‘Under the Lake’
When I first heard that this season of Doctor Who would be entirely constructed of two part episodes I felt two things: excitement and dread. Excitement at the fact that stories would have their chance to grow, rather than being crammed into 40 minutes. And dread that there actually wouldn’t be enough to each story to fill two episodes. Already with only the third episode, and the first part of the second two parter, I can see my worries winning out. There is an odd pattern forming in these episodes. The first half is all set-up, we’re introduced to the big bad but very little else seems to happen before the shocking cliffhanger calling viewers to come back next week. I am ready to be proven wrong at any point this season, but as of yet I’m still waiting for an adequate reason for these two part episodes.
‘Under the Lake’ places The Doctor and Clara in an underwater base where a flood occurred years before, where they discover that ghost like beings have somehow risen, scaring the remaining soldiers on the base. The central mystery isn’t too bad, The Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts but can’t see what else they may be. Plus the TARDIS doesn’t want to go near them, with The Doctor theorising that it’s because they are aberrations that shouldn’t exist.One place where the episode does shine is the interactions between The Doctor and Clara, who finally seem to be finding their footing as a pairing. One of the best moments of the episode comes from Clara instructing The Doctor to consult his cards which are full of phrases such as “we’re sorry for your loss” that Capaldi’s incarnation would never think to utter. After taking a backseat to Missy last week, Clara is given a bit more room to breath here, showing some of the confidence and brilliance we have come to expect from her character. Capaldi is also in his element, portraying a true sense of glee at discovering a monster he can’t define.
The ghosts may look suitably freaky with their dark, empty eye sockets but they are hardly the most terrifying threat. While they are capable of wielding weapons, for the most part they seem too slow to be of much threat. The addition of the Faraday cage which the ghosts are incapable of entering, and the fact they only appear when the base is in ‘night mode’, serves to take away any urgency in stopping the monsters. The episode throws this all on its head in the final moments but it comes too late to have any effect. Next week’s episode is where the crux of the story will fall, I just hope it can do so in a satisfactory way that makes this slow, meandering first half feel worthwhile.