Entertainment, Review

Doctor Who Series 9 Review: Under the Lake

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By Jack Rea


The nights are getting darker and colder, and for some reason Doctor Who is being broadcast later, so now feels like the perfect time for the show to introduce a spooky ghost story. After an intense and explosive opening two-parter, Doctor Who slows down the pacing and reintroduces a well-established format for the show; essentially a base under siege.

There was little room for breathing in the Magician’s Apprentice and Witch’s Familiar, with the episodes feeling a little overstuffed with various returning companions and arch-enemies. This week we get the chance to be introduced to a whole host of new characters for the Doctor and Clara to save. Some of these work and some don’t. Those that become ghosts early on in the episode are given little to no development but this is necessary for the plot to create a threat for the surviving crew. Highlights have to be the new female members of the cast. O’Donnell is both a smart and funny member of the team, attempting to hide her admiration of the Doctor. Cass, portrayed by deaf actress Sophie Stone is excellent in her authoritative role holding the team together and assisting the Doctor in putting the pieces together. This perhaps shouldn’t have to be worthy of comment but it’s very good to see such a powerful non-speaking part on television. The male members of the crew have been written so far as stereotypical frightened guys, ready to run at the first chance, but I remain optimistic that next week with the cast split into two different locations (and times) we can see a bit more from them.

Visually this series of Doctor Who is on a roll, the shimmering floating ghosts are very eerie from the ominous repetitive chanting to the deep set holes for eyes. The set itself is also superb, giving a real sense of claustrophobia to the characters trapped deep under water. Next week looks set to be very different in setting and tone, with the Doctor emerging from the lake above ground. It’s good to see the programme using the two-parter format in such an efficient way, with two distinct halves to the story. The sonic sunglasses are back and apparently now officially part of Doctor Who mythology. I have to admit they work juxtaposing Peter Capaldi’s serious and alien incarnation of the Doctor but I can’t imagine them being pulled off by many other actors. How long they’ll endure remains to be seen.

The episode presents the ghosts as a real threat early on as they send an unfortunate member of the crew to a watery grave, however I feel later in the narrative the story seems to undermine their threat. They seem a little too easily tricked by a Clara hologram and trapped in a room of the base. When the Doctor steps into the room and they are unable to do him harm it presents them as rather useless. The water itself seems to present more of a threat as various corridors begin to fill up. Not only is it the reason for the death of the before-mentioned character but it also definitively separates the Doctor and Clara from each other (whilst giving Peter Capaldi the opportunity to do an Indiana Jones style roll underneath a closing door.) It’ll be interesting to see how Clara handles next week without the Doctor, particularly as I have a feeling the ghosts won’t stay trapped for long. Much has been made of Clara assuming a Doctor-like role in the show recently and this week we get the Doctor himself addressing the fact. He essentially tells her to calm down and not to go “native.” Clara’s willingness to place herself in danger at the moment is only adding to my building sense of dread.

Finally the show hits us with yet another massive cliff-hanger. The Doctor is a ghost now apparently and it seems next week’s purpose is to tell us how he died trying to save everyone. I admire the story’s ambition and find it on the whole effective and scary but I’m starting to slightly tire of plots surrounding the Doctor’s impending death. At least it gave us a chance to see Peter Capaldi in creepy ghost mode. That’s an image which is sure to give many young viewers nightmares.

Jack is a third year English student and self-proclaimed Whovian who also enjoys film and live music. You can read his blog here – Jack Rea Blog

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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