot on a London council estate, or Mars, or literally anywhere and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. What a waste.
October 11, 2015 @ 6:37 am
Hi, Prole, how’s the life been?
October 11, 2015 @ 12:46 pm
Oh hey Chicanery – not bad thanks, my fine bear, not bad. And your good self?
October 11, 2015 @ 12:55 pm
My life’s basically a trauma conga line at the moment. My dog’s got diabetes and hasn’t stabilised it, my gran had a heart attack, my intrusive thoughts have been bad, and some other stuff that I can’t talk about online.
Other than that, though, pretty good. Grad school is fun.
October 11, 2015 @ 1:56 pm
Oof. Hope things go better, and glad grad school is fun at least.
October 12, 2015 @ 10:47 am
Oh Chic, I’m sorry to hear that dude. Hope things get a bit better for you and, as Phil says, glad to hear grad school is working out for you. All power to you!
October 11, 2015 @ 4:30 pm
I could have done without the special-effects presenting it as a superpower, but in principle, I liked the idea that Cass can’t hear the axe dragging across the floor, but that doesn’t mean she’s incapable of sensing it.
(In part because it took me a second to remember why she couldn’t hear the axe dragging across the floor, which I felt meant that she had successfully been presented as a character who happened to be deaf, rather than A Deaf Character. That’s the one part of this story I’ll actually give Whithouse points for, although I’d prefer it if my best evidence for this wasn’t that I’d lost track of what was going on.)
October 11, 2015 @ 8:28 pm
That was actually a wonderful moment, probably the scariest sequence in the episode. I actually thought the changes to the audio worked better than the video effect when Cass felt the axe’s vibrations.
Remember how the metal-on-metal scraping is audible in the shots of ghost-Moran, but not in the shots of Cass? Fantastic!
That video shot? Oy. I’d say one of the many flaws of Whithouse is that he makes explanations too obvious, too blatant. It’s as if he can’t trust the audience to watch the show carefully, and they need to have major ideas shouted at them. The bootstrap paradox monologue at the beginning is probably the worst offender.
It also seems to be a flaw of the season so far that the second parts of their stories run short on plot and need filler sequences. Getting the kinks out, I guess.
October 12, 2015 @ 3:00 am
Agreed Riggio, the video effect of how Cass sensed the axe was way to obvious and felt like we were watching her as a superhero.
(If only I could sense the vibrations of the CAPTCHAS!)
October 10, 2015 @ 8:26 pm
I think the “Doctor crossing his own timestream” thing was when I tuned out. It would be one thing if they had done it to be cute or have them investigate something with events that had passed… but they did NOTHING with it.
Capalsi’s insistence that he’s saving Clara and not himself seemed half-realized. I wanted him to just spell out for whatsisname “Normally if I change the future everything is fine… but Clara is in the future. Everyone else’s lives would just be changed, hers would simply be erased.”
That’s about 12 times more interesting than the Bootstrap Paradox briefing.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:29 pm
The thing about bad Doctor Who is that it leaves a nasty tinge on the rest of the day. And this one was just nasty — simultaneously rushed and understuffed, and weirdly directed to boot. Which is a shame, because the last few weeks have been great; but it’s hard to look at this one and not feel like the whole season is going to be let down in some way because of it. Here’s hoping this is the only clunker this year.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:32 pm
I liked Clara’s “wait until the next companion to die” and talk of being owed, but that might just be goodwill from Dark Water/Left In Heaven.
I got a Rory vibe from Bennett tonight, but I can’t say anything more about that cos I’m not sure what that was for.
O’Donnell’s death pissed me off, especially since it came after sudden “you never do what you’re told”.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:39 pm
What was the thematic resonance of “The Fisher King”? If nothing else, Doc could have at least tossed off an “I only knew that you were thirsty!” before busting the dam.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:42 pm
I was rather enjoying the first 20 minutes – anything with the Doctor breaking the fourth wall and peering out of screens is basically like crack to me – but I thought everything relating to This Female Character Sure Does Seem Like A Potential Friend For The Doctor And It Would Be A Shame If Anything Happened To Her-of the-Week’s contrived death and the associated angst/half-arsed love story etc. was absolute shite. Like, wow, Doctor Who can do better.
The rest was alright I suppose, although less fun in retrospect than it seemed at the time.
Really I want to just snip out the opening scene and put it with the opening of Listen in a collection of “Capaldi talks to himself” sequences.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:43 pm
Thanks for putting clearly into words all the little niggles I had throughout. Like, what was the point of double-backing on their timestream, and why was Paul Kaye (a highlight of Jonathan Strange) wasted doing a standard Big Finish comedy role?
A lot of this didn’t work for me, and yet I still managed to enjoy it. It’s easily my least favorite of the first four episodes (my ranking is the same as yours, but with Magician and Witch switched), but I don’t think it was all that bad. The bit with Bennett telling Lunn to profess his love came off extremely well. And I rather liked the pre-titles taking things a bit slow as a rare treat. But boy, the Fisher King was lame. The DWM preview made him look like a terrifying nightmare, but the episode shot him in such bright light with a full-body view that he looked like… well, a guy in a costume.
Using your podcast’s scoring system, I’d give it a 3, as in Pertwee. This was an episode that I found perfectly enjoyable even though I spent the whole time making a mental list of all the problems its. Ultimately, this is Doctor Who for people who aren’t huge fans but could probably be convinced to watch it more. It went for mediocrity, and it kinda missed. I guess that’s OK every so often. It’s a good contrast to the fast-paced, high-concept stuff that the Moffat era puts out at its best.
But I still want to know where the ghosts actually came from. Seriously, did that get cut or something?
October 10, 2015 @ 8:50 pm
I quite liked it.
October 10, 2015 @ 8:50 pm
See…while I’m finding difficult to actually disagree with any of the specific complaints Phil or other commenters are making here, I actually really enjoyed it. And more so than last week. I can’t really think why, because these problems were all definitely problems, but for some reason they didn’t bother me like they usually might.
The only major disappointment for me was that the post-plot-resolution-cliffhanger, which I was so confident was coming, in which the Russian dummies were revealed to be Autons, never came…
October 10, 2015 @ 9:19 pm
Long time lurker. First time comment.
I have to disagree I’m afraid.
I’m quite chuffed that it decided to address the paradox directly rather than making it window dressing (The Koravrian line in Time of the Doctor just felt like closing off a loose end because they didn’t know what else to do with it and decided to leave it in the Smith era rather than go on with in).
As for the translator being in love with Cass- I buy that. I thought from last episode that his role amongst the crew was superfluous as they could understand her anyway (if not word-for-word, gesture-for-gesture they knew what she meant). Again with no offence to the deaf community, my girlfriend is a first language Welsh speaker and I am a native English speaker (I learn – Dw’n dysgu cymreag. Dw’n mynd yn dorsbarth), but I understand what her family and friends are saying from knowing a few bits and bobs and context. When some of her friends intermediate and try and translate word for word, it becomes awkward because that act sort of makes the whole room feel like I am being patronised (and in a round about way sort of codifies the false idea that minority languages are only used when they want to slag off or talk about people who don’t speak it).
With regard to the two parter thing, I like the idea of the second part happening before the first, or at the same time (The admittedly problematic ‘Peri And The Piscon Paradox’ is one of the better examples of this), and like “timey-wimey” episodes it is something the classic series never really touched upon (Maydryn Undead being I think the closest).
Anyway I love your books , but felt I had to comment because rather than my usual reaction of “Oooh that’s a good way of looking at it”, I have gone “I think that’s a bit unfair.”
I mean it’s not the best episode of Doctor Who (For me that is Full Circle and I will defend that position to the death :-p), but it’s not bad.
All the best.
October 10, 2015 @ 9:33 pm
So, um, I wasn’t happy when this was over. And I should have been. The Fisher King is a fabulous myth; it’s barely functions as little more than a reference here to where Whithouse nicked some of his ideas. An abandoned military base loaded with Russian iconography? Hell yes, Curse of Fenric type stuff, but it’s nothing more than window dressing. Time paradox? Right up my alley.
But instead it’s all just kind of slapped together, or more like spaghetti thrown on the wall, and it’s too congealed to ever make anything resembling dinner. Ironic, that, for the story ultimately lacks an apparent coherence. Oh, sure, I might be able to slap something together from the disparate references, and I suppose I’ll put myself to that task regardless, but it’s not like I’m looking forward to it.
I did notice, by the way, the romantic entanglements in the previous episode — to me it was obvious that Cass was smitten with Lunn, and that O’Donnell and… what’s his name again? The guy with the glasses? I can never remember his name, because he’s so fucking bland.
Seriously, had he died rather than the exuberant O’Donnell, everything would have been so much better. Rather than her leaving the TARDIS because she never does what she’s told (and gets fridged for it) we’d have a case of the nebbish beta-male trying to claim some godforsakenly outd-dated notion of toxic masculinity, with his subsequent death serving as a critique. But we don’t get that.
Nor do we get what would have been a terribly interesting payoff, namely that of the Doctor being a proper monster. Able to pose a proper threat to Clara and her Companions. Coming up with a truly devious plan to kill everyone. And ultimately being rewritten in such a way as to preserve the “circle” of information. That could have been really interesting.
I like to think that the Doctor’s breaking the fourth wall extends to his rant. “Your story ends here,” or something, a self-critique of the episode.
Nice guitar work on the credits, though.
October 10, 2015 @ 10:18 pm
Personally, I thought once they went back in time, they were going to just fake her death to preserve the web of time or whatever. And the whole bootstrap paradox bit in the beginning was going to be a “time can be rewritten” sort of thing. But no. No, we can’t use our magic time machine to save people. Just angst. Doctor Who is about angsting over dead women and casually forgetting the black people who also died (first narratively, third chronologically. Only one of those matters, guess which one). Doctor Who is sodding Batman. Ugh. Well, there’s always next week, and if that’s shit, there’s always the Rocky Horror Show on at Midnight.
October 12, 2015 @ 1:02 am
I think that there is something to be said about the appearance of the Fisher King and feminine iconography. It’s face was, well, rather yonic, yet the character is consistently identified as male.
And it is imagery that the show put a great deal of effort into. After all, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader mural had the sea-serpent sharing the Fisher King’s face, which suggests deliberate and extensive coordination between the people doing set art and the people developing costume prosthetics. And all for a detail completely absent from the script as it was transmitted.
And the Fisher King’s face wasn’t merely yonic, it had a distinct case of vagina dentata.
This dangerous feminine imagery contrasts with what is in the script – Clara being all about “let’s sit in the Faraday cage and do nothing,” a Deaf (some would say disabled) woman, and a third woman who is fridged.
And yet Clara’s inaction is sensible and well-informed by the situation, and she shows leadership not by rushing ahead and expecting to be followed, but by carefully evaluating risks and assigning tasks safely. The Deaf woman is a competent and attractive leader, and the fridged woman is also someone who fights the traditional limitations of leaving women behind for alleged safety.
This episode reads like what happens if you have a script that is tone-deaf on issues of feminism and equality, and it falls into the hands of a production crew that cares about things like feminism and equality.
Which is an interesting place in the media, in its own right.
October 12, 2015 @ 3:33 am
Such a big miss that the use of the Fisher King myth was nothing more than throwaway. Sad as something could really have been developed there if other script elements had been discarded, or basically have an entirely different story.
Loved the guitar too!
October 12, 2015 @ 3:37 am
And interesting thoughts UrsulaL about the serpent mural and vagina dentata, wonder if the visual links with the mural and the creature could have been developed more? In a way the mural way more one of my favourite things about the episodes.
October 14, 2015 @ 4:33 am
One more thing to add – I wasn’t interested in the actual content on the pre-credit Bootstrap explanation, but loved having the Doctor break the 4th wall and address us.
And utterly loved the guitar playing.
Maybe those elements were the best parts for me?
October 10, 2015 @ 9:45 pm
So Bennett, having been plonked in the TARDIS by the Doctor, glumly waits to be taken to the plot resolution while O’Donnell is getting killed not more than 100 metres away. Such disappointing behaviour for a namesake. I much prefer it when they put on a rubber mask and blow up rocks with a space spanner.
I wouldn’t go as far as calling this “shit” or “semi-competent”, but at several points this episode made me think the same way as those hyper-bilious fans who rankle me after every episode. That is not a good thing.
October 11, 2015 @ 4:13 am
Let off some steam, Bennett.
October 11, 2015 @ 6:38 am
Simmer down, Stew?
October 10, 2015 @ 9:50 pm
Every time the Fisher King and the Doctor spoke I started yelling “I’m bored” at the screen. I DON’T CARE. So generic. So dull. So old.
How could Clara get less to do than in Under the Lake? Find out now, in Before the Flood!
When Moffat did bootstrap in 2010, there was a fez. Whithouse does it with multiple explanations and experienced time travellers being super confused.
October 10, 2015 @ 9:54 pm
I want to believe that Capaldi actually contributed the guitar work to the opening credits, and while I wouldn’t want to hear it regularly it was a nice variation from this version of the theme music, which I’ve found strangely punchless.
And then the actual story started. Oh dear. Say what you will about “Father’s Day”, but it at least tried very very hard (you could see the flop sweat) to convince that there was some actual danger in meddling with time and to sell Rose’s motivations. This story somehow managed to spend twice as much time telling a half-again-as-interesting version of the same thing.
Oh well, something had to be the worst story of the Capaldi era.
October 10, 2015 @ 10:18 pm
Doctor Who often requires you to just go with the changing rules of time travel that each story requires, but this was impossible this week. As Phil said, they’ve done the bootstrap paradox too many for it to require such explanation or for the Doctor to be so impressed by it. And while I don’t really understand the ghost hologram, shouldn’t Clara have noticed that it appeared before the Doctor died in his “parallel” storyline (again the ever-changing rules), at least when the Cass ghost only showed up after her death in the 1980 part of the narrative? And considered the possibility that just like with the ghosts (which the Doctor jumped to conclusions in naming last week), maybe all is not as it seems? And let me take this opportunity to complain about the idea of not changing the future (a concept I can accept when the episode is good enough to just go with it, like The Water of Mars). Every story the Doctor participates in is likely (and sometimes overtly) changing the future from someone’s perspective, how could he ever really know that what he’s doing isn’t a violation of the so-called rules? Just a bad episode all around.
October 10, 2015 @ 10:22 pm
The O’Donnell ghost that should be, not the Cass ghost.
October 12, 2015 @ 5:04 pm
Without weighing in too heavily to defend an episode that I’d probably put, as fun, but a bit nothing-y, with some great bits (the cold open) and a lot of bad bits (the characterisation for me)…
I really don’t agree that the explanation for the bootstrap paradox was over done or overly heavy handed. I can see that it might feel like that to an audience that watches and rewatches doctor who and follows it closely enough, to, e.g. know who wrote it this week, but that’s not most of the audience. And it was clearly part of the plot – tying into the inevitability of the doctor’s ghost as part of the predicament he needs to face.
The trowelled-on ‘isn’t it all very mysterious dialogue with the Doctor and Clara at the end on the other hand…
October 10, 2015 @ 10:28 pm
Honestly baffled at the notion that the Bootstrap Paradox needs to be explained or alluded to at all when we’re five years into the Moffat era, though Capaldi does the monologue well, so it at least offers a nice different tone to the rest.
What’s really insufferable at how pleased Whithouse seems to be with himself at the end, given that he’s tried and failed to convince us that A) Bennett is somehow a compelling moral centre, B) Sitting around explaining technobabble makes for compelling television, C) That technobabble used to call back the Bootstrap Paradox is in any way an interesting ending.
October 10, 2015 @ 10:46 pm
You know what? I quite liked this. And you’re right, little happened. The Fisher King was woefully underdeveloped. O’Donnell’s fridging was painfully rote and the romance angle awkward and unnecessary. Next to The God Complex, probably my favourite episode of season 6, possibly my favourite of the entire Moffat era, this is a wet fart. And a wet fart that borrows quite heavy from its predecessor.
(Though perhaps the comparison is unfair; The God Complex owes more to Nick Hurran’s directorial genius than Whithouse’s writing.)
But still, I liked it. I came away from Before the Flood feeling upbeat, enthused and optimistic about the rest of the season, after the opening Magician/Witch story had very nearly turned me off entirely. Obvious question: why?
Expectations could be a part of it. This feels very “classic Who”. It’s a Doctor Who story in ways that the previous two-parter simply wasn’t. This was definitely the show I wanted to be watching, even if it didn’t exactly sparkle.
I don’t find that explanation wholly convincing, however. I’ve enjoyed plenty of out-of-the-box Who episodes before. I’ve never been more than a passing fan of the classic run, sampling a couple of episodes here and there.
So I think I have no choice but to throw the blame at the feet of Moffat’s scripts. The previous story was a hot mess; Magician a narrative void padded with references to things I didn’t care about the first time round, while the story crammed into Witch was resolved by a plot device simultaneously overwrought and painfully banal. Sound and fury indeed. Before the Flood had nothing to match Capaldi’s scenes with Davros, sure enough, but a few good scenes can’t save a bad episode. Next to all of that, Whithouse’s stately, spacious script can only feel… well, dignified. It feels like a mid-tier filler episode from a much better show.
(I have to object to your complaints about the visual design, too. The underwater base? Anonymous, generic, and achieved perfectly what it set out to do. And infinitely more atmospheric than the empty car salesroom playing Skaro. Even the abandoned military base had a well-defined sense of place, which had to be a herculean task on Daniel O’Hara’s part.)
Interested to see how Viking-Seven-Samurai-starring-Maisie-Williams plays out now. Mathieson has a lot to live up to after last season.
October 10, 2015 @ 10:53 pm
I don’t feel this was as directly flawed as you do (for one thing, I felt the romance angle between Cass and Lunn was at least somewhat set up, or at least as much as these things realistically ever could be when you’re introducing and resolving the whole thing as a subplot within a two-parter).
But this was profoundly /unambitious/ Doctor Who. It seems as though Whithouse feels that the fullest ambitions one can have for Doctor Who are for it to be a scary thriller which expounds in a literal-minded way on a sci-fi concept. That’s what felt so off about the whole lengthy exposition on the bootstrap paradox: it was presented in such an earnest manner as if to suggest Whithouse really does feel that merely presenting the paradox and explaining it slowly for the class makes for compelling, worthy television in its own right. Especially with the coda scene, which has the apparent goal of… hoping that you’ll go away and think about the paradox some more? It’s like the show is setting me philosophy homework.
October 11, 2015 @ 12:36 am
Thought of another way to sum up my overall objection: this felt like the most “gun” (as opposed to “frock”) Doctor Who has been in some time.
October 14, 2015 @ 4:37 am
“Thought of another way to sum up my overall objection: this felt like the most “gun” (as opposed to “frock”) Doctor Who has been in some time.”
Yeah for me I think that is key to why I didn’t massively like it, as I’m more frocky for sure.
October 10, 2015 @ 11:08 pm
I think this is one of those episodes that’s going be much more fun for children than adults and I think it might have been designed to be. That whole opening is like a Bill Nye or Beakman’s World segment except cooler because it’s the God Damn Doctor talking directly to you. Also, I didn’t know the Bootstrap Paradox was called the Bootstrap Paradox so I learned something, which is nice. The scares, particularly the ghost stalking Lund, are just the sort of thing that get your niece or nephew screaming “HE’S BEHIND YOU!” and if there aren’t kids around the scene just falls flat. I’m not saying this excuses anything, though I thought the episode was okay, but I know there’s an audience that absolutely loved this and years from now they’ll look back and say “WHAT WAS I THINKING?!”
October 12, 2015 @ 5:07 pm
This. This is my point. Much better made though… 🙂
And I’m glad that Doctor Who has episodes like this. I’m incredibly glad that most of them are different, but still.
October 10, 2015 @ 11:16 pm
It was a retread of far better stories, but I can’t really dislike any episode where the Doctor visits the historical Cold War. Well, actually I can, because I found that Ice Warriors On A Sub thing pretty boring; but, still, Doctor Who going to the Soviet Union in 1980 is just innately gonna make me happy.
Also: The Doctor seems to be caught up in the whole vinyl revival thing. That’s interesting.
Did they have to kill Osgood again, though?
October 10, 2015 @ 11:54 pm
Except they didn’t go to the Soviet Union – they were in an army base in Scotland set up like a soviet camp for training. Which, as others have said, seems a bit gratuitous for something with no payoff.
October 11, 2015 @ 12:26 am
A fake-fake Soviet village instead of a fake Soviet village; it’s just more hyperreal that way.
October 12, 2015 @ 3:40 am
And it could easily have been anywhere with mountains, as it did not really feel like we were grounded at all in Scotland to me. And no explanation at all for an unheard of training base.
October 10, 2015 @ 11:22 pm
Agree with pretty much all the criticisms in the posts and the prior comments, and yet I still enjoyed it. What kept me in it were: Cass and Lunn, especially Cass though; Clara getting more Doctor-ish, getting Lunn to take on a dangerous mission (not that dangerous, since he hadn’t seen the writing, but still…), which calls back to the Doctor telling her last episode there’s only room for one of him; I rather liked how the sea serpent mural dominated that one shot, the one were Cass was foregrounded on the right-hand side, Clara in the background on the far left, and Lunn starting to walk in front of it, but stopping so it remained in the center of the frame; and that it seemed to be an attempt to salvage something of Heinlein, like the bootstrap paradox was the earworm at the heart of “By His Bootstraps” and “All You Zombies” — stories that otherwise littered with Heinlein’s weird tics and misogyny.
October 11, 2015 @ 12:12 am
I made the mistake of trying to discuss the fridging on Gallifrey Base.
My respect for that forums denizens has never been lower, and I’ve been a member since 2000.
John G Wood
October 12, 2015 @ 3:59 am
I never, ever go near discussion of recent episodes on GB. It’s just not worth the risk of being drowned in excrement.
Other areas of the site, though, are friendly, thoughtful and interesting; so it’s a case of not damning the whole place because it has some swampland in it.
October 11, 2015 @ 2:13 am
Whoa whoa whoa, are you talking shit about Big Finish?
October 11, 2015 @ 2:34 am
Having listened to a LOT of Big Finish, it’s sadly an apt description.
October 11, 2015 @ 5:45 am
He always does.
(Okay, almost always.)
John G Wood
October 12, 2015 @ 4:32 am
BF do produce a lot of generic runarounds, but to damn them for this is, I think, unfair. That’s their bread and butter, and they manage to put out more interesting stuff as well (though not so much as they used to).
Trying to think of what comparing the first bit of this to “visual Big Finish” means, I get hung up on the iconography and I can only think of Brave New Town (which I happened to love). I know that’s not what Jack meant, but still.
Anybody else think a Capaldi/Frobisher pairing would be interesting?
October 11, 2015 @ 2:23 am
I found this to be a really good episode to have on in the background while I focused on other stuff. It was just such a nothing of an episode.
October 11, 2015 @ 2:27 am
Yeah there was a kind of ‘extruded’ quality about it to borrow a Pratchett criticism about generic fantasy trilogies. Got so bored started checking my phone and humming & aaring about picking up Undersea Menace DVD.
As Jane said, nice guitar work and use of Beethoven’s 5th but apart from that the only memorable bit was the filming of Cass getting stalked from her perspective and the dropping of the extraneuous audio.
The Fisher King was willfully underdeveloped, particularly with the choice made to withold his appearance getting my hopes up that they were delaying it because who he was was significant.
This could have been a fairly decent 45 minute single episode – the idea of killling people just to make a message to get rescued is fairly monstrous, it was just meh for long periods. To use the podcast rating system I’d give it a 3 – a basic degree of competence but too thinnly stretched for too long a period, as opposed to a 6 which is just egregious incompetence.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:22 am
I suspect James wouldn’t agree with your rating, only because he loves Pertwee so much. His would be, I think, another Davison.
Except that’s not fair, especially in lieu of Shearman’s apt remarks that Davison’s run is often doing something brand new, if not always advisable. And this isn’t brand new.
I’d give this a Troughton. The sort of Troughton we’d expect from Haisman and Lincoln. A generic base-under-siege with problematic elements, elevated only by the performances of the lead actors.
October 11, 2015 @ 2:37 am
I liked it more than the first part, which I thought was the most generic DW episode since “42” and – possibly – since “Warriors Of The Deep.” Say what you will about that forest episode last year, or – lord – “Fear Her”… at least they both seemed to be trying.
That’s still not saying much, though. An abandoned Cold War era fake USSR town – or,really, any bit of Cold War imagery – has a lot of potential for a story. A bone-faced mythical creature with a hatred of Time Lord rules has a lot of potential for a villain. An entire story based around the bootstrap paradox has a lot of potential, too. However, all of those things were done better in… “Cold War,” “Interference I and II”, and “Blink.” I still don’t get why the Fisher King was making ghosts, or why he was called the Fisher King, or…
Oh, and with the Tivolians, it looks like Toby Whithouse has gone and found his very own Drashigs.. aliens nobody likes except their creator.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:24 am
I liked the Tivolian in God Complex. But he was much more well drawn than what we got here.
October 12, 2015 @ 3:42 am
Yep, the Tivolian was really lovely and an interesting character in The God Complex, which for me was Whithouse’s best.
October 11, 2015 @ 3:54 am
It was kind of solidly meh, really, and has the unfortunate consequence of making the first part look so much worse.
I mean, I found the first part to be a solid modernisation of “base under siege” showing that yes, it can work today… with the nice cliffhanger setting up what seemed at the time like it might be a drastically different and interesting second part.
But it wasn’t – it’s a whole lot of interesting ideas that not only don’t quite land but don’t even seem to have been launched in the first place. It kind of reminds me of Piers Morgan’s old appearance on “Have I Got News For You”, mimicking what other people have done with zero understanding of how it worked.
I suppose the same might have true of Part 1 as well, with the difference that there was the basic competence there to successfully pull off something as simple Base-Under-Siege, and then it just all fell apart.
I mean, the opening would have been clever enough as an introduction to some Moffat-y rollicking tour through the concept. But it wasn’t.
The fake Soviet village would’ve been an interesting setting to a story relevant to it in any way, but it had no relevance whatsoever.
The Tivolian could’ve been interesting if it hadn’t just been the exact same joke as in the God Complex repeated only shorter and less interesting… I mean, really, it was an amusing enough gag first time round, and revisiting it could be an interesting opportunity to expand and elaborate, see a different side of it – maybe Prentis could’ve been a Fisher King fanboy or something? – but nothing comes of it. Maybe a thematic resonance to O’Donnell being a fan of the Doctor, which was another interesting idea with absolutely zero actual meaning?
And dear God, but who thought it was a good idea to have the Fisher King wandering around in daylight?
October 11, 2015 @ 4:47 am
I’m just depressed.
Everything Phil said basically.
I think, maybe if the fake Soviet village had been a night shoot it would have achieved the atmosphere the director was looking for. Maybe.
I can only assume Whithouse heard a reference to the Fisher King story once, thought it sounded a cool name but couldn’t be bothered to actually do any research. Anything, the vaguest reference to Arthurian myth, the wounded God archetype or the Grail legend would have done but no. Nothing. Just a cool name that now, for me because of this, is just that little bit less cool. This outdoes ‘In the Forest of the Night’ for gratuitous referencing with no pay off.
Why was Prentis dressed as a Victorian undertaker?
This I suspect is the real Bootstrap paradox –
Whithouse has an idea for ‘cool’ visual, i.e. a Gothic ghost in a futuristic base and then decides to be clever and retcon the plot within its own narrative to explain it. Except the explanation never quite lands and he ends up with an anachronistic visual motif which could easily be explained using time travel ‘explained’ using space travel. I mean…why?
Whithouse has said in an interview that the original script was even more ‘timey wimey’ (Gods help us) before Moffat edited it. I mean, can you imagine?
Oh well, bring on Maisie Williams disappointing me by not being Susan then.
October 11, 2015 @ 5:04 am
I disliked this for a seemingly quite idiosyncratic reason: I read a thing before the season started that suggested that my longtime dream of the Doctor meeting Beethoven would finally happen onscreen. Alas.
Capaldi would have been such a perfect incarnation for it, too. I suppose it would have been too much curmudgeon for one screen.
(I would also have loved to see 11 meet Mozart, or 10 meet Chopin. I have ludicrously specific desires.)
October 11, 2015 @ 5:06 pm
And 6 meets Andrew Lloyd Webber?
October 11, 2015 @ 6:11 pm
Given what happend in episode 1 of Twin Dilemma I’d say Ike Turner.
October 14, 2015 @ 4:40 am
Four meets Mozart.
October 11, 2015 @ 6:07 am
I enjoyed it.
It had genuine tension. The characters on the base were well drawn enough for you to care about them and consequently there was genuine tension surrounding whether they would live or die. The Cass/Lund relationship wasn’t out of nowhere – she’d been overly protective of him from the start (which is why he hadn’t seen the images in the ship).
Yes, it was a bit of a cut-n-paste of classic elements (Fenric, Pyramids of Mars et al) but no harm in that.
October 12, 2015 @ 1:12 am
The characters on the base had three character traits between the five of them: cautious, hyper-protectively unspoken crush, and ‘fan of the Doctor’.
(The actors were good though.)
October 11, 2015 @ 6:57 am
I thought it was reasonable except for the Beethoven business – that first scene was extremely ponderous, as was the callback at the end.
Yes, the problems you cite are real, such as pointless romantic couplings. But it did scare me a bit so that’s something.
Also, that’s both stories with a notion of the Doctor preparing to die. I sense a season theme emerging.
October 11, 2015 @ 7:01 am
While I saw and agree with everything that has been noted about this episode’s weak points, I can’t bring myself to hate it. Which is odd. I should.
What I find myself realising is that this series (so far) seems to be engaging in wilfully nostalgic Doctor Who, and that on some level the “feel” they are achieving is working. And while that will obviously anger people like Phil and Jack and Jane, who all love Doctor Who most when it stretches and reaches and changes and invents (even if it falls short while doing so) for me I find it has another result.
This feels like the show I grew up watching – Pertwee, Baker and Davison. Mostly Tom. Knowing that the whole series is to be two parters, you go into the first episode understanding that there will be a cliffhanger, and enjoying the way they set that up. There is actually very little suspense, and you enjoy the craft more. Then you resolve the cliffhanger however you chose to, and finish the story. That second part is more often than not a bit disappointing, or by-the-numbers.
And this season has the same… rhythm. It’s weird. Is this because we have an older Doctor, who was himself a fan of the original series? Now that we’ve dealt with his regeneration, and the whole 100th anniversary of WWI thing, we get into what this Doctor really wants to do with his time: be more classic? So we get Davros and the Master, then a perfectly Pertwee base under seige.
I don’t hate it, but I’m not sure that’s not just my own nostalgia talking. I’ll be interested to see if people all keep rating the 1st parts better than their resolution episodes. That’s what I’d expect, from my memory of childhood.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:38 am
Well, it makes sense that they’re being willfully nostalgic, what with this being the 10th anniversary of the Revival and all. I myself don’t mind that particular thematic element, in of itself. Indeed, I rather liked when they did it in Season 20. But Season 20 has got a lot of other stuff going on! Stuff which admittedly only becomes apparent as it makes its run, as opposed to right out of the gate.
What I object to is nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia. If the show were making a critique of the past, that could be interesting. If the show were using nostalgia for some other worthy purpose that has potential — like, a creepy Life Review as part of an extended meditation on death, which they might be going for here — that works for me too.
But that doesn’t mean throwing out the good stuff that the show has already learned. I still want really well-drawn characters. I still want the various elements to cohere, as above so below. I want symbolism and references that make a point. I want material social progress. And I don’t think we get that here.
My rankings so far:
— The Witch’s Familiar
— Under the Lake
— The Magician’s Apprentice
— Before the Flood
October 11, 2015 @ 8:13 pm
Yep – solidly in the same camp here Jane. In fact, I reckon my rankings mirror yours at the moment. So I’m wrong in saying you’ll dislike it more than me, obviously.
I am just fascinated at my own visceral feel of comfort and familiarity with (of all things) the RHYTHM. Cliffhangers: obviously for my inner child they are an integral part of Doctor Who, which has been mostly missing since the revival.
October 11, 2015 @ 8:17 pm
Oh, and why (WHY?) was it not the “Fissure King”?
That’s what I was hearing whenever they said it. In fact, I just assumed that it WASN’T a direct lift from Arthurian Legend, because why would Moffat do that, when there is a Weird Science sounding spin on it just lying there, waiting to be picked up and run with?
More evidence that Moffat did not re-write this heavily, I guess.
October 11, 2015 @ 7:45 am
The opening! Loved the opening, supremely pointless and not 1/100th as interesting as it was when Moffat did the same “let’s have Peter pitch the episode” thing in Listen, but Capaldi addressing the camera is just fun to watch. On the other edge of that sword, this goes back to your point in Under The Lake about good actors enlivening bland material.
The Fisher King! Loved the Fisher King, I think he’s a wonderful achievement of the costume / effects department, that long shot of him marching from the church to the spaceship was quite impressive. Guy in a very convincing rubber suit. COMPLETELY wasted on this episode, he shoots two characters offscreen then walks around in a dark basement for a bit. Maybe years from now he’ll get wheeled out of the cupboard where they keep all the aliens for a cameo in Sauce Nicely like we had with those fish men from The Doctor’s Daughter in the first episode.
Two-parters! I was iffy on two-parters from the start, and like the Sonic Sunglasses it’s an admirable experiment, it’s just that we could have had two good stories by other writers by now instead of just one “overall pretty decent” Moffat story and one “Fucking Whithouse” Whithouse story. I can’t imagine they’ll be going back to this any time soon unless the back half of this season turns out to be stellar.
Setting up important plot elements and character moments!
Blatant fridging! VOMITS EVERYWHERE Fucking…fucking really? Really? This is up there with “killing The Black Guy in the first five minutes” on the list of things that should just not be fucking happening on a BBC TV show in year of our lord two thousand and fifteen. It’s…I mean i’m not surprised and i’m not even disappointed that Whithouse wrote it, but how did this garbage land on Steven Moffat’s desk and not get purged in the rewriting? Ugh.
Cass. I really loved Cass in Under The Lake. I did not love what Whithouse did with her in this. Representation of disability is a blind-spot (hah) I have just realised I need to work on, so I don’t know if this episode was just disappointing or outright offensive.
Regardless, fuck the ending. Romantic ass-pull double-whammy aside, they just keep the ghosts in the Faraday cage to walk forever? I’m not a fan of the genre, so I could be wrong, but isn’t there a strain of ghost stories that end with the spirit(s) being released into death / the afterlife for good reason?
October 11, 2015 @ 8:32 am
they just keep the ghosts in the Faraday cage to walk forever?
Actually, the Doctor says they’ll fade away. Because they’re powered by the planet’s magnetic field, or something
October 11, 2015 @ 9:46 am
Or something. I must have missed that in the avalanche of technobabble at the end, which is another thing I disliked about this episode.
October 11, 2015 @ 8:26 am
Yet another one in the “fully agree with all the criticisms from everyone*, but actually rather enjoyed it” category. I doubt it’s one that will benefit in the least from rewatching, but I feel I’d still rather watch it ten more times than sit through In the Forest of the Night again.
*And more – there was more plot-hole than plot, why on earth did the Doctor quite persistently assume that the undertaker was behind it all when he already knows he winds up as a ghost-automaton (rather than paying any attention to the allegedly-deceased evil overlord right in front of him), the music was overdone even by Murray Gold standards (I actually had to look away during the weepy bit with O’Donnell dying because I was cringing so hard), Whithouse STILL won’t let go of the Time War…and so forth.
Besides all the previous visits to the Bootstrap Paradox, another bit of timey-wimey that was derivative of recent Doctor Who episodes (never mind anything else) was the way that the resolution depended on accepting the Moffat-era quantum-physics-style time-travel rule that you can’t change bits of the future you know about, but recognising that you can still contrive things so that the known facts mean something complete different from what they appear to, a la Wedding of River Song.
But I don’t mind the reuse of a decent-enough trick (though it’s a bit wearisome that the thing it was being used to work around was, again, the Doctor’s really-definitely-we-mean-it-this-time foreknown death, which is the Moffat era’s answer to the Davies era’s threats to destroy the Earth’s every other week, only worse), and I think, as the script, perhaps too explicitly, suggested (“reverse-engineering the narrative”), that it’s an approach to time-travel storytelling with interesting real-world analogies.
Abiding by the letter of a fixed text or set of rules, while subverting its spirit by writing in the gaps and transforming the context of the established components seems like a pretty good metaphor for both the process of postmodernist criticism and convention-subverting, detournement-related cultural production of the sort Phil has discussed quite a bit in the context of Doctor Who, particularly regarding the narrative-substitution concept.
Outside of the cultural-commentary sphere, the idea also seems applicable to the way people reinterpret the facts of their past (the bit of time which is fixed and known in reality, as the future can only be in science fiction) to give them a different significance and take control of their outcome.
So as an idea I think it has value, even though its appearance here is unoriginal, the story doesn’t actually do anything interesting with it, and it serves to underline how much less good at this stuff Whithouse is than Moffat.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:09 am
You guys, the Doctor is really, honestly going to totally die for realsies this episode. Not like all the other episodes where he was totally honestly going to die and then didn’t. And he can’t change the past because that’s totally not allowed ever except all the episodes where he does. And even in the episodes he really truly can’t because of reasons but finds a loophole anyway. No, actually it’s just like that, so he really ought to stop bellyaching about it and get on with the story.
And the big twist is that he’s going to hide in a suspended animation box. We haven’t used that twist in ages so nobody will spot it a mile off.
Why does the Moff keep doing stories where the big suspense is that the Doctor is going to die, honest for realsies? He already spent an entire season with that as the main plot and nobody believed it then, so why does he think it’s going to work in some random base-under-seige story?
Threaten to kill off the likeable character who’s only in this story and there’s some tension. I mean he might actually not kill them for a change. But to believably threaten the main cast it has to be with something more subtle than death.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:23 am
Not a Moffat story.
October 13, 2015 @ 10:35 am
All I could think of was The Watcher. I’m a cynic, so I assume Whithouse was flinging as much iconography at the wall as he could, just because he thought he could get away with it under this showrunner.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:10 am
I still preferred it to Robot of Sherwood.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:43 am
I did quite like it, although it’s clearly in the bottom third of Moffat episodes. I am slightly disconcerted by the reaction to the “fridging” – I thought that the payoff that Bennet got (both with Clara and with Cass/Lund) was more than worth it, and that scene would never have worked with O’Donnell doing it because she was given the opposite sort of characterisation – again, this was a story where the female characters were mainly the proactive ones and all the men (excluding the Doctor) came across as largely weedy and feeble (although I thought Lund doing the “what do you say to people when they are scared?” bit was excellent. And, in passing, even this usually emotionally-unaware viewer could see that Cass/Lund had been set up as a relationship from the start of the story.)
As to the opening, I think Moffat simply can’t win this one. Either he skips over things and is accused of being complicated for the sake of it, or he over-explains things (or allows them to be over-explained) and is then criticized for doing that. Personally, I prefer the skipping over approach, but I rather like the notion that this Doctor wants to show off a bit more so he needs to explain a bit more too. (It would never have worked with 11 but Capaldi makes it feel effortless.)
October 11, 2015 @ 10:13 am
‘I think Moffat simply can’t win this one’
He should be able to. He didn’t write it.
October 12, 2015 @ 1:43 pm
Whilst I agree this is very fair to say – cos, yeah, he didn’t write it – it was ultimately greenlit by Steven Moffat and I’ve no doubt he tweaked or had some hand in the script (however much or little). He let this one get the go-ahead.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:56 am
I thought that was a great episode. I don’t see the fact the episode focussed so much on a particularly simple paradox problem to be an issue. Heck my parents are really fed up and confused by the Moffat-era time-travel shenanigans, so assuming the entire audience is au-fait as us guys is a mistake.
Also not every time a female character is killed is a fridging, you know. If it had been the male that was killed would that have been okay or seen as an insult to minorities or whatever. Sometimes you just can’t win!
October 11, 2015 @ 11:24 am
This one is a fridging, Matt. It’s killing off a female character for the dramatic purpose of focusing on the angst of a male protagonist.
October 11, 2015 @ 1:23 pm
But does it necessarily follow then that if you kill off a character who happens to be female then the death must be meaningless with no impact on any characters, to avoid accusations of fridging?
October 11, 2015 @ 2:03 pm
It depends on the context, Matt. For example, the death of Buffy’s mom isn’t a fridging. She isn’t murdered, nor is her death an excuse to focus on male angst and indeed character motivation. Furthermore, Joyce was a long-term well-developed supporting character.
Nor can we say that Miss Evangelista’s was a fridging. It doesn’t propel Mr Lux, for example, onto his dramatic arc, nor for the Doctor; the dramatic weight of her death falls to Donna, and largely for the manner of it, and what it demonstrates about her character (and everyone else’s for that matter).
O’Donnell’s death is a classic fridging, precisely because of its context, specifically to propel a male protagonist (and specifically a romantic interest) onto his emotional and dramatic journey. And the reason this is decried as a misogynistic plot device is because it reduces the female character to a prop. As such, O’Donnell is deemed to have no intrinsic value, except in relation to a man. And I’m sorry, but that’s fuckery.
October 11, 2015 @ 2:23 pm
Yeah, for me the key aspects of a fridging are 1) that it be a female character and 2) that it be primarily presented as a bad thing that happens to a male character.
To pick some instances that are 1 but not 2… well, any of the major deaths in The Wicked and the Divine, but if we want to limit ourselves to Doctor Who, you can credibly argue Osgood wasn’t a fridging (although I did not make that argument at the time). You can definitely claim that, for instance, the police officer in Flatline or Gretchen in Into the Dalek are not fridged.
October 12, 2015 @ 4:39 am
I’m not sure if I’d agree with that. I mean sure you can argue it’s a fridge but it’s a very weak fridge. I’m all for calling a fridge a fridge (see: Osgood in Death in Heaven) but I think there’s a real danger that if you start calling out any death of a female character that has an effect on someone a fridge then you risk diluting the concept of fridging as a horrible and lazy writing technique.
I think the traditional definiton of a fridge is different to yours, as the second point is usually that the death serves primarily as a motivation for the main character (rather than just ‘a terrible thing that happens to them’ as lets be fair, ANY death of a close friend/relative is a terrible thing that happens to a person and not including that would be weak writing) and treating killing them off as simply a plot device. It’s also not limited to male main characters, as Buffy for example fridged quite a few prominant female leads for the sole reason of creating angst and motivation for the leads (see: Tara/Jenny) which were frankly just as awful decisions.
That’s why I don’t really see O’Donnell’s death as a fridge, because while her friend (who is such a minor character I don’t even remember his name) is upset, it doesn’t really seem to exist just to cause angst and motivation for action for the main characters. If her death had resulted in a tearful Doctor shaking his fist at the sky and declaring that NOW he must stop the Fisher King then it would be a fridge (again, see Osgood). O’Donnell herself is such a minor character with a handful of lines that it’s pretty much a redshirt death which I can’t really get that worked up over.
I am though genuinely interested why you’d call this a fridge and Osgood not, it seems very clear to me it’s the other way round.
October 11, 2015 @ 4:18 pm
I took it more as a reversal of that – though not in a good way. It was a redshirt death but in an attempt to make that more meaningful they then tacked on that the character was really loved by somebody. I don’t know if that is a fridging but the notion that the death of a character is only tragic because a character loved her isn’t great. i.e. the death wasn’t to give emotional depth to another character but that the other character’s emotions were intended to give depth to the death. The plot purpose of the death was that somebody likeable had to die this episode as well, so that we would fear for Cass.
October 11, 2015 @ 10:09 am
Presumably The Fisher King was the The Fisher King because the story can’t ‘move on’ until the King is removed?
I’m guessing the thematic thing is, in some way at least, about the arresting and trapping of the passage of time. The Fisher King’s kingdom couldn’t be renewed until he was killed or gave up. The King and Kingdom being the same thing.
The preserved village pre/post fall is arrested from progression. The ghosts are ‘trapped’. The Doctor ‘must’ die for the story to resolve and move on. Even the day/night mechanic seems to talk about the importance of cycles of time.
I think we were also meant to see the characters as being someone arrested and frozen in their positions and relationships until the Fisher King affair moves things on and enables a new cycle of time to begin.
I wonder if somewhere in the idea of The Fisher King is the idea of a figure that can prevent progress and destroy the natural cycle of renewal and rebirth? Maybe that’s the origin of those little bits of the Doctor discussing regeneration?
Also, it’s the King’s death that both starts the story and also breaks the loop (or at least the loop as it would appear if we weren’t playing bootstrapping). So, for as long as The King remains unkilled, the story can never be resolved.
I kind of like the idea of The Fisher King being a kind of halt to time until slain. Not sure it was followed through, though.
October 11, 2015 @ 10:34 am
Also, Wikipedia tells me (just so you know from what deep erudition I speak) that the Fisher King may be derived from the character of Bran the Blessed in the Mabinogion, who “has a cauldron that can resurrect the dead (albeit imperfectly; those thus revived cannot speak)”.
October 11, 2015 @ 10:39 am
I mean the original Fisher King, obviously.
October 11, 2015 @ 10:57 am
I read that as Brian Blessed
October 16, 2015 @ 10:59 pm
BRIAN BLESSED?!? 😀
October 11, 2015 @ 11:23 am
Except the Fisher King stories aren’t about killing the king, but healing. That healing is done through achieving The Grail, a symbol for the Divine Feminine. As such, it’s ultimately a story about integration, in particular the integration of the Divine Feminine in a patriarchal culture. That aspect of the Divine is demonstrated through compassion.
Whithouse’s “Fisher King” has nothing to do with that. Instead it resolves the story patriarchally, through killing via deception; there’s no compassion about it.
October 12, 2015 @ 3:56 am
Absolutely Jane. The whole of the Grail quest is about healing the deep wounds within patriarchal culture through its denial of the feminine, and the Fisher King in part represents the carrying of the resulting wound.
Agree with your assessment on how the myth has been reversed here. This story shot wide of the mark – a big disappointment, as something beautiful ought to have happened with the invocation of such a myth.
October 16, 2015 @ 11:03 pm
…no, Jane. Please don’t parrot “The Da Vinci Code”, especially when “The Da Vinci Code” is dead-wrong: http://www.historyversusthedavincicode.com/chapterfiftysix.htm
“Nothing in any of the Grail stories connects the Grail to Mary Magdalene (though it does connect it to other Biblical figures) and there is no evidence to connect this vague and evolving set of fantasy stories to anything about a ‘holy bloodline’, let alone any ancient ‘sacred feminine’.”
(I’m just trying to correct a misconception. Sorry if I sound brusque.)
October 11, 2015 @ 5:18 pm
Also, the fake-Soviet village in Scotland of 1980 plastered with propaganda posters hints at possible alternative futures.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find the Russian on the posters translates as “Here Comes the Future!”
Although why didn’t the Tardis translate them, when failure to translate was such a plot point in the first half? Ok fine probably looks better that way, and beats adding a line of dialogue to handwave over it.
And what was that aside about the War Minister in aid of? Setting up a later story I suppose.
October 11, 2015 @ 1:05 pm
Yeah, that episode was some nasty garbage. The thing that completely aggravates me is Whithouse left by far the most interesting idea on the table: What if the Doctor’s Ghost really WAS the Doctor’s Ghost, until the Doctor, stuck in the past and knowing just that much about the inevitable future, concocted a ridiculous plot to simulate a “Doctor’s Ghost” — thus providing a (barely) plausible narrative substitution that enabled his escape from apparent death. Which is to say, does it matter if you rewrite historical causes if the apparent outcome doesn’t change and no-one, not even you, can say for sure if you did it? Or maybe that was in the script and the whole damn thing was so poorly crafted it didn’t come through.
Cass’ deafness was pretty interesting, but mostly for reasons outside the actual plot. It’s hard to believe that a hundred years from now there won’t be ways to at least partially restore hearing, and that people in positions like Cass’ wouldn’t be expected to pursue them. Does the Deaf Culture movement gain traction in the future? And the Lunn thing — Yikes! He looked so young, I read Cass’ concern for him as almost maternal and was rather weirded out by where that went …
Also, as an architect, I have to slam the production design. “Generic” is being kind — did they just Google “underwater base” and go with the first image that came up? Sets and props are much more integral to an episode’s sensibility than they get credit for, and someone was totally asleep at the wheel here. It’s just not threatening to have a ghost brandishing a 5-pound fiberglass Eames chair …
October 11, 2015 @ 5:01 pm
Nevermind a hundred years from now: we are probably no more than twenty years from devices that will (poorly, but serviceably) translate ASL/BSL into spoken english, and we have tolerable continuous speech-to-text transcription in mobile devices right now. In fact, the iPhone that Clara was visably carting around this episode can do it.
Deaf people might well for all sorts of reasons prefer to have a human interpreter around (we’re probably always going to be better at nuance than machines), but the idea that the second-in-command of a multi-billion-dollar mining expedition wouldn’t have a backup means of communicating (nevermind if your translator gets killed by aliens — he probably wants to sleep or use the bathroom occasionally) doesn’t pass the laugh test.
October 11, 2015 @ 6:33 pm
Yep, exactly. And — while the actors’ signing performances were among the very few enjoyable parts of the episode — this makes me wonder how broad-minded it really is to introduce a deaf character into a fairly implausible situation so she can lip read when the plot calls for it and tiptoe down spooky corridors without ever checking behind herself. Oh, complain, complain! At least I have to give credit to Sophie Stone for selling what could have been a trainwreck of a role.
October 12, 2015 @ 5:12 am
Yeah, I was a bit annoyed that her deafness was a plot point needed to move the story forwards rather than just being another character who happens to be deaf.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:12 pm
Oops, I’m sorry, did I say twenty years?
I mean twenty months.
October 11, 2015 @ 7:14 pm
There are electromagnetic ghosts walking around and the moon’s an egg; I don’t have any real problems with a futuristic sign-language interpreter.
October 12, 2015 @ 11:48 am
If only the story were stronger and cleverer I’d be happy to go with the signing, but Before the Flood was such a non-event I’d rather think about the implications of being deaf in the 22nd century!
October 11, 2015 @ 1:38 pm
So we’re lining into two rows — those who saw the flaws, and hated the whole thing as a result, and those who saw the flaws, but liked it anyway. I’m of the second group. Yes, bits were irritating (the fridging is what I can’t handwave away) and there were holes (why wasn’t the Fisher King dead in the space hearse…did I miss that?), but (a) lots of parts did work, and (b) it was a reasonably engaging old skool Who story, which is fine once in a while.
Where I think Phil and others are wrong, however, is in complaining that the bootstrap paradox was over-sold and underwhelming. Rarely for this blog, Phil, I think, forgets that the show is also for casual viewers who may not be as up on sci-fi cliches as the rest of us are. My sons, who’ve watched every episode of Nu Who multiple times, needed the paradox explained to them (“so…who was in the box the whole time?”), and ultimately thought it “Cool.” So there’s that.
October 11, 2015 @ 11:46 pm
Agree with everything you said!
Also for me, the bootstrap paradox intro seemed to suggest to the viewer that the cliffhanger was definitely something they should be concerned about going into the episode rather than expecting it to be resolved in the first 5 minutes like so many other cliffhangers before: Time Traveller goes back to origin of Music/Event, is surprised to be an inescapably tied up in Music/Event. A misreading perhaps, but I think an intentional one for young and casual viewers or those like me who just let it gloriously wash over me without analysing too hard on the first viewing.
Regarding the Fisher King not being dead, I took the implication that it was faking death to escape whatever punishment the Arcateenians would dish out against him for occupying Tivoli, knowing the custom would be to remove his corpse to a distant location likely well away from Arcateenian troops.
October 11, 2015 @ 2:54 pm
My own review of this episode started “Not sure this is going to be one of my favourite episodes”, which basically means I agree with Phil, but didn’t like to say so. Reading Phil’s review I veered between “Yeah, that’s what I thought” and “Oh, god, I never even noticed that.” I did like the lecture, though. I’m not sure there was a need for it, but it was probably the best bit of the episode.
It also had the worst kind of “Meanwhile in the future…” plotting, with Ghost-O’Donnell not appearing until she was actually killed in 80s-present (although Holo-Ghost-Doctor appears as soon as he goes back in time).
And it’s almost funny that after the complaints last week that Whithouse didn’t foreshadow the hologram, it turns out the holo-Clara was meant to be the foreshadowing.
October 11, 2015 @ 4:38 pm
October 11, 2015 @ 9:19 pm
What really frustrated me about this episode was that it was almost doing so many interesting things, but failing to do any of them actually. And what it seemed to think were the most interesting things about the story (Bennett-O’Donnell & Lunn-Cass, the bootstrap paradox) were actually irritating, offensive, or pedantic.
I was especially disappointed because Under the Lake managed to do so much more interesting things with the base-under-siege format. Yet part two finds Whithouse spinning his wheels.
Here’s my own ridiculously detailed review where I basically agree with Phil, but harp on a few different things, and in more detail.
I also think the Tivolians have a lot of potential in Doctor Who that hasn’t been used yet at all.
October 11, 2015 @ 9:34 pm
Okay, I made some slight edits just after I hit publish. Now read it!
October 11, 2015 @ 11:50 pm
A visit to Tivoli under in the process of being invaded could be interesting. Perhaps there could be a third party under threat that the Tivolians could, should, but are failing to do anything to protect, so the show can examine the grey areas of pacifism.
October 11, 2015 @ 10:10 pm
While we clearly weren’t the intended audience for the prologue, I’m looking forward to what Lindalee Rose has to say about it.
Because she seems more of the target. Someone who has grown up with Moffat era Who, and who has seen the paradox on television several times. But also someone young enough that they may have missed the implications. And, more importantly, someone who might not yet have the vocabulary to understand and talk about what they are seeing.
You can learn the vocabulary from books, or from classes in philosophy or logic. But you can also learn it, and probably remember it better, by hearing the Doctor reminisce about trying to get his Beethoven sheet music autographed.
October 12, 2015 @ 4:01 am
“Paul Kaye gets a single scene in which he gets to actually act, and he spends it doing jokes already done by David Walliams a few years ago, which is one of the more staggering misuses of an actor in recent memory.”
Disappointing episode and an utter waste of such an actor as Paul Kaye, and one that sadly took a brilliant myth such as the Fisher King and did zilch with it.
Looking forwards to better.
October 12, 2015 @ 4:02 am
Just noticed the theme for this site is by ‘Bootstrap’!
John G Wood
October 12, 2015 @ 5:17 am
This was certainly disappointing – I loved last week’s, and it says something about me that I’m partly annoyed because I can’t give a score to the story as a whole that represents my feelings about either part. (That’s the same aspect of my personality that means I love lists, I suspect.)
My daughter was in the “can see it’s flawed but still enjoyed it” camp, I was in the “the flaws spoiled it for me” camp, and my wife was in the “I didn’t follow that at all” camp. The bootstrap lecture at the start didn’t help her one bit.
Speaking of, the bootstrap speech bit was one of the successes for me. The others were mostly continuations of some things that went well last time – the characterisation of O’Donnell and Cass in particular. I also loved the “Cass being hunted” scene (except for the Daredevil-style axe image, but that still didn’t spoil it), the rock theme, and a couple of the quieter moments with Clara.
Others have listed what’s wrong with it. I’ll call out particularly the fridging, the rubbish way the paradox was used, the waste of the Fisher King concept (and of the costume, which looked good in the shadows), the Tivolian scene (they are your perfect market for Shades of Grey, I suspect), and the angsty Doctor vibe.
Under the Lake
The Witch’s Familiar
The Magician’s Apprentice
Before the Flood
October 12, 2015 @ 11:55 am
I seem to recall Prentiss making some kind of euphemistic BDSM proposition to the Doctor, which is at least something you don’t see male characters doing every day.
October 12, 2015 @ 12:29 pm
Yeah, you didn’t imagine that.
John G Wood
October 12, 2015 @ 3:36 pm
Yup, that’s what made me think of it.
October 12, 2015 @ 12:27 pm
I was in the “kind of enjoyed it despite its flaws” camp too until I read this. But then my expectations for this season have been extremely low, and I’ve been reduced to finding little moments I like.
In this episode, it was Lunn asking Clara what to say to comfort her — a miniature bootstrap paradox within the larger one. I didn’t like that scene just because Lunn was so pretty in it, but that certainly didn’t hurt.
About the rest of it: yeah, yeah, yeah. As Whithouse stories go, this is still one I’d be happy to watch again, though. I’d rank them like this:
The God Complex
Under the Lake / Before the Flood
Vampires of Venice
A Town Called Horseshit
It sort of felt like this one was a three-parter (god help us) trimmed down to two. The more I think about it, all the stuff that irritated me about the hype over ghosts in the first half is now doubly irritating because it was so ignored in the second half.
I did enjoy the Beethoven monologuing a bit more than the “Listen” monologuing because it didn’t feature a tremendously stupid premise that nearly sunk an otherwise admirable episode for me, and because it did lead into a substantial improvement on the title theme which we unfortunately will probably not hear next week.
I do love the pacing and the classic feel of the two-parters. It’s surprising how padded they haven’t felt to me. The downside is that it means if you have a lame idea, you’re going to see it for two weeks rather than one, and we’ve now burned through four episodes on what I think have not been the most exciting stories ever.
October 13, 2015 @ 10:58 am
Honesty compels me to admit to the no one who is reading that I watched it again last night to confirm that my own review made sense, and as with every episode this season so far, enjoyed it more the second time. Though it’s far from the only bootstrap paradox in Who so far, it did make me think a bit more about how such a paradox might be resolved, and for that alone I appreciate it. I don’t usually link my own reviews here but in case anyone’s curious, here it is, with the relevant bit toward the end: http://encyclops.com/before-the-flood/
October 14, 2015 @ 4:26 am
I will reverse my thoughts in the comments on episode 1 where I said I was intrigued and basically say that I don’t feel a big desire to watch this one again quickly. The best parts for me were Capaldi and Cass. The story now for me feels pretty pointless as soon as the black actor is killed off.
October 24, 2015 @ 10:36 am
Great Dr Who episode about my favorite time paradox, The Bootstrap. I even wrote a detailed article about it for anyone to explore the topic further at http://www.astronomytrek.com/the-bootstrap-paradox-explained