One of the mainstays of Doctor Who is the 'base under siege' plot, probably because they're useful when it comes to saving money (no troublesome outdoor location shoots) and naturally evoke a feeling of tension and claustrophobia. The revived series has done many such stories since it began, but they can be of mixed success, and sometimes my patience wears thin because they feel so similar.
There's a certain degree of comfort with episodes like this, as in broad terms we know how they're going to develop. "Under the Lake" wasn't any different, for awhile, as The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) found themselves under Caithness in Scotland, in the year 2119 A.D, before coming face-to-face with two hollow-eyed ghosts speaking mutely. It soon became clear they're dead crew men of 'The Drum' underwater mining facility, and their terrified colleagues—Lunn (Zaqi Ismail), Cass (Sophie Stone), O'Donnell (Morven Christie), Bennet (Arsher Ali)—have taken refuge in a Faraday cage, which provides them with protection during the hours of artificial daylight.
One of the best things about "Under the Lake" was the feeling that you were in safe hands with Whithouse's writing. As much as I enjoy the zaniness of Steven Moffat's instalments, they often feel like the result of someone having to deliver epic scenarios for the sake of them; lacking subtlety and logic in favour of bombast and pace. Moffat has and does do better, but I have a feeling he doesn't get the time to sit down and refine a story over many months these days. It's often the writers commissioned to write just one or two episodes each year who Doctor Who stories that have more patience and cleverness woven into them. And that certainly appears true of Whithouse's spooky underwater tale.
One thing that caught me off-guard was this episode ending on a cliffhanger, as I was beginning to sense the story was coming to a close, but there's evidently a lot more to be told in "Before the Flood". And it's great this will involve The Doctor travelling back in time, to effectively tackle the mystery in the past. For a time-travel show, there are actually very few episodes where the TARDIS is used as a device to solve mysteries. It's too often just a way to plonk The Doctor and his companion somewhere and when.
The creepy final shot of The Doctor himself floating through water, himself transformed into a black-eyed ghost, was also of the better ways Who's managed to secure your commitment to seeing the final part, too. How on earth can Clara save The Doctor from that fate, without the benefit of a TARDIS to go back and undo whatever happened to him?
- Did you recognise the Tivolian ghost Prentis? It was comic actor Paul Kaye, these days best-known for his character acting on shows like Game of Thrones and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The Tovolian race was created by this episode's writer Toby Whithouse, and they first appeared in his Series 6 episode "The God Complex".
- You may also have recognised Colin McFarlane as Moran, who was a semi-regular on The Fast Show and occasionally appears in big Hollywood movies like The Dark Knight. More bizarrely, he's the voice of ITV gameshow The Cube.
- Sticking with the 'hey, it's him!' trivia this week, Arsher Ali is known for starring in the Chris Morris film Four Lions and E4 sitcom Beaver Falls as Adil.