Doctor Who: Under the Lake (with, you know, some spoilers)

Another week, another episode of Season 9 of Doctor Who.  After a strong opening two-parter, how did the first episode not written by showrunner Stven Moffat fare?  Well, to be totally upfront about it, it fared pretty well, in spite of a few awkward bits.

A few days ago, I wrote a list of things I want to see over the rest of the season of my favorite show.  Let’s start with a quick review of the episode according to these things (taken in reverse order).  Did I see my desires fulfilled?

underthelake4 Images: BBC/Simon Ridgway

11. A really satisfying conclusion to the River Song story:  Well, no, but we’re not expecting this until the Christmas episode later this year, when Alex Kingston is guest starring again.

10. Get us closer to The Day of the Doctor:  No mention this week of Gallifrey or its return, but that’s okay too.  We don’t want that in our face every episode.

9. Clara being awesome:  Hmm, not really.  She didn’t really have all that much to do this week, except to be strangely enthusiastic about adventuring with the Doctor – I’m still wondering if that’s going to turn into a plot point, or at least a point of character development.

8. More surprises!  Not really, not like the whole the-child-is-Davros thing.  But again, I don’t mind missing out on this.  It’s not like we want every episode to feature the return of old friend or enemy.  Of course, the story isn’t over yet…

7. Take us someplace new.  Hmm, how do we evaluate this?  We’ve had ghosts before on the show, we’ve had “base under siege stories”, we’ve had the underwater setting before.  But far from feeling derivative or repetitive, the story instead gave us a cool “retro” feel. Besides, it made up for any familiarity by being really scary.

6. Celebration of the series’ history.  See the point above for an oblique answer to this.  Other than that, there was a brief mention of UNIT, but that was about it

5. Truly epic feel to the two-parters. We can’t tell yet for sure because the second part hasn’t happened yet (quantum uncertainty!), but it looks like it could be.  Part of the indication is that the second part appears to open up the setting quite a bit, showing the local area “before the flood” such as it were, something you’d have to had smooshed in if you did in one segment.

Underthelake2Images: BBC/Simon Ridgway

4. Great cliffhangers.  A resounding yes!  Indeed, one of the strongest features of the episode was the cliffhanger, with the extremely creepy (although not completely surprising) appearance of the ghostly Doctor under the water.  This sort of ending is absolutely what I’ve been wanting – a closing instant that practically demands you come back and watch again, because you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen next.

3. Pick up on some other dangling threads.  Not as far as I can see, but when a story is as promising a this one is, who cares?

2. No massive season long arc.  Not as far as I can see!  If it’s there then it’s well camouflaged, which is how it should be.

1. A follow up to Missy and the Daleks.  Not at all, but again, we didn’t want that right away.

Bonus:  Great stories, sparkling dialogue, solid performances, & tons of wit.  Mostly good.   Under the Lake is a good effort and a compelling first half of a story.

The weaknesses are perhaps that the story has got some uneven moments.  The Doctor flips between being skeptical to enthusiastic to protective to socially awkward perhaps a little too much.  Some of his dialogue (things like, “Oh, I didn’t know I’d noticed that”) sound more like they were written for Matt Smith, and Capaldi is not quite as deft in his delivery of them.

The sequence where the crew lure the ghosts along the corridors brings up unpleasant associations with Aliens3, but redeemed itself by having nobody actually die in the scene, and apparently being relevant to the plot (with the their mysterious refusal to kill Lunn).

underthelake3Images: BBC/Simon Ridgway

On the positive side, the ghosts were incredibly creepy (not as good as last year’s Mummy or two dimensional “Boneless,” but good nonetheless), and the guest cast was likable (aside from the short-lived Prentis) and the mystery / plot developments kept things interesting, and made the whole experience meatier than just watching the crew get picked off.  In spite of my comment above, Peter Capaldi continues to be great as the Doctor.  Clara is not as great she was last year so far, but Jenna Coleman is still fun to watch.

Looking forward to part two, and seeing how it all plays out.

Incidentally, check out, if you wish, comments on The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.

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