Doctor Who: Before the Flood

Posted on October 12, 2015


Peter Capaldi in BBC America’s “Doctor Who.”


Okay, real quick because we’re super-late on this (although we have the very best of nerdy excuses) and there’s just so damn much television to talk about lately:

It really wasn’t until it was over and all the narrative loops were closed that we realized what a good episode of Doctor Who this was; possibly even one we might come to call “excellent” after a half-dozen more viewings. Much like last week’s first half of the tale serving as the perfect Who “base under siege” story, this week served up as good a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey tale as Doctor Who can manage. This was a story that’s basically an explanation of what Doctor Who is about, from running up and down endless hallways, to monster designs that look great on darkened sets but should probably not (literally) see the light of day, to awesomely likable guest characters who have a tendency to die tragically, to smart, plucky, possibly morally compromised companions, to twists, turns and (in this instance, almost literal) deus ex machina endings, to a vague sense that none of it will truly hold up to any form of intense scrutiny, it was all here; almost a primer on the entire history and experience of watching the show.

Yes, it hinged on yet another “The Doctor is going to die” prophesy, and that’s particularly irksome, considering how much that narrative well has been returned time and again in the last few seasons. To be clear, it’s not the idea that the Doctor is in danger and might die that bothers us. After all, all adventure stories hinge on the possibility, however remote, that our hero may not make it out in one piece. But no one truly believes that’s going to happen, especially in a serialized adventure story like this one, with a history that stretches back a half-century. No, it’s the idea of The Doctor being assured of his impending doom that’s become such a stale cliche. The only thing that prevented it from weighing down the episode was the wise decision to make the story entirely about how our hero is going to survive his latest scrape.

Granted, the “how” turned out to be a tiny bit iffy, as the “how” so often does with Doctor Who. There seemed to be some hand-waving about the hologram of the Doctor and how it fit into the story, although most of the paradoxical elements of the story were resolved fairly well by the end. Everything more or less fit, which hasn’t always been the case with these sorts of “bootstrap paradox” stories, of which modern Who has done several. In fact, the last major one, The Angels Take Manhattan, tends to be memorable precisely because the loops either weren’t closed or were closed so badly and in such an unsatisfactory manner that it detracted tremendously from the story. But this time, even if there were parts that strained belief (in as much as you can say such a thing about time-traveling alien stories), everything closed up in a manner that was both intellectually and emotionally satisfying, which we just realized is probably the hallmark of a good Doctor Who episode. It has to satisfy both sides of the brain.


We will admit, however, that we groaned a bit at the 4th-wall-breaking opener with yet another guitar solo, but in retrospect, it fit so well into the story and did such a good job of laying it all out for the viewer ahead of time that we wound up coming back around to liking it on the second viewing. Peter Capaldi being so damn charming helped sell it all tremendously. And just as we have to begrudgingly admit that the guitar may be growing on us, we also have to admit that they found a decent way to make the sonic sunglasses work.

But what truly interested us in this episode was Clara’s arc. We’ve seen plenty of examples of how her time with the Doctor has made her a little less human and a little more coldly clinical. It’s fine to see her called on this once again, and by someone who can barely hide her revulsion toward her. But even better was what she blurted out to the Doctor when he became resigned to his fate; about how he could save dying for whoever “comes after” her. For one, it was interesting to see a companion openly reference the finite nature of her time with the Doctor and the fact that she’s only one in a long line of companions to him. She seemed to have, in that brief outburst, a somewhat healthy resignation to the idea, which is decidedly unlike many of the last few companions, who tended to see themselves as his One and Only; an aspect of  the typical Doctor/Companion relationship that always struck us as inherently unhealthy. She seemed very grown up about her role in that moment, while at the same time foreshadowing the fact that it’s going to end – and as we already know, end soon. Deft writing on Toby Whithouse’s part and a strong performance from Jenna Coleman allowed that bit of dark foreboding to slip in without weighing down the proceedings too much or taking away from the deaths being mourned by the guest characters.

Honestly, the only bit that annoyed us was the rather silly part with the axe and the super-senses of the hearing impaired, which didn’t do one thing to help the episode and just like the lip-reading requirement of the story, was one more aspect that rendered the writing and casting of a deaf character and actress to have a whiff of “stunt” to it. But since it was so brief – and because they actually went to the effort to write and cast such a character in the first place – it did very little to mar our enjoyment of what was the best episode of season 9 so far and one of the best of Capaldi’s run.


Picture Credit: BBC America
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