TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S9, E3: Under the Lake

The second story in this year’s series of Doctor Who is a classic “base under siege” tale. Our adventurers find themselves under a Scottish Lake and threatened by what can only be described as ghosts. Following on from the amazing Dalek opener, does this episode have the ghost of a chance of holding up?

 

 

When an underwater base comes under attack, the Doctor and Clara must save the frightened crew and defeat an impossible threat. But what is behind these terrifying events? And can they really be haunted by ghosts?

Toby Whithouse returns to Doctor Who after a couple of years away with what I can only describe as a classic, creepy Doctor Who tale. Indeed, I was watching this with a thirteen year old who – in a quiet moment when we had to pause said “I’m finding this one really creepy.” Clearly the writing, direction and acting have hit the nail on the head. I know I also found it to be unnerving as well, which is a testament to the quality of the production.

What I love about two-part stories is that everything has time to breathe and develop naturally – especially in a story like this one. Each and every character was given their moments and the story is paced at a rate that allows time to digest. Whithouse uses the time brilliantly – with moments of humour (such as the Doctor’s cue-cards) mixed in with some sinister moments (a new ghost arrives). This mix is exactly what Doctor Who should have.

I think my favourite moment wasn’t one that was intentionally funny. I loved the irony that when the Doctor flashed the Psychic Paper to the crew that they saw UNIT credentials … credentials that both the Doctor and Clara actually have anyway. Okay, they may have been out-dated, but do UNIT credentials have an expiry printed on them? I don’t expect so!

The design team need acknowledging this week as well. The underwater base had just the right “what a hundred years from now could be” feel to it. The corridors were brilliant locations for the action, with their cross-sections and heavy bulkhead doors. The switches from day to night mode and back were a great cue … If there was one element I thought was a minor slip it was that I couldn’t work out why the male members of the crew were wearing trousers and the female members wore shorts. Seemed like an odd design choice to me.

The ghosts were exceptionally realised – genuinely unnerving with their deepset, blacked out eyes, slight transparency and their constant, silently working mouths. Scenes where they appear through walls and “hunt” the crew were suitably tense and the conceit of them only coming out when the base is in “night mode” works for the story although the explanation of why this is possible didn’t make sense to me at all. Essential integrity checks only happen during the day? Seems like an oversight!

I really enjoyed the interplay between the crew of the base. The extra time dedicated to them (again – thanks, two part format!) allowed them to really come over as a working unit rather than just a group of people in a base. While I was confused as to whether the base was a military installation (as evidenced by the crew mainly being soldiers) or a private one (a petroleum company was branded across it and a representative was there) or some combination there-of, the mix did allow for the “disagreeable” crew member to be instantly identified! Each member of the cast came into their own superbly.

The cliff-hanger was perfect as well. Clara informing the base crew just how the Doctor would get them out of this mess. It’s what he does. “Trust me Clara”. Then …. BOOM! And Credits. Brilliant stuff. Both my wife and the teenager we were looking after were surprised by the cliff-hanger (I hadn’t let on that this series will mainly be two-parters) and their reactions were exactly as they should be. Clearly they hadn’t wondered about the amount of time that had passed – which is another testament to the quality of the production. Have I mentioned I prefer the two-part format?

In short, this episode is exactly what Doctor Who should be. Fun, creepy and multi-part. I could easily watch this again and again. Probably on an autumn evening. With the lights out.

Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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