Doctor Who Series 9, Episode 3
“Under The Lake”
Posted by Sage
Series 9’s multi-episode arc structure continues with this spooky two-parter. And we haven’t quite returned to the classic Who years of seven or eight part stories wherein the Doctor or companion are put into cliffhanger-status peril every 30 minutes before another set of credits roll, but this season does feel like anthology of sorts. And anthology-type shows need to be reacted to twice: once, as they’re happening, piece by piece; and again when the entire story can be looked back on and considered as a whole. But let’s not rush that part; because by the time Series 9 is in the archives, Jenna Coleman will be gone, and I just don’t need that kind of negativity in my life right now.
“Favorites” are bullshit, but it’s easier to have an answer ready when a question is asked than to argue that point. So when people want to know what my Doctor Who episode is, I go with the series 2 two-parter “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.” All of the best elements of the show are at work in those two episodes: questions of existence and higher powers; the Doctor admiring human curiosity and valor; UST so thick a sonic couldn’t penetrate it; and a villain worthy of the Doctor’s gleeful interest. It also has a claustrophobic charm, with Rose and Ten trapped with Ida Scott and her company in a doomed space station facing an evil force that’s picking the crew off one-by-one. So, as you may have guessed already, I loved “Under the Lake” a whole lot.
The Doctor and Clara don’t land on an alien planet in this episode, rather inside “The Drum,” an underwater mining facility off the coast of Scotland. It’s 2119, which doesn’t really matter that much, except that maybe in 100+ years, our children’s children will be sharing posts on Facebook like “today’s the day the Doctor and Clara made googly eyes at each other thousands of feet below sea level” like we do now with the dates from the Back to the Future movies. TIME WILL TELL. Anyway, by the time our heroes have showed up, the remaining crew of the station have locked themselves away in their “Faraday cage” for the night. That’s why the base seems abandoned at first, as the Doctor and Clara have a poke around. The TARDIS landed under protest, which usually means there’s some perversion of the laws of time hanging about. (Come out wherever you are, Jack.) The Doctor is tentatively interested. Clara left “tentatively” behind about 6 episodes ago, but doesn’t think a stop so lacking in explosions and monsters is worth their valuable time. Somebody thinks that’s adorable.
While the Doctor and Clara have their wander around the base, a couple of tour guides show up. One of them is the “ghost” of Captain Jonathan Moran who we saw perish in the cold open, heroically protecting his crew. The other ghost isn’t familiar, but he’s in a natty top-hat – not exactly underwater miner fashion. They lead Clara and the Doctor to the ship that the crew had discovered outside and just brought on board, and the Doctor immediately interprets that there’s something specific there that the apparitions want them to see and understand. (“Hello! did you want to show us this? It’s very nice.”) There are markings on the inner wall of the ship that the TARDIS hasn’t translated; but before the Doctor is able to analyze those words or the ones that the ghosts seem to be silently mouthing, the ghosts grab the nearest sharp and/or heavy things and make to attack the time travelers. The Doctor’s MO is not to fear something that hasn’t get given him reason to fear it; the attack posture counts a good reason – a great one even. And that’s when the Doctor and Clara find themselves being rushed into the Faraday cage to meet the rest of the crew.
The psychic paper introduces Clara and the Doctor as UNIT officers; that means something to the crew, so credibility is established. O’Donnell, who turns out to be the base’s tech-head, greets the Doctor like she’s had posters of him on her wall since she was 13. (“Big fan.”) Pritchard is immediately established as the corporate dick of the episode; he’s on the base representing the man, aka Vector Petroleum. It was his order not to abandon the equipment that his company paid for; the crew isn’t stranded, they’re under the power of one of the Doctor’s favorite kind of people. (“Okay, I understand. You’re an idiot.”) Bennett is a anxious guy whose inner monologue is something like, “I signed up for science, not adventure.”) And with Captain Moran gone, the commanding officer is Cass. The Doctor respects her immediately; she’s one of those ones who asks the right questions, unpacks the problem instead of lamenting circumstances, and kept the crew sane by keeping her own head. She also happens to be deaf. (And is played by an actress who is also deaf, Sophie Leigh Stone.) Lunn interprets for her, and bless everything, because Doctor Who does this right. Cass’s disability is never presented as a complication; besides one joke about ASL at the Doctor’s expense, it’s hardly mentioned. Everyone looks at CASS when Lunn is translating her words and that sounds like a small thing, but trust me, it is not.
Characters in this episode kept saying “faraday cage” like I’m meant to know what that means. But I’m an English major who took no real classes and has never had a real job in her life, so I had to look it up. The crew have found that the ghosts can’t enter the “enclosure formed by conductive material or by a mesh of such material, used to block electric fields” (you’re a pal, Wikipedia), and that they only appear during the base’s manufactured nights. (The crew is too far underwater to see daylight, so “Day Mode” and “Night Mode” are their only guide.) All of this is intriguing to the Doctor, though his blood pressure ticks up a bit every time someone calls what they’ve seen a “ghost.” Don’t exist, says the man, and isn’t that just what Ten said about the devil? (He also said “If I believe in one thing – just one thing – I believe in her,” and everybody died and now I am a ghost too, but that’s off topic.) Anyway, Day Mode kicks in, and the whole company troupes back over to the abandoned craft that started this whole thing. With no murder-y ghosts on his back, the Doctor gets a closer look. The markings are still there, but the pilot’s suspended animation chamber and one of the ship’s power cells are gone. Also, the actual base could explode at any moment. Good. Cause I was worried this was gonna be easy.
It’s not all bad news though. The Doctor comes around on the ghost thing and goes into kid-on-Christmas mode. (“There was no such things as socks or smart phones or badgers until they’re suddenly were.”) So there’s danger, yes, but now there’s the possibility of learning something new – of adding a new card to the ol’ Monster rolodex. His enthusiasm becomes…indiscreet, let’s say. (“Death is the one thing that unified every living creature, and now it’s gone.”) And Clara Oswald’s well-organized training program goes into practice. She made him feelings flash cards. Best teacher in the universe. (Look how he looks into her eyes for encouragement in this first gif. Married and married and married.)
There was some discussion on Tumblr about the cards, and how they are, on second glance, less of a cute joke and more of a taking of the temperature of Clara Oswald’s detachment. In other episodes like these, we’ve seen Clara sidle up to whoever she and the Doctor are there to help; to align with them, and interpret his ramblings and insensitivity herself. But she doesn’t do that here. She barely interacts with any of the crew, so you can’t blame them for not throwing a parade when she shows up alive in the control room after leading the ghosts to the cage. Instead, she’s created a shortcut for both of them. Her humanity is still in tact; otherwise she wouldn’t care enough to even do this. But the adrenaline rush takes priority, and the cards help her and the Doctor get back to business as quickly as possible. The Doctor notices the change, and sort of perfunctorily checks in with her about it. He’s torn. Life would be a lot less fun for the Doctor if Clara Oswald were more cautious; on the other hand, turning into him is something he doesn’t wish on anybody, least of all anybody he loves. (Also, he suggests she distract herself with “another relationship.” Nice fishing Doctor, since there’s NOBODY ELSE IN THAT TARDIS BUT YOU.)
The Doctor’s plan is to restore Night Mode so they can get some more research in on what the ghosts want. O’Donnell tells him that to save power, the base doesn’t run its periodic diagnostic tests at night, and that must mean something to whatever they are. Bennett, Lunn, Clara, and a Clara hologram tag-team a trap for the ghosts, locking them in the faraday cage so that the Doctor can observe/interrogate them. (And put me on record as Team Sonic Sunglasses, okay? All you crybabies know that the screwdriver is coming back eventually; just let me have P.Cap in Ray-Bans until then.) He stares directly at the mouths of the ghosts, transmitting the image to Cass so that she can read their lips. The ghosts are saying the same thing, over and over again: “The dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple.” The dark is space, the Doctor reckons, and the Sword is Orion’s. He makes a solar system model out of the crew in the control room, and shows them that the Earth becomes part of the constellation, when looked at from a certain angle. The Forsaken is a location, and those un-translated words on the ship’s hull are the coordinates. The ghosts are recruiting, because they’re transmitting the signal. Every death makes their signal stronger. But who are they calling out to? Where do they need to go? And what happened to the captain of the space craft? Cass hits on the important question, once again making the Doctor proud to know her: What’s the Temple? The ruins sitting outside the base were once a military town, and something is sitting in what used to be a church. They could try to find out what, or they could easily get the hell out of Dodge. “None of you have chosen anonymous or selfish lives,” the Doctor reminds them. And do you do when a man like that demands your bravery? You rise to the occasion. (“Well, at least if I die, you know I really will come back and haunt you all.”)
Obviously, the mysterious object in the church is the missing suspended animation chamber. It’s deadlocked sealed, and reason would suggest that it’s the pilot who’s inside. (“Then why do I think it isn’t?”) Cass and the Doctor are the smartest people in the room (Clara: “?!?”), and the first to hit on the other weird thing about the coordinates. They feel like they know them already; they’re kicking around in the backs of their brains. They’re “an ear worm,” the Doctor says. “A song you can’t stop humming, even after you die.” Just as they’re getting somewhere with this, the security protocols kick in and the base is flooded to cool the reactor. The crew has 30 seconds to make their way to the TARDIS. As the corridor doors lock down, one by one, Cass, Clara, and Lunn get stuck behind one that the Doctor and Bennett make it through. And because this isn’t “Deep Breath” anymore, the Doctor takes two seconds of his long life to assure Clara that he is coming back for her. It’s almost like Whouffaldi is too canon right now. (It isn’t, give me more.)
Timey Wimey Observations:
- If no one has fic-ed the Doctor and Clara’s trip to the neverending New Year’s Eve party, then what good is this fandom?
- “So what do we do?” “Put the hand brake on.”
- “Cooooooooold…isn’t it?”
- “How do you do that?” “Extremely well.”
- Now we know why the Doctor has a clockwork squirrel in place of a radio. “…Because whatever song I heard first thing the morning, I was stuck. Two weeks of ‘Mysterious Girl’ by Peter Andre. I was begging for the brush of death’s merciful hand.”
Kim will return this week to take you “Before The Flood.” Until then, let’s discuss ghosts, empathy study skills, and what exactly Clara did to lose her dignity in the comments!