NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Doctor Who are present in this review
Doctor Who continues its Series Nine hot streak with the clever and exciting resolution to last week’s events in this week’s episode, “Before the Flood.” With The Doctor appearing to have been killed in the past at the cliffhanger conclusion of last week’s episode, “Under the Lake”, Clara and the remaining crew members must figure out how to save everyone from the ghosts that continue to stalk them in the 22nd Century underwater base of Scotland.
The episode begins with The Doctor somewhat breaking the fourth wall, setting up the episode and its resolution very nicely, as The Doctor explains the principle of a bootstrap paradox. Using the example of a time traveler being inspired by Beethoven and wanting to meet him, The Doctor tells a story of the traveler going back to the past, and discovering that Beethoven never actually existed in this hypothetical scenario. Since the traveler doesn’t want Beethoven to disappear from history, he then passes off Beethoven’s compositions as his own, in order to preserve the timeline… But in that hypothetical scenario, who is the true composer of Beethoven’s symphonies? The Doctor then plays a Beethoven interlude on his electric guitar as the episode begins. This was a great sequence, and the way that it ties into events later is both surprising and clever!
Back in the base, the deaf-mute captain that Clara is still with claims that The Doctor’s silent message is different from the other ghosts. Instead of the mysterious coordinates, he’s instead listing off the names of the crew, including his and Clara, which initially just confuses everyone. If you’ve been following the events of last week though, you may notice something that sticks out, and is definitively proven later; The Doctor is listing the order in which everyone will be killed.
Where is The Doctor and his two crewmates? Well, they’ve traveled back to the same location in 1980, where they meet Prentis, a Tivolian (a race that loves to be invaded, which you may remember from Eleventh Doctor episode, “The God Complex”), who happens to be in a suit and top hat, which explains the original ghost from last week. Apparently, Prentis is a mortician transporting the body of a conquerer called the Fisher King, who ruled the Tivolians for, “Ten glorious years”, before being overthrown and seemingly killed by another race. Turns out however that the Fisher King is not actually dead (of course), and it ends up getting loose, killing Prentis, and soon after, killing O’Donnell, one of the crew people with The Doctor.
Soon after, Clara gets ahold of The Doctor in the past, and shows him his ghost, with The Doctor forced to accept the fact that he can’t alter the time stream, as the TARDIS refuses to let him leave, merely moving a half-hour back into the past when The Doctor tries to run. The Doctor decides to accept death, as his latest regeneration is a, “Clerical error” anyway, and instead moves to stop the Fisher King to save Clara, rather than himself, particularly since Clara’s name is next on the list that he now knows is the order in which everyone dies.
A bad situation then gets worse, as The Doctor lets out all of the ghosts from the Faraday cage, forcing Clara and co. to retreat again, with Clara losing her phone in the process. The other crew member, Lunn however is able to retrieve it, with the episode revealing that the ghosts don’t attack him, because he didn’t see the message on the wall. They still corner him and use him to set a trap however, which feels a bit contrived, though that’s a minor sticking point in an otherwise great episode.
Back in the past, The Doctor confronts the Fisher King, leaving the other crew member in the TARDIS, and learns that the conquerer is using the message to lead an armada back to Earth. He mocks The Doctor for his being at the mercy of a future that he can’t change, even if it means his death, but The Doctor merely fires back by condemning the Fisher King for robbing the future base’s crew of their deaths, along with Prentis. The Fisher King has disturbed the natural order, and The Doctor can’t forgive that. Nonetheless, the Fisher King goes back to his ship when The Doctor suggests that he do so, and, surprise, surprise, The Doctor had a plan. The Fisher King is tricked, as one of his power cells is missing, shortly before a big explosion takes place at the nearby dam, thus creating a flood, and the very same flood that led to the construction of the underwater base in the first place.
The TARDIS returns the other crew member safely to the 22nd Century, and the ghosts end up following The Doctor’s ghost back to the Faraday cage. The last piece of the puzzle? It wasn’t the Fisher King in the stasis pod. It was The Doctor! He entered the pod to survive the flood, and set it for the 22nd Century, thus placing him back with the others. Apparently, The Doctor’s ghost was never real, and was simply a hologram that The Doctor controlled from stasis, using the Sonic Glasses. The Doctor lures the ghosts back into the Faraday cage and traps them again, claiming that UNIT will discharge the cage, and everything will be fine in the end. As The Doctor and Clara prepare to travel away, The Doctor explains the bootstrap paradox to Clara, right as the episode ends.
This was a very clever and unpredictable resolution to events, and the whole angle of the bootstrap paradox was very inspired! The show really did make it seem hopeless, and appeared to have an ironclad future of doom for The Doctor in place, though as usual, it was just another clever plan that the audience no doubt would never see coming.
The only slight drawback to an otherwise great idea with the bootstrap paradox is that it does create a couple of plot holes, for want of preserving the mystery that began last week. First, if O’Donnell was killed in 1980, shouldn’t her ghost already have been present from the start? Prentis’ ghost was there from the start, so O’Donnell’s should have been too. It would have been a time paradox, yes, but unless we’re to assume that The Doctor meaninglessly let O’Donnell die when she shouldn’t have, due to simple negligence and apathy (and that’s not likely), this doesn’t add up. The other sticking point is, if The Doctor was controlling his ghost, why in the world would he let the ghosts out and needlessly endanger Clara and the rest of the crew, only to lead the ghosts back into the Faraday cage about an hour later?! What does that solve?! Moreover, if The Doctor’s ghost was a hologram, how was it able to interact with physical objects at all?
Still, putting aside some of those plot hiccups, “Before the Flood” nonetheless provided a great resolution to the events that began in “Under the Lake” last week. Series Nine of Doctor Who continues to be on a roll, and is shaping up to be one of the best seasons of New Who to date! We’ll have to see if the next part of the all-two-parter style of the season continues to pay off, but so far, the Twelfth Doctor is definitely at the top of his game!
Doctor Who found a very clever and unpredictable resolution to last week's events in "Before the Flood", creating a situation that effectively seemed hopeless, and yet one that The Doctor still defeated, even if it did create a couple of plot gaffes.