The Doctor is dead. Or at least that’s what we’re meant to think at the beginning of Episode 4: ‘Before the Flood’.
The episode begins on an unusual note, with the Doctor directly addressing the audience; an unexpected change and a little off-putting. He goes on for a while about Bootstrap Paradoxes, with the example of a time traveller who goes back in time to meet Beethoven but then becomes Beethoven when they find he doesn’t exist, and finishes up with a cheeky quip to ‘Google’ it so that we comprehend, before pulling out his electric guitar and playing a few bars of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony”.
We’ve definitely gotten more personality from Capaldi’s Doctor in these last few episodes than we did in all of the last series. I was a big fan of his much grumpier old man Doctor, which harked back nicely to William Hartnell’s iteration, but it’s nice that they’re adding a bit more quirk in the vein of more recent Doctors. Even if the attempt to be ‘cool’ is a little on the nose here, which is evident by the electric guitar- accompanied theme and sonic sunglasses, it’s finally feeling like Capaldi’s depiction is cementing itself into the show.
Now we’re back in 1980 with the Doctor and the two underwater base soldier’s he’s brought with him: O’Donnell and Bennett. They have a quick chat about O’Donnell’s past in Military Intelligence (the Doctor seems to be pretty fond of her) while Bennett is suffering a nasty bout of food poisoning in the toilet. O’Donnell is still fan-girling hard though, and is elated to find out that, yes, the TARDIS is bigger on the inside! See, size does matter!
The Scottish base is a test facility and is decked out to look just like a Russian town, due to it being the middle of the Cold War and all, and the trio take a look around. In literally no time, they find the derelict spaceship from the last episode that they all travelled back in time to find. And I mean literally! They literally walk around a corner to find the ship sitting unattended out in the open. What luck!
After some inspection, the cryogenic chamber is found and the Doctor theorizes that the spaceship is actually some kind of hearse carrying the body. With that, ‘The Mole Guy’, who we saw in ghost form last episode, suddenly runs up and lets us know that it is in fact a funeral ship, with him being an undertaker and the ship carrying an alien life form known as the Fisher King.
The Mole Guy reminds us how the people of his planet just love to be enslaved, and then probably gets as close as the show will ever get to making a joke about BDSM.
In the future, Clara, Cass and Lunn are sitting around watching the Ghost-Doctor just do ghost things, including miming out a list of everyone’s names. Clara’s phone rings, and it’s the Doctor, calling from the past. She lets him know about his ghost self, and while the Doctor immediately starts to accept that he must die, Clara refuses to let him even consider the notion.
Meanwhile, the Mole Guy returns to the spaceship to find that while the Fisher King’s body has vanished, the mystery symbols on the wall have appeared. The moment he looks at them though, something hits him from behind and the next time we see him, he’s lying dead in the ship!
The Doctor and friends leave the TARDIS, and in a really strange moment, the Doctor seems persistent that O’Donnell stays behind. She, of course, refuses (because nobody puts O’Donnell in the corner) and they make their way to the spaceship, but the Fisher King is already loose and its distant screeches indicate that it’s coming for them.
They hide in a building filled with old eerie test mannequins, and decide to split up (for reasons), with the Doctor holding up in a room with Bennett. This leaves O’Donnell to hide by herself, and it’s soon proven that standing on the other side of a wall is not a very good hiding spot.
By the time the Doctor and Bennett make it out it’s already too late and O’Donnell is already slipping away. She dies with a chilled breath.
Now Bennett is furious, because it’s obvious that the Doctor knew all along that the list of names his ghost version was sputtering on about was actually the order in which they were going to die. He calls the Doctor on the fact that if it had been Clara’s name, he would never have ‘tested’ his theory that it was a death list.
Of course, the next name on the list is actually Clara’s, something he just can’t have happen, so the Doctor decides to take matters into his own hands and sets the TARDIS to go back to the underwater base so that he can save her. But the TARDIS is having none of it, and he becomes caught in his own time stream.
Instead he’s gone back half an hour in time, and they must now avoid coming into contact with themselves. This also leads to him having to teach Bennett Doctor Who 101, which is that you can’t change your own time stream. And boy, does Bennett not want to listen.
Back in the underwater base, Clara has locked herself and the others in the Faraday cage. She’s set her phone just in view outside the cage so that she can still get a signal, but, conveniently, O’Donnell’s new ghost appears (which kind of makes sense…but actually kind of doesn’t) and she steals it.
Clara makes the observation that Lunn doesn’t have the message in him because he didn’t read the symbols, and thus the ghosts won’t kill him. This leads to Cass asking the very, very blatant thematic question: was Clara always willing to put lives at risk or did the Doctor change her?
Her response: she does what needs to be done.
In the past, the Doctor decides to confront the Fisher King and heads down into the basement that he has hidden in. They have a tête-à-tête and we find that the Fisher King actually has a rather nice speaking voice for a warrior swamp-looking alien. They go at it for a while until the Doctor’s had enough and says he just isn’t going to take it anymore. He’ll re-write history, the future be damned! That’s how angry he is!
He’s already started by destroying the symbols inside the spaceship, and won’t stop there. The Fisher King is not happy and heads to the symbols to see exactly what damage the Doctor has done. However, there is no damage, and the Fisher King is rather upset that the Doctor has lied.
Instead, with Bennett safely in the TARDIS, the Doctor’s secret plan takes place: using the missing spaceship battery cell to blow up the nearby damn. Water gushes everywhere, destroying the base and the Fisher King.
Unfortunately, things aren’t going so well in the underwater base. In trying to get the phone, Lunn has allowed himself to become trapped by the ghosts.
Clara and Cass go out to save him, and in one of the creepier scenes the show has delivered, we watch as Moran’s Ghost follows Cass, dragging an axe behind him. Cut to Cass’ perspective, who can’t hear anything of course, and so there’s a daunting silence as he approaches from behind. It’s the kind of scene that probably would have been one hundred times better if it weren’t also trying to be at an acceptable level for children to watch, but it’s still chilling.
She smartly puts her hand to the ground and feels the vibration (done in over-the-top fashion and made to look almost like a super power – Daredevil anyone?) and narrowly dodges the blade at the last minute. She hikes it on out of there, grabbing Clara on the way, and meets up with Lunn.
Except, the cryogenic chamber next to them is starting to unlock…
And yep! It was the Doctor in the chamber all along, who saved himself from drowning by putting himself inside. Guess we can add another hundred and fifty years to his age then. And the Ghost-Doctor? Just a hologram sent to trick everyone.
The Doctor gets straight to the saving, and plays a recording of the Fisher King’s calls, sending all the ghosts to head obediently to the cage, trapping themselves for good.
So, I guess Bennett and O’Donnell kind of had a thing going on, which was slightly apparent from her deathbed-concern for him, but it was a bit more subtle than it was obvious. Either way, he’s fairly torn up about it, and needs Clara to give him an inspiring pep talk that life goes on. She would know after all.
Bennett is fast to change his mind though, and instructs Lunn to sign to Cass that he’s in love with her and shouldn’t waste any more time. She reciprocates with a kiss. Love! Hooray!
After some mind wiping of the symbols, the Doctor and Clara return to the TARDIS for a quick debrief on the rather timey-wimey events. The Doctor explains how he knew that he would end up in the cryogenic chamber thanks to the hologram, but brings it all home when he says that he only came up with the list because he knew his future. And thus, a Bootstrap Paradox!
- O’Donnell would have been a great companion, so alas, there goes another never-will-be companion to the great beyond.
- Even though it had to happen here to an extent, it felt a bit out-of-place to have the episode end with a chat between the Doctor and the Fisher King. Especially seeing that we just had a fairly good one with Davros not two episodes before.
- The moment that sticks out the most this episode was Clara’s cry that the Doctor could die on his next companion but not on her. It’s the exact kind of emotional chord that they need to be striking with these two. There’s been so much distrust and betrayal built up between them, and it is saddled with equal amounts of admiration and love, but this goes to show that their relationship is much better without all the negativity. It also leaves it in an awkward place; I’m left still kind of mistrusting that Clara may pull a stunt like she did at the end of last season to save Mr. Pink.
- Who is this Minister of War mentioned by O’Donnell? I’m guessing we’ll find out soon enough.
- The Fisher King was an interesting villain, but he did admittedly look a bit silly when he ran out to the spaceship. There was something Classic Who-ish about him though.
- Next week we get Arya Stark and Vikings! Can’t wait!