Sunday, 4 October 2015

Review: Doctor Who - Under The Lake

This week saw a return to classic Who stylings but did 'Under The Lake' rise from the depths or sink without a trace?

 'It’s impossible. It’s evil. I hate it. It’s astonishing. I want to kiss it to death!'

It was always going to be tough to follow on from the previous fortnight's barnstorming two-parter, with its new takes on old foes, so Toby Whithouse's 'Under The Lake' - probably quite rightly - decides not to try to beat that episode in the reinvention stakes and instead offers up a very traditional Doctor Who adventure. The story's elements almost run like a check-list of classic Who tropes - a base under siege, a group of characters to be slowly picked off, lots of running away from monsters down corridors... This is the sort of adventure that fans find either a blessing or a curse - on the good side, this well-worn story model will be enjoyably familiar or, on the other hand, they know it so well it's lost its zing.

To me, the episode felt like a nostalgic throwback to the stylings of classic Who and was paced like the first two episodes of a four-parter. There are even more specific moments that feel borrowed from previous stories - we had a submarine attacked by aliens in 'Cold War', untranslatable writing in 'The Impossible Planet' and the cliffhanger was very reminiscent of 'The Rebel Flesh.'

Yet if the setting and some of the elements are familiar then the creativity of the episode comes in the way it is told. As ever, Whithouse peppers the drama with the sort of one-liners that rival Moffat’s own dialogue. The Doctor in particular is on sparkling form here with quips concerning everything from semaphore to Peter Andre. The gag of the Doctor having prompt cards for helping him interact with people was also a good one though my favourite was the description of the cowardly Tivolians: 'They wouldn’t say boo to a goose. More likely to give the goose their car keys and banks details.' Likewise, there’s a great design for the ghosts – although the hollow eyes might be a tad visually similar to Davros.

Speaking of the ghosts, with no offence intended to the rest of the cast, it is a shame that some of the most interesting actors on show are playing the ghosts, including The Dark Knight’s Colin McFarlane and Being Human’s Steven Robertson. That said, the star of the supporting cast was Sophie Stone as Cass, who I believe is Doctor Who’s first deaf character. Whithouse pitched the character perfectly as her deafness was simply accepted and not treated as a disability. Unfortunately, though, her being unable to speak meant another character, Lunn, was little more than her mouthpiece.

On the whole, while first impressions of the episode may be lessened by nature of it coming straight after the previous story (that is a negative of starting with a finale-sized adventure – there is going to have to be a dip in scale), ‘Under The Lake’ reminds us that an enjoyable Doctor Who story doesn’t need to play with the mythology or bring back old foes but can simply deliver that classic Who cocktail of suspense, scares and humour to whet, or should that be wet, the appetite for more.   

Who you gonna call? - The Doctor and Clara face actual ghosts in 'Under The Lake.'
Next time: The Doctor goes back to 'Before The Flood' to avert the creation of the ghosts - and his own death! - next Saturday, BBC One at 8.25pm.

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