Doctor Who: “Under The Lake” – Into The Episode

Doctor Who returned this week and is finally under way with the normalcy of its 9th Season. Now when I say “normalcy”, I don’t mean that in a bad way. As you can imagine, Season premiers – like Season finales – are usually entities all to themselves in terms of complexity and action. In many ways, it is these two bookends of a Season that we primarily judge a show by.

So now that the two-part Season premier is over, we can finally get a good judge of what the typical Season 9 episodes will be; and “Under The Lake” brought us quite the interesting amalgam of new and returning style.

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This Episode’s Writer – Toby Whithouse:

Guest writers for Doctor Who can either soar or fall flat. This writer of this week’s episode has done a bit of both in my opinion. Toby Whithouse was the writer of two episodes during the Eleventh Doctor/Pond years – “The God Complex” and “A Town Called Mercy”. I wasn’t the biggest fan of those seasons, so those episodes didn’t really leave me with too many fond feelings. However he also wrote the episode “School Reunion” during the Tenth Doctor’s reign. Unlike the other two, “School Reunion” really stayed with me as a wonderful suspense episode as well as the introducing the new Who-fans to Sarah Jane Smith and K-9.

So where does “Under The Lake” fall? To put it simply, this episode gave us wonderful suspense and horror elements while also making things much more straight forward – which I’ll explain in the next section a little further. He even made reference to one of his own creations, by making the first ghost a Tivoli – an incredibly submissive alien race which first appeared in “The God Complex”. In the end though, it’s hard to judge this episode as a whole because it’s part of a two-part story arcs, which is how all of this season will be organized! Whithouse gave us just what we needed in this episode and left us at a jaw-dropping cliffhanger – worthy of a season finale in some cases.

“Under The Lake” – Episode Meaning & The Return To Horror Who:

If you went into this expecting a Moffat episode, then you should probably go back and rewatch. Much like how the alien scribbles turned out to be an “earworm” they couldn’t get rid of, Moffat sometimes has the same effect on Doctor Who episodes, where the viewers expect multiple layers of complexities and cleverness. If you kept watching this episode for thinly veiled references and relations to bigger revelations – like I originally did – you would have missed the real purpose of this episode: horror.

The episode title of course is a reference to the physical space our characters inhabit this episode., “under the lake”. But the phrasing is perfectly organized to be a horror film. So many horror films deal with things “Under the” bed/ skin/ stairs/ etc. In films scuch as those, the thing to be feared of course comes from “under the” – insert place here – and the same is true of this episode. The horrors that our heroes are having to deal with are coming from “under the lake” and are desperately trying to get out.

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We still don’t know what exactly is going on here, but all we know is that someone is hijacking people’s souls so that even after death, they are driven to further their own kind and thus strengthen a signal. This episode’s ‘big bad’ somehow combined Ghosts, Zombies, a Master Mind controlling it all and any film that dealt with being trapped underwater. What exactly is hiding “under the lake”? Wel’ll have to wait for next week to find or, when the Doctor travels to a time “Before The Flood”.

Clara’s Growing Addiction … And Hubris:

As expected, this Season will deal with who Clara is – much like last season dealt with who this new Doctor is – and this episode gave us a very grim look at what’s to come as well as what Clara’s going through. Last season we saw how she did love Danny, but she loved exploration and adventure more. After all, it’s hard for any man to hold a candle next to The Doctor. But in this episode, things started to change a bit and Clara’s motivations/excitement seems a little concerning. And it’s not just this panda who noticed it, but the Doctor as well.

From the episode’s start, we see Clara is upset that they’re back on Earth. She thinks the fun and danger is gone, but the moment she realizes that the base is abandoned and something horrible must have happened, she becomes joyous! She doesn’t understand the severity of the situation she’s entered into and these feelings return later on when she’s ready to rush back into the base filled with murderous ghosts that neither the Doctor nor the Tardis understands. Clara’s actions seem strange for her and yet hauntingly familiar. She seems like the Doctor.

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It’s important that we saw Clara’s poor reaction to the situation at hand first. When we saw it, it should have sparked something inside us. And then when we saw the Doctor a little later needing to read from cards to “convey proper emotions”, we realize that Clara might need some of those as well. Rather than move on from Danny’s death, she’s shutting that side of her off completely and is running head first into danger no matter the price. She thinks she’s invincible and when she died, she dies. But that’s not her role, that’s the Doctor’s. Only the Doctor can live like that, and it’s not because he’s being selfish.

The Doctor can regenerate – with limitations of course – and has a more resilient body. He’s seen more things than she could ever imagine and think his way out of bad situations like no tomorrow. That is why the Doctor can always take these risks and know that at least he has a chance to do the impossible. To quote what he told Davros in the season premier, he sees the ONE chance out of the THOUSAND. Sadly, Clara’s not a Time Lord – or Lady – and if this new habit continues, she’s going to get herself killed. Then again, considering this is her last season, this might just be Clara making as much noise as possible before she dies – just like the Doctor was doing a few episodes ago.

Wibbly Wobbly Quick Thoughts:

  • Some of you might be wondering Cass kept forbidding her interpreter Lunn from entering the ship. Well the episode didn’t explicitly say it, but here’s the importance with that little moment. Remember how the Ghosts didn’t start trying to kill Clara and the Doctor until after they saw the writing on the wall? That’s because you only become a ghost if you get that writing – earworm – stuck in your head. Why Cass didn’t let Lunn in we don’t know; but we DO know the effect. Remember, Lunn was cornered by a Ghost and wasn’t killed. That is because the Ghost realized Lunn never saw the writing. Ergo, killing him would have been a waste and he wouldn’t have strengthened their signal.
  • I couldn’t help but look at Mr Top Hat (the Tivoli) and think of Walter Simeon from “The Snowmen” or The Whisper Men, two beings affiliated with The Great Intelligence. Wouldn’t it be fun if that who/what was in the Stasis Tomb!
  • That awkward moment when Psychic Paper actually tells someone exactly who you are because you just so happen to be who they want you to be.
  • Anyone else feel like Vector – Patroleum or not – might come up again?
  • Who you gonna call? GHOST DOCTOR!!!!!!! Actually no, we don’t want Ghost Doctor. That’s bad. That’s very, very bad! Further more, does this mean he’ll loose a regeneration or will it all be undone?

Next week will bring us the exciting conclusion to the two part Doctor Who ‘Lake Arc’! Although due to New York Comic Con, my analysis might be a little later than normal. But I WILL be writing one! So please stay tuned for that AND get ready for my New York Comic Con coverage! It’s going to be a blast!

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