First thoughts: Under the Lake

Warning: spoilers ahead.

  • I really enjoyed this. It was a refreshing change of pace from the sweeping, epic scale of the opening two-parter; a more low-key and intimate story, but, at the same time, still genuinely thrilling and gripping Doctor Who.
  • That said, compared with the very non-traditional storytelling of the opening two-parter, this episode is very traditional Doctor Who. The base-under-siege is a familiar staple of the show, and this episode couldn’t help call to the mind of any Doctor Who fan similar base-under-siege stories in the new series like 42The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and The Waters of Mars. It feels a lot like each of those stories, and comparisons are inevitably going to be made. Don’t get me wrong, Under the Lake is a fantastic exemplar of the base-under-siege format, but, when looked at beside those stories, it falls just a bit flat.
  • But, I hasten to remind myself, we’ve only seen the first part of a two-part story. A great deal hinges on how well the second half turns out. The trailer makes it look amazing: scaling out from an anomalous incident in an underwater base to something of far greater moment. So I can’t really form a judgment about this one until I’ve seen the whole picture. As it stands, the second episode could either entrench this two-parter as an instant classic, or, if it fails to satisfactorily expand the plot and the narrative, leave it an enjoyable but unremarkable story that will be forgotten by this time in the next series, which is basically my opinion of the strikingly similar 42. But, just from the trailer, I’m confident that Whithouse will follow through with an absolute corker. I absolutely love the conceit of going back in time to discover how ghosts came to be, and I’m a great deal more excited for Before the Flood than I was for this episode.

  • These ghosts are seriously freaky. They’re astoundingly well-realised. If I were ten years younger (maybe eight, at a push), I’m sure I’d have gone to bed with the covers pulled resolutely over my head. Those blackened, hollowed-out eyes are the stuff of prepubescent nightmares, and the silently whispering mouths are the perfect final bone-chilling touch.
  • That cliffhanger was a belter. The Doctor, desiccated old Scot that he is, is maybe the freakiest of all the ghosts. Great buildup, too; my thoughts when Clara’s eyes were widening in shock when she saw who the new ghost was went something like: “Nope. Nope. Nope. NOPE. NOPE! Not him! Surely not! Oh, God, it’s him. He’s dead. Again.”
  • Cass was a great addition to the cast. The inclusion of a deaf character who communicates by signing always carried the risk of being a novelty, a hollow and embarrassing overture to the “minority representation” crowd, but Cass was unarguably one of the best things about this episode. She was easily the strongest of the fairly large cast of supporting characters (testament to which is that she’s the only one of the supporting characters whose name I can remember), and she proved vital in translating the ghosts’ silent mantra.
  • The show’s doing that ominous foreshadowing of the companion’s death thing again. Remember the not-so-subtle hinting that Amy was going to die all throughout Series 7a? I don’t know how to interpret the Doctor’s increasing concern over Clara’s worrisome thrill-seeking and recklessness other than as foreshadowing her forthcoming demise.

  • And just when I was starting to really like Clara again. Compared to Series 8, Clara so far hasn’t been given all that much to say or do (which is probably for the best; Series 8 was far too Clara-heavy at the expense of Capaldi), but, from what we have seen and heard from her, I think they’ve finally got the writing of her character right. She’s a genuinely likable character again. It’s as though they’ve finally struck the right balance, the sweet spot in between the charming but generic character devoid of distinctive personality that was Clara in Series 7, and the annoying, self-consumed drama queen that she was (at times) in Series 8.
  • Maybe the one main thing I would criticise about this episode is that too much reliance was placed on verbal exposition. Too many scenes of people standing in a room and talking. These sequences are tedious, puncture the atmosphere, and lose the viewers’ attention. When there’s as much of it as there was in this episode, it seems like disproportionately more of the episode was taken up by these sequences in one’s impression of the episode than in reality, which, I’m sure, when you’re a writer, is not what you want viewers to take away from your stories.
  • I really appreciated the humour of this episode. A selection of my favourite bits: Clara going for a high-five after she and the Doctor walked in on an overturned room, and the Doctor giving her a strange look that said “what a freak”; the Doctor assuming he can speak sign and becoming flustered when he realises he can’t; the faces Clara makes every time the Doctor says something inappropriate; the Doctor being reduced to carrying flashcards to remind him of how to conduct himself in a socially acceptable manner; “It was my fault, I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen.”
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2 thoughts on “First thoughts: Under the Lake

  1. I agree with you on the humour and the Clara aspect. It’s like Whithouse made a conscious effort while writing the script to make it funny.
    It’s weird that the Doctor never picked on the fact that Lann wasn’t killed by the ghosts, although he got to the answer at the end.
    The writing on the wall part of the plot seemed a bit obvious but perhaps it’s because we saw the writing appear on every cast members eye except Lann’s.
    I guess we can criticise, or appreciate, the whole plot after watching the second half. Can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that the dialogue heavy parts of the episode are great. It gives you a chance to really get to know THIS doctor. I loved it when Missy starts babbling, and I love it when the doctor starts babbling. It’s part of what made Tennant and Smith great. It’s also (I’ve come to learn) something that made Baker’s doctor great. All the chatter helps the audience put it together with the Doctor, and it also gives you a peek into how this Doctor thinks. Like I said it’s my opinion, but I really rather enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

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