Doctor Who RECAP & REVIEW: “Under the Lake”

doctor who - season 9 - episode 3 - review - recap

Set in an underwater base, the third episode: ‘Under the Lake’, presents a fairly stock-standard Doctor Who story: monster in a base, Doctor shows up, some crew die, said dead crew hunts the others, Doctor saves the day. And while this follows the basic structure, there are some new elements that make this a really great episode.

We learn early on that this underwater base has been built on the ruins of an old army site that was flooded. The crew, which is mainly comprised of soldiers, has discovered what looks to be an alien space shuttle buried in the ruble and argue on what exactly they should do with it. Death ensues.

The first to go is their leader, Moran, who gallantly saves fellow soldier Cass, but pays an extra-crispy price.

The crew is ready to write it off as a tragic event, until Moran re-appears in a ghostly manner with black, hollowed out eyes, and begins to stalk them.

doctor who - season 9 - episode 3 - review - recap

He’s joined by a fellow ghostly apparition, “The Mole Guy”, who wears a top hat and tails, and looks like one of the rodent-like humanoids of Tivoli that we’ve met before.

By the time the Doctor and Clara arrive, the base seems to be abandoned. The two walk throughout as Clara goes on about wanting another adventure, all while the Doctor seems slightly apprehensive about her enthusiasm, although he does give her a little smile.

They soon run into our ghosts, who were just nonchalantly taking a break at the end of a hallway. The Doctor becomes extra intrigued, before they lead them to the derelict space shuttle in which they disappear.

Inside, the Doctor tries to read the weird symbols on the ship’s wall, but the TARDIS is unable to translate. The ghosts suddenly reappear, but this time, they pick up random metallic weapons and come at the duo.

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The Doctor and Clara run for their lives and find the crew held up in an electromagnetic chamber, known as a Faraday Cage, which seems to block the ghosts from entering. They exchange greetings and meet the overly keen soldier O’Donnell, the capitalist baddie Pritchard, and the meek scientist Lunn.

When the base’s day settings come back on, the ghosts disappear, and the crew is able to roam free once more. After inspecting the space shuttle again, the Doctor comes to the decision that they actually are ghosts. And he’s very, very excited!

Of course, it’s pointed out that one of them was very recently a friend of the crew, which the Doctor seems to overlook, and the result is Clara handing him some cue cards with some grief-sensitive lines to say. Cute.

Suddenly, the day settings are abruptly turned on and the crew is sent into a panic.

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This leads to the Doctor telling Clara, who is way too eager to put herself in danger for the sake of an adventure, that there is only room for one of the Doctor in the TARDIS, not two. More on this later.

The snarky businessman, Pritchard, gets caught in an airlock after being greedy-greedy and the ghosts drown him. It’s obvious now, that the ghosts aren’t just simple apparitions and are using the base against them. They’ve even sneakily requested a rescue team to come down to the base using Morse code. But, why?

This leads to a dangerous plan by the Doctor, which sets the crew and Clara running around the base as bait. Thankfully, it works, although not without its hitches, and the ghosts (the Mole Guy, Moran and now also Greedy-Greedy) are trapped in the Faraday Cage.

The Doctor goes in for a closer look and, using the new sonc sunglasses, lets Cass read their lips.  They seem to be repeating over and over again, “The Dark. The Sword. The Forsaken. The Temple.”

Doctor Who S9 Ep3 Under The Lake

Theses are apparently coordinates that lead to the Earth’s location as some form of distress call. The more dead there are, the stronger the ability to transmit, and thus the need for more people to come to the base.

After some more snooping on the lake-bed floor, they locate the suspended animation chamber of the space shuttle, but the Doctor feels like there’s nothing good to be found inside.

His attention instead returns to the symbols inside the space shuttle. Except that these are not just ordinary symbols, and can actually change the reader’s brain to implant the coordinates. This is why the ghosts seem to be picky about whom they kill; the living have to read the symbols first, otherwise they won’t ghostify and increase the signal!

Suddenly, alarms ring and the base is put into an emergency lockdown. It’s going to flood the base to cool the reactor, thanks to our ghostly friends. As they run across the base, the group is split up with the Doctor and Clara caught between a flooded corridor.

With the water level rising, the Doctor plans to go back in time to the army site when the space shuttle first landed and find out why all of this is happening.

Clara reassures Cass and Lunn that the Doctor will save them, except, as she does, a ghostly figure floats towards them through the water outside.

Is it Moran? The Mole Man? Greedy-Greedy?

No, it’s a new ghost. It’s… the Doctor!

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Recap Musings:

  • They’ve definitely struck the right chord on Capaldi’s Doctor. He’s just the right mix of old-man grump and child-like space explorer.
  • I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Doctor is inside the suspended animation chamber. Reasons: Timey-wimey.
  • Really feeling these two-part episodes, which are allowing for some slower and more in-depth storytelling. I feel the downside is that this season is going to feel a lot shorter because of it.
  • So, Clara’s storyline this season so far seems to be pointing towards taking on too many of the Doctor’s traits. In particular, his want of adventure and the little care he has in others getting hurt along the way, including himself. The whole point of the companion is to even him out, and bring some humanity to the man in the blue box, but with Clara acting this way, it’s sure to be the setup for her departure. Her yearning for adventure seems to be burning so bright she can’t not burn out.
    There was so little to Clara’s personality in season 7, so the attempt to flesh her out a bit more in 8 added some much needed depth, but now it’s all just a bit murky. When she yells, “You can’t just leave us!” it would seem she genuinely believes that he would, and it’s just a bit unsettling. I’d guess that it’s the result of Mr. Pink’s death.
  • I was really hoping that these ghosts would be creepy as hell, and while they did look creepy, they didn’t really act like it. It was almost underwhelming that they just followed normally behind, like they were walking for a bus.
  • I really loved the twist ending. It just goes to show that even after a number of these types of episodes, the show can still pull a fast one.

Next time…

C.D.