TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - Under the Lake

The Doctor and Clara find themselves on an underwater base, amongst the ruins of a world once flooded after a dam collapse. The base is now an oil-drilling operation, ruled over by the bureaucratic Pritchard and looked after by a military and scientific crew. They discover mysterious writing on the wall of a salvaged spaceship, their commander dying shortly afterwards. However, it's soon apparent he's come back from the dead and accompanied by another ghost, they start attacking the living crew members. When the Doctor and Clara join them, they start setting about solving the mystery of the ghosts and the answer may lie back in time.

A crew trapped on their vessel/base and menaced by something horrible is a fairly standard Doctor Who format, but it's produced some great episodes over the course of New Who. It also happens to be a particular favourite format of mine because they often come down to the Doctor using his ingenuity to solve a puzzle. It may end up being overly-complicated or make no sense (this is, after all, Moffat's tenure), but it's always fun watching the process. Under the Lake is one of the better examples of this particular episode type, piling on the atmospherics and allowing Peter Capaldi to command the screen with his grumpy enthusiast Doctor. 

It doesn't really stretch the formula at all, but the one thing that does help the episode greatly is the return to the two-parter format. One of our most common complaints here on Assorted Buffery when it comes to Doctor Who is that so often stories are rushed to get through them in the 45(ish) minutes that defines the running time. Because Under The Lake is only the first part of the story, it's a much more effective episode, giving the story time to breathe and the mystery to evolve. The solution doesn't have to be rushed because the plot can space itself out over the course of the two episodes and as a result, it's a much more satisfying experience.

It helps that it's one of the creepier Who episodes too, the ghosts with their lack of eyes providing suitably ethereal and chilling antagonists. The story uses them sparingly too; we're not subjected to endless chases or ghostly apparitions behind the living characters, but they lurk threateningly over the course of the episode. The last shot of the Doctor as one of them, despite being so obviously not what it seems (we're only on the third episode after all), is also pretty creepy. Capaldi cuts a darker figure than his predecessors anyway, but an eyeless Doctor is a scary Doctor.

Another enjoyable aspect of the episode was the relationship with Clara and the Doctor, now a full mutually dependent that melds her people skills with his intelligence. I loved the cards that she now has ready for some of his more difficult situations, which offer further glimpses into their travels together. Who else wants to know what happened to the guy from Aberdeen? It's great that their relationship extends beyond the scenes we see as part of the episodes and it creates the impression of a wealth of experiences that we're only allowed glimpses of. 

Under the Lake continues the Capaldi-era trend of producing strong, atmospheric and yes, creepy episodes with a doozy of a cliffhanger to finish with. It may not do anything particularly revolutionary with the formula, but it's a lot of fun to watch. Jen will be with you for the next instalment, Before the Flood.

- Becky

You can read Jen's review of The Witch's Familiar here.

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