WARNING: This review contains spoilers
After ‘Under the Lake’ left us with a major cliffhanger featuring the Doctor’s death, I believe everybody went into this episode with only one question in their minds: how is the Doctor going to avoid his death this time? The Doctor has died plenty of times before, but he always manages to “undie” with some time-wimey magic. And isn’t that what we watch Doctor Who for?
Sadly, the Doctor wasn’t really dead. His ‘ghost’ was actually a hologram used for passing messages between two timelines. I have to say I was quite of disappointed, but at least we can erase this two-part episode as “times the Doctor has ‘died’ in the show”.
This episode is divided into two different settings: the future (or rather present) with Clara, and 1980 with the Doctor. To be honest, I never really cared much about these side-characters. I felt like most of the time they were there just to point out Clara and the Doctor’s flaws, which we all know by now. The forced romantic relationships at the end didn’t help much either.
While ‘Under the Lake’ was more focused on the ghosts, in ‘Before the Flood’, the spotlight goes to their master, the Fisher King, which could be one of the most impressive Doctor Who creatures we have had recently. Seriously, that thing looked like it just came out from some bizarre videogame! On top of that, the Doctor is trapped inside a Bootstrap Paradox in which he is locked in his own timeline. “You can’t cheat time”, “there are rules”, “the future has already happened”… he says.
As a matter of fact, this episode was full of talks about time and paradoxes, which is all good since this is what this show is about. However, I felt like the subject didn’t go as well with the ghost theme of the episodes. ‘Under the Lake’ was all about ghosts, but ‘Before the Flood’ is all about time. It works as two separate episodes, but not so much when you put them together.
On the other side of the timeline, Clara struggles to earn her teammates’s trust because they feel like she’s becoming more like the Doctor in the sense that she doesn’t hesitate to risk lives. “He told me to do what has to be done” she says, and at this point I have to wonder whether travelling with the Doctor is good for her anymore. Is this something that Rose, Martha, Donna or Amy would have said?
Remember how I said how much I loved how the Doctor had come back for this season as well as his relationship with Clara in the premiere? Err… well, it’s certainly better than last season, but apparently there are still many issues. The Doctor caring about Clara is good, but caring only about her isn’t. The Doctor’s questionable morals keep being an issue for Capaldi’s Doctor. This is probably due to Moffat centering these two seasons around the personal growth of the Doctor, hence exploring his darkness, rather than focusing on the adventure and friendship, which were the main themes of previous Doctors.
‘Before the Flood’ was wrapped up in a very clever way as it resulted that everything was a message that the Doctor had left for himself. And that epic intro (probably the best part of the episode) was tied very nicely with the ending. However, even if it gave the feeling of closure, this wasn’t a perfectly rounded episode. As a matter of fact, it was highly inconsistent, just like its predecessor. The pacing was off: there were parts in which I could feel the tension, but then I could be yawning through the next scene.
PS: Only cool thing about the sonic sunglasses is that, instead of the Doctor pointing the screwdriver at someone, they actually get to put on the glasses! Nice touch.