Spoilers are straight ahead. But if you’re concerned about spoilers, you probably shouldn’t read an article with the word in the title.
If I’m being completely honest, I was not head over heels for Under the Lake. However, I was for the payoff in the wibbly wobbly second half. There were a lot of firsts, a lot of fun, and a really cool monster. Plus, I was at least partially right: the Doctor’s ghost was not a ghost at all, just like I said last week. Let’s break it down, shall we?
We opened with something new for Doctor Who, a monologue about a familiar sci-fi trope: the bootstrap paradox. Since the Doctor told me to google it and I always listen to him, I learned it’s the official name I never knew for the phenomenon where a time traveler does something in the future that causes an event in the past, using the example of who (or Who?) wrote Beethoven’s 5th. Having the Doctor break the 4th wall was a little off-putting, as it’s not really something we ever see him do, but his constant condescending explanations to humans do get a little tiresome, so why not have him deliver the info straight to the audience. It can’t be easy constantly finding new means of exposition. Plus, it was a great way to set the tone. It was fun letting it rattle around in your brain as you watched the rest of the episode and tried to figure out what was going on. Then we got the return of rock ‘n roll Doctor, feeding right into the rock version of the theme tune, which I officially want as my ringtone.
The Doctor’s exploration of the village with Bennett and O’Donnell was fun. O’Donnell’s reaction to the inside of the T.A.R.D.I.S. is exactly what mine will be if the Doctor ever graces me with his presence. Following an Ood and a Judoon, the Tivolian undertaker is the latest in a streak of alien species making return appearances since the beginning of series 9 (a Tivolian was a major character in S06E11 The God Complex). Maybe it means something. Maybe Moffat is just being realistic that the Doctor would eventually run into different representatives from the same species from time to time; he’s certainly met plenty of Cybermen and Daleks across the millenia, why not others? Maybe they just ran out of ideas and/or makeup/costume budget. My money’s on some purpose behind the repeat appearances.
As for the main action of the story, I think the fan reaction is going to be in one of two camps: love it or hate it. Full disclosure: I’m in the former. Since S01E06 Father’s Day, we’ve known that the Doctor can’t go back and change events that have already happened. Every time travel story has to deal with this issue. What’s interesting here is that Doctor Who has flipped the script. Maybe you buy it, maybe you don’t. The Doctor declares that breaking the rules is acceptable when doing so to fix the results of someone else having broken more important rules. This is another thing that makes the show so fun to watch. The Doctor is constantly rewriting the rules. Some may say that makes the show less impactful, if you can never trust the rules to stay in place. For me, there were sound and concrete reasons behind changing the rules, and that made it brilliant where it could have been a nonsensical copout.
There were lots of other things to love about the episode. Sophie Stone continued to be amazing as Cass. The removal of sound from the scenes in which she appeared alone really heightened the tension, though the special effect showing how she could “see” using sound wave vibrations was cheesy, unnecessary, and has been done better elsewhere (see: Daredevil on Netflix). I’m a sucker for a happy ending, so I couldn’t have been more pleased with how Lunn and Cass ended up. I’m hopeful they could reappear in a later episode, helping the Doctor with big finale-worthy crisis, a la the companion super-teams of 10’s era. And can we talk for a second about the Fisher King? Aside from being a huge dick, he was a seriously cool-looking monster that would make for some impressively badass cosplay. And the fact that he was a dick made his comeuppance that much more delicious. “The time lord lied!” Uh-oh, looks like someone never learned rule 1.
All this story couldn’t have been packed into a single episode, so it justified the use of another 2-parter. If we see “To Be Continued…” at the end of next week’s episode, I could start getting annoyed. However the previews show us that S09E05 is where Maisie Williams makes her entry into Doctor Who canon and if I were showrunner Caroline Skinner, I’d want to use her more than once, so it’s entirely possible a 2-parter is exactly what we’re in for next week. See you then and we’ll see if I’m right again.