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Doctor Who: Before the Flood (Review)

“Prentis! He’s alive.”

“No, he’s just not dead yet.”

– Bennett and the Doctor understand how this whole base under siege thing works

There is an argument to be made that Before the Flood is just too damn clever for its own good.

Under the Lake was a very conventional and familiar “base under siege” story, the kind of tense confined thriller that Doctor Who did so well. However, Before the Flood does more than simply extend that premise by another forty-five minutes. Instead, it gets decidedly playful. This is a nice twist on the structure of the season, a season built around multiple interlocking two-part episodes. Taking advantage of the break between Under the Lake and Before the Flood, writer Toby Whithouse shifts the episode’s genre along with its setting.

A Fisher (King) in the face of reality itself...

A Fisher (King) in the face of reality itself…

The teaser sets the tone, with the Doctor addressing the audience directly. In fact, one suspects that google searches on the phrase “bootstrap paradox” jumped dramatically at around 8:27pm BST, 10th October 2015. Although the episode’s closing sequence suggests that the Doctor might plausibly be addressing Clara, the framing makes it quite clear that he is talking through the television to the viewers at home. As if to emphasise this little detail, the Doctor’s wailing electric guitar plays into the opening credits; in case the show needed to be more self-aware.

However, Before the Flood is never entirely sure how much of this self-awareness is genuine cleverness and just how much of it is necessary structuring.

Flood of ideas...

Flood of ideas…

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Doctor Who: Under the Lake (Review)

You’re going to go back in time? How can you do that?

Extremely well.

– Bennett and the Doctor lay down some ground rules

Part of the thrill of the ninth season is the ambition and experimentation involved.

As a rule, the Moffat era has tended towards compression, favouring individual episodes over epic two parters. While the final stories of Davies-era seasons tended to burst at the seams, with extended runtimes pushing stories beyond even the generous runtimes of two- (or even three-) part episodes, the Moffat era has favoured the standalone story. Moffat finalés are packed tight, with episodes like The Wedding of River Song and The Name of the Doctor feeling like they might come off the rails if they moved any faster.

An axe to grind...

An axe to grind…

Constructed an entire season of two-part episodes represents a very clear change in how Doctor Who is telling stories. The change in the type of story alters both the fundamental structure of the episodes and the underlying rhythm of the season. There is no precedent for this in the ten years since the show came back, which makes it all very exciting. The show has told multi-part stories before, but always as events rather than as default. It feels entirely appropriate that Under the Lake sets up quite a distinct and delineated two-part adventure.

Toby Whithouse is one of the most traditionalist writers working on Doctor Who, give or take Mark Gatiss. After all, it was Whithouse who was assigned to bring Sarah Jane into the present with School Reunion during the second season. With that in mind, it makes sense that Under the Lake and Before the Flood feel a little bit like an attempt to bring a very classic multi-part structure into the twenty-first century.

Siege the moment...

Siege the moment…

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Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy (Review)

I see ‘Keep Out’ signs as suggestions more than orders.

– the Doctor

To be fair, it’s very clear that these two annual trips to North America have been an attempt for Doctor Who to “break” into the market place over there – to provide viewers with something recognisable as a gateway to a uniquely British television show. While the American backdrop of The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon added some wonderful stylistic touches, and a nice juicy role for President Nixon, A Town Called Mercy feels like a more overt attempt to tell a distinctly “American” story within the framework of the show. Borrowing more than just its aesthetic from the setting, A Town Called Mercy is also decidedly American in theme and tone.

A gunslinger built…

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