Having spent a good deal of the forty five minutes of Before The Flood watching from behind my hands, I can happily conclude that this episode scared me more than most Doctor Who episodes.
Travelling back to the time the spaceship first landed, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) left Clara (Jenna Coleman) et al behind on the submarine fending off the ghosts – who now included an eerie ghost Doctor in their number. Inconveniently locked in his own time stream, he found himself up against the terrifying Fisher King, desperately trying to stop anyone else, winding up as a ghostly transmission device.
Terrifying seems a good place to start with this episode. Several scenes of the episode wouldn’t have felt out of place in an indie horror film. And that’s before we even consider the Fisher King. A shell-fish, cockroach type of creature with all the warmth of The Grim Reaper, The Fisher King gave us our second, totally brand new, totally nightmare-inducing monster of the series – not bad for episode four. It was also a noticeably long time before we got a good look at him, which may have frustrated some, but for me, artfully built on our innate fear of the unknown.
When we weren’t busy being terrified of the Fisher King, it’s worth mentioning that the invasion themes, Cold War and military style settings of Toby Whithouse’s writing married together perfectly. So too did the two different time streams and locations in that perfectly executed countdown sequence, The Doctor linking the two with this own timeline. Much akin to the night and day settings of the submarine, this episode was very much the shade to Under The Lake's light, literally much darker in places because of the minimal lighting, and with far fewer jokes, the stakes felt high here, even though we knew that, ultimately, The Doctor and Clara would probably be fine.
Particular stand out moments include Sophie Leigh Stone’s Cass having to feel for the vibrations along the floor to find out that an axe wielding ghost was right behind her, and O’Donnell (Morven Christie) cowering round a corner from the Fisher King. Indeed senses were a key theme throughout, with Cass without hearing, the ghosts without eyes and, without the phone, Clara and The Doctor unable to talk. The Beethoven’s 5th Framing Device worked well, too - the episode needed tying together somewhat as the timey-wimey elements were slightly more complicated than usual and not terribly well explained in places. Fortunately, Capaldi’s style is perfectly suited to the occasional breaking of the Fourth Wall.
I couldn’t help but slightly regret the fact that Missy didn’t jump out of the preservation pod at the end, umbrella in tow, yelling ‘surprise!’ at the top of her voice, so integral does her character now feel to the Doctor Who universe. But admittedly that may just have been me.
Ably supported by a fantastic cast of secondary characters in both episodes of this pairing, the Capaldi/Coleman partnership itself continues to flourish (another reason why the absence of Missy was perhaps a good thing). Naturally this can only mean, even if we didn’t know it already, that we may well be about to lose Clara. The Doctor departing the scene without her, with two other companions in tow, felt a little like a test run for Capaldi sans Coleman. Much as Clara can be outshone by the nearest 40 watt desk lamp in some of her more 2D moments, she feeds off Capaldi’s energy well, provided a great straight woman to The Doctor’s emotional eccentricities. It will certainly be interesting to see who ends up replacing her.
Again, I pulled slightly the short straw here reviewing part two of the story, as the concluded episodes do tend to suffer a little of the anti-climax. But it’s a minor quibble really in what was another strong episode. So many of last series’ outings just felt like filler – I’m still waiting for that to happen this time around, but I feel like it might be a while off yet.
Next week look’s brilliant, as has every next episode preview so far.
Becky will be here to walk you through The Girl Who Died.