I haven’t been so excited and satisfied by a two-parter in Doctor Who since “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit”! “Before the Flood” follows on from the well-tread, dependable opener “Under the Lake” as a rock-solid 45 minutes of prime-time sci-fi. There’s no emotional gut-wrenching, no bombastic CGI tackiness, no overly-confusing Moffat-esque plot teasing, just a damn good romp for Doctor Who.
“Before the Flood” sees the Doctor travelling back in time to 1980’s Scotland and attempting to pinpoint the moment when the alien ship, still at large and still dangerous in the military-mining base, first made contact on Earth in order to stop it from creating its signal-boosting ghosts. In doing so, the Doctor becomes faced with the prospect of having to break the rules of time in order protect those he cares about. But what price is that when there’s a sinister alien creature on the loose, taking pleasure in breaking the rules of life and death?
Throughout this entire two-parter, Toby Whitehouse seems to have been fixated with delivering a Doctor Who episode that’s high on thrills and spills and low on almost everything else. Right down to using “Under the Lake” as a springboard for being able to exploit the age-old set-up of an isolated environment under threat from an invisible enemy with no clear objective, Whitehouse abandons this familiarity somewhat with “Before the Flood”, an adventure that pits the Doctor against time itself (like that’s never happened before!). “Before the Flood” swings from desolate Scottish highlands to near-ethereal undersea bases, one plagued by ghosts and the other inhabited by some badass-looking alien, and is greatly effective in its visuals because of this.
Whitehouse manages to separate “Before the Flood” from “Under the Lake” by charging up the danger and the suspense a few notches. For me, this story didn’t have the pitfall of part one being the set-up and part two being the conclusion, even though that’s exactly how they play out. “Under the Lake”, as we discussed in our review, is classic Doctor Who comfort food, whereas “Before the Flood” takes that comfort food and makes it hotter, more sour, and has it leaving a bitter after taste in our mouths. This isn’t because it’s a bad episode, but rather because it exudes more terror and suspense than any episode we’ve seen so far in Series 9. Yeah yeah, we’re only on the fourth episode…
“Before the Flood” may just be the best episode we’ve had yet from this new series. The moodiness is alive throughout, highlighted by the Doctor’s menacing confrontation with the Fisher King in the chilling, grey, shadowy basement of some abandoned warehouse in a mock up of Cold War Russia built in the barren depths of Scotland. Great fun!
Overall grade: A
Overall story grade: A
+ Full marks must go to the costume department for the Fisher King.
– The Doctor’s introductory fourth-wall breaking feels like a cheap.
– Whole lotta exposition throughout.
– Sonic Sunglasses still ain’t cool.