Sunday, 11 October 2015

Doctor Who - Before the Flood


Contains spoilers.


So...who did compose Beethoven's Fifth? Before the Flood could go down as the most conceptual episode of Doctor Who's entire history. Whilst last week's Under the Lake was classic Doctor Who in every way possible, Before the Flood blows all of that simplicity quite literally out of the water. This was a particularly brave episode from the offset; not only does it almost refuse to give us any real, grounded answers, but the entire opening sequence broke the fourth wall.

Before the Flood opens with the Doctor telling the audience to quickly go and google the term 'bootstrap paradox' while telling us the story of a man who loved Beethoven so much that he went back in time to meet him only to discover that Beethoven didn't exist, and so he publishes the music himself, ultimately inspiring his future self to go back and meet Beethoven...etc. It's a near impossible concept to wrap your head around, and Before the Flood's entire narrative is rooted in this idea. The story loops back on itself endlessly, so much so that even Clara herself doesn't really understand what on Earth happened in that base. And I don't think I'd want it any other way.

Narrative wise, this was all pretty superb stuff. Pacing and structure were some of Under the Lake's greatest assets, and they helped this episode spring into a fairly quick pace from the offset. After the Doctor's fourth-wall-breaking (which was fantastically acted and directed, by the way), the story soared by without ever slowing down, yet it also never felt rushed. For 90 minutes of screen time over the two episodes to be occupied by 90 minutes of story is pretty damn rare for Doctor Who, but these episodes weighted the narrative seamlessly.

The whole bootstrap paradox is an undeniably interesting concept, and it was deployed excellently here. Never did the Doctor explain too much to the supporting characters that it started to get a bit too exposition-y, but he rather he tells us to go and Google it at the beginning of the episode, setting up the conclusion nicely. There were a vast number of twists and turns in the final act, and all of them stuck the landing. The Doctor's "ghost" being a hologram may not have quite have been good enough to justify the whole "The Doctor has to die" trope yet again, but when these episodes are looked at in isolation they aren't weakened by it. Every direction this story took was excellent, here's hoping Whithouse can come back for another two-parter some time soon.

This episode also further demonstrated how much the visuals have improved this year. Whilst the cinematography was just as effective as last week's, the underwater base still felt claustrophobic while the army base felt open and vulnerable, the special effects were arguably some of the best this show has ever put out. A few years ago if Doctor Who attempted to flood a town, it would have to happen off screen or the effects would be so laughably bad it would ruin the tension. But Doctor Who can actually show this now, and it looked great. The Fisher King itself was also wonderfully realised, horrifying in how it looks down on the Doctor with its colossal height, ear piercing roar and booming voice. While it could have done with a little more screen time solely to do this masterful achievement justice, what time it did have was great.

Other small complaints include the two sudden love stories that just sort of sprout at the end out of nowhere; Cass and Lunn I have no issue with, but Bennett and O'Donnell was difficult to buy into with little to no foreshadowing before her death. Also, O'Donnell's ghost only appearing in the underwater base after we see her die in the 1980's is confusing too. If she died in the army base in the 80's, surely her ghost would have been in the underwater base the entire time?

But, flaws aside, Before the Flood continues this fantastic surge of excellent episodes. Doctor Who is taking more risks this year than it ever has before, and it is genuinely thrilling to see a show eleven years into its run try to remodel itself so effectively. We've already had Davros and the Master in the opening episode and a story which ultimately had no resolution on the Doctor's behalf yet also managed to be entirely rewarding, and we've still got a newly structured two-parter, a found footage episode and a story featuring no actor besides Capaldi still to come.

These alterations wouldn't work, of course, without Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, who are proving to be the best Doctor-companion pairing this show has seen since its revival. They bounce off of each other wonderfully well, but also completely sell the serious moments too. Clara might not be as foregrounded now as she was last year, but I don't mind that. I'm fully on board with these two now and it's gleefully exciting to be able to just sit back and watch them fly through time and space as fast as they possibly can.

Notes-
  • That sequence with Cass being stalked by Moran's ghost was the most intense thing this show has done in a very long time. So eerily framed, but brilliantly edited with regards to sound, also. The constant cutting between hearing the axe scrape across the floor and hearing nothing but Cass' breathing was genuinely frightening, 
  • So if last year was all about Clara coming to terms with this new Doctor and his new ways, this year seems to be more focused on how Clara is slowly turning into the Doctor, and how the Doctor responds to that. That's an interesting character thread in itself, but its doubly compelling when coupled with the knowledge that this is Clara's final season. 
  • Is it still too early to label this the best season ever?

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