Spoilers are straight ahead. But if you’re concerned about spoilers, you probably shouldn’t read an article with the word in the title.
Now that it’s October, the chill is in the air, and 31 Days of Halloween is in full effect at Geekade.com, a good old fashioned ghost story is just what the Doctor ordered, and that is exactly what we got in Series 9, Episode 3, Under the Lake.
We open on a pretty cool underwater base in 22nd century Scotland. The opening is a little different in that we get the setup for the episode from a new cast of characters, the Doctor and Clara don’t even show up until after the credits. The crew of the base is a typical band of red shirts. We don’t get enough info at first to know who’s going to make it through this, except for the one rich dickhead who funded the expedition and only cares about the profits who is definitely toast (a la that one asshole in Silence in the Library).
Of note is first mate Cass, as played by Sophie Stone, who is the first deaf person to graduate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. This diverse casting choice is one of the awesome things I love about Doctor Who. Deafness is a part of this character, but it doesn’t define her and she is also one of the strongest characters in the cast, as well as one of the best actors. Watching her is even more fun when you know that she has been a fan of the show her whole life and has always wanted to be on it.
When the Doctor and Clara do turn up, we get to see the Doctor interact with the T.A.R.D.I.S. as a character, which has been absent from the season so far so it’s nice to be reminded of that relationship. Capaldi’s performance in this whole episode is a treat. The Doctor is in awe of what he’s discovered and is equal parts delighted and terrified. When he figures out a piece of the puzzle near the end of the episode, his reaction “It’s impossible. I hate it. It’s evil. It’s astonishing. I want to kiss it to death,” gives me chills.
We also are treated to a couple of scenes of this Doctor’s difficulty in dealing with people. He needs notecards bearing sympathetic phrases (unconvincingly but hilariously delivered by Capaldi) to give the crew the impression that he cares in order for them to trust him. He also warns Clara, basically, not to get cocky, now that her companion role has evolved somewhat, but it comes from a place of love. These two scenes offset each other nicely. With someone he genuinely cares about he takes the time to connect and share his feelings; with most of the rest of the random humans he meets, he simply doesn’t have the time and has to rely on Clara to help him hit the right notes to get them to shut up, trust him, and fall in line. It’s an interesting contrast from the sympathetic and friendly approach 10 and 11 took. 12 is the same man with the same adventurous spirit and the same compassion, but he simply doesn’t have time to relate the way they did. It makes me wonders how Clara’s departure is going to play out and what effect it will have on him.
The plot itself is a pretty cool, fun, monster-of-the-week story, a refreshing change of pace from the seriousness of the Davros arc from the previous two episodes. The special effects of the ghosts were especially well done and the translation of their message was definitely something I didn’t see coming. The cat and mouse game they played to isolate the ghosts seemed a little filler-y, especially with the extra step of learning that the Doctor had to be isolated with them in order to transmit their message to the crew with the sonic sunglasses (which I am still geeking out over). This seems symptomatic of the fact that it’s a 2-parter.
When the episode titles for this series were released and seemed to be in pairs, Steven Moffat said he wanted the audience to never be sure whether they were watching a 2-parter or not. OK Moffat, but you have to make some of them standalones or it’s just being clever for clever’s sake. I am intrigued by the splitting of Clara and the Doctor, not just in space, but in time as well. Looking forward to finding out what the Doctor learns next week. One thing I can tell you for sure: the “ghosts” are not actually departed spirits of dead people if, as we learned in the final moments, the Doctor is one of them. See you next week for the conclusion!