In a new feature on Blogtor Who, each week regular contributor Richard Unwin will be taking a more personal, in-depth and spoilery look at each episode. So, obvs, SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen Doctor Who Series 9, Episode 3.
Well that was a change of pace.
Not every week can be grand mythos-expanding larks, and Under the Lake sees things shift down a gear for an adventure that’s more contained – in tone as well as location. This is very traditionally flavoured Who, with the Doctor and Clara facing an underwater menace in a good old-fashioned base-under-siege scenario. This is the Werther’s Original to last week’s popping candy. While there are still plenty of comic moments, it’s an episode that’s played relatively straight and is more concerned with ramping up the fear factor than making us chuckle and squee.
While this isn’t our absolute favourite breed of story, it succeeds well in what it sets out to do. The ghosts are superbly realised, and there are definite chills as we witness our heroes facing the creepy, insubstantial warriors of the deep. Once again, this is the first instalment of a two-parter, making it difficult to judge the overall plot until next-week’s Before the Flood. Most of what happens here seems to be setting things up for clever reveals down the line… We’ll reserve judgement on how successful all this sleight-of-hand is until we’ve seen the conclusion…
Clara’s unbridled enthusiasm for the predicament that she and the Doctor find themselves in feels like a signpost that’s hinting at her ultimate downfall. With Jenna Coleman having announced her imminent departure from the series, and the countdown to her exit having already begun, we can’t help suspecting that this all-consuming appetite for adventure will play a part in her eventual farewell. Could Clara be the first companion since Adric to actually properly be killed off…? (No – Amy and Rory don’t count!)
The Doctor’s pretty keen on the whole thing too – claiming to have never met ghosts before. (Really Doctor? Have you forgotten The Ghosts of N-Space, that classic BBC Radio 2 escapade…? And what about Doctor Who Magazine comic strip Ghosts of the Northern Line, hmm…? ) His joy at stumbling across this undead fury from the deep is infectious – and while Peter Capaldi’s interpretation of the role has often been compared to those of Hartnell or Pertwee, it’s actually more of a Tom Baker vibe that we’re getting here.
We love the scene in which he has to use prompt cards to express condolence – it’s hysterical, but allowing his awkwardness to bubble to the surface like this also serves to remind us just how truly alien our two-hearted hero is.
The biggest revelation, perhaps, is that the sonic sunglasses appear to be here to stay. Have we really seen the last of the screwdriver…? We don’t really mind if that’s indeed the case – the Doctor managed perfectly well without it for a good chunk of the Eighties. (Has Delta and the Bannermen ever really been topped? Has it? Really?) And this wearable variant is something that all kids can easily emulate without having to splash out on an expensive electronic toy. (And now you’ll be able to ‘cosplay’ as the Doctor whilst simultaneously avoiding eye contact with anyone.)
The cliffhanger is a haunting hit. You can see it coming a mile off, but it’s still satisfyingly spooky as it slides into place. Once again we are left wondering – is the Doctor really dead? (He really might be one of these days, you know.) And if he is – even temporarily – does that mean that the Confession Dial will open…? The next-time trailer suggests a widening of the narrative – with all the pieces of this timey-wimey puzzle in place, we’re looking forward to seeing how they fit together.
We hope that the solution involves fish people.