Sunday 4 October 2015

Doctor Who - Under The Lake

Spirit Level

Doctor Who - Under The Lake
UK Airdate: 3rd October 2015

So here we are on episode three of the latest series of Doctor Who and, I have to say I’m quite surprised by this but, once again, it was a pretty good episode. Which means that, as far as I’m concerned, this current series has so far given us three cool episodes in a row... not something I could say about any of the other post-David Tennant series' to date. I really thought, after the strong opening story, we were going to get let down but, no, this is another quite satisfying episode.

Now, one of the reasons for that is because, to my mind, the episode takes us right back to being ‘old school’ Doctor Who. I mean, you have classic elements returning such as an underwater base, alien technology presenting itself as a mystery, ghosts and a medium sized team of base personnel who are there to perform three basic functions... 1) someone to explain things to, so the watching audience will understand what's going on, b) fodder for the monster of the week so we have a few people who can get killed and upscale the dramatic stakes and c) a few people who can assist The Doctor and Clara in a grander problem solving scheme in which they all get to run around a bit and add energy to the episode. Now, granted, a lot of these elements have always existed in the series in whatever incarnation it’s manifested over the years but, for some reason, the way this one’s written makes it feel particularly like a classic episode with a strong mystery/dilemma for The Doctor to find a solution to so... yeah, this is a real good one.

Now, there’s something else that having a separate group of people to explain the mechanics of the plot does to strengthen an episode and it certainly does it here. Which is this. Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald character gets to really shine for her own merits and also gets to explain The Doctor to the people on the base... so not just leaving all the exposition to The Doctor or, indeed, bearing the brunt of it. The writing is all really good here, not to mention the performances of Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and the rest of the cast, which are all as great as you would expect from a BBC production. There’s some brilliant comedy on hand with a particularly nice scene where Clara has a bunch of handwritten cards to give to The Doctor when he needs to say something appropriate sounding to other people. This made me chuckle and this kind of character stuff was the highlight of the episode for me, it has to be said. Quite a lot of the character stuff has been good over the last few years but, unfortunately, it more often just becomes the central purpose of the story rather than help drive the story and that’s where the show has, in my opinion, been getting it a bit wrong over the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi eras up until now... but when it’s used to support the underlying story arc perfectly, as it is here, then the show really shines.

A case in point is that, to the best of my knowledge, we have the first character in the series to rely on sign language to communicate... however, this is also cleverly worked into the plot as she uses her ability to read lips to help solve an important piece of the puzzle for The Doctor... and it's stuff like this that have made this show so great over the years.

The mystery itself is not exactly a new one in terms of the type of story it is but, that being said, it doesn’t really matter because it still manages to intrigue and, once we have all the elements in place, you might see a lot of what’s going to happen coming way before it happens, like the cliffhanger ending of this episode, for instance, which is telegraphed way too early. However, because the writing and performances, set design and editing is all pretty good here, you really don’t mind that and next week’s episode promises to give us the final solution to the mystery of who is in the suspended animation chamber... of which there are a few obvious possibilities and the least interesting of them would be if the TARDIS has its chameleon circuit fixed sometime in the past. I suspect the punchline to the chamber will be somewhat simpler though and... well, I just hope the writer’s clever enough to not give us the obvious occupant in the second half.

The episode did have one thing I hated though, it has to be said, and thats the continued concept of The Doctor’s ‘wearable tech’ in the form of sonic sunglasses again. Nope. Sorry. Don’t like it. They’ve got to go. Need the screwdriver back please. Don’t get rid of the few fixed icons you can lean on for audience recognition around the world... if you please.

Under The Lake may be obvious in the direction its heading but it is, in fact, pretty strong and it does what all good science fiction does, from classic Doctor Who to Star Trek... set out a problem to solve and then come up with concepts and ideas to try and reach a workable solution in a limited time scale before everybody dies. Always a good, solid approach to take and this is nothing but a good, solid episode so, yeah, there you go.

A very short review from me this week but, honestly, when you get a damn near perfect episode like this it becomes less interesting to write about because there’s nothing much to criticise. All you can do is sing its praises and point out how brilliant the cast and crew and team behind the cameras have been to pull off such an entertaining episode. I also wonder if the reason this season is feeling more like classic old school Doctor Who is because the stories in this season are mostly multi-part like the old 1960s to 1990s stories used to be. The multiple episodes in themselves not being important other than the fact that it gives the writers more time to develop the story and bring all the plot elements in gradually... rather than have to rush them all out for a single shot episode. At least that’s my hope that it’s the reason because I really don’t want to see anymore bad episodes of the series.

So, looking forward to next weeks show, which I won’t actually get to see until the Sunday evening (alas) and, honestly, even if the writer does bring us the obvious solution to the dilemma at the heart (or possibly hearts) of the story... it really doesn’t matter, as longs as everyone manages to bring the kind of flair to the way the process of its unfolding is presented that they did here. Hopefully it’s going to be another good ‘un.

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