Sunday, 4 October 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E03 - 'Under The Lake'

After all the ground covered by the first two episodes of the ninth season of Doctor Who, it is probably fitting that the third would attempt to shift the focus onto something a little smaller in scope - if only to give the audience a little extra time to come to terms with the implications of, for example, Missy and Davros potentially working together, now, or whatever secrets might be contained within the Doctor's 'Confession Dial'. There are, obviously, far-reaching implication yet to be explored there. But, with Under The Lake, all of that is put to one side, for the moment, so that we can shift focus to a new, self-contained, tale.

Bringing the focus back to Earth, the audience is quickly introduced to the crew of an underwater mining facility, sometime in the 22nd Century, who have just made an unusual discovery, in the form of a ship that is clearly not of human construction - whoever unwilling the crew may be to accept its possible alien origins. The crew don't really have long to argue this point, though, as it quickly becomes apparent that this ship isn't all that has been brought into the facility. First, their own Captain is suddenly killed when the ship's engines suddenly activate. Then, they find themselves confronted by strange, ghostly, figures - one of whom clearly seems to be their own former crew-mate.

Jump to a few days later, and the Doctor and Clara arrive to find a facility under siege by strange figures who can pass through walls, and who only seem to come out at night - figures who the Doctor is, at first, naturally reluctant to believe are actually ghosts. Though, of course, he does eventually seem to come around - or, at least, he is willing to accept that he simply doesn't have any better explanations to offer. Of course, being the Doctor, he also naturally finds the whole idea to be more fascinating than frightening, even if his enthusiasm does make the surviving crew-members a bit uncomfortable.

As a side-note, it's also at this point that we learn the surprising detail that the Doctor and Clara have apparently prepared a series of que-cards to remind him how to act in awkward social situations, now - something which, it seems, this incarnation of the Doctor genuinely needs, if his behaviour here is any indication. It's an amusing moment, sure - but, at the same time, the suggestion that this Doctor genuinely needs to be reminded to show sympathy after a tragic death really doesn't paint him in the most positive light. Or, maybe, I'm just reading too much into what was only intended as a one-off joke.

At any rate, there is also clearly more going on than a simple haunting - especially when the crew learnt that their intended plan to flee the facility has been derailed by the fact that these 'ghosts' have, apparently, already called for a rescue mission, themselves. Clearly, the 'ghosts' actually want more people to come to the facility for whatever it is that they have planned - so, it seems as though simple fleeing isn't an option. Instead, the Doctor and Clara find themselves forced to join forces with the remaining crew in order to figure out what is happening, and how to stop it.

With this episode centring, as it does, around a small group of survivors trapped in an underwater facility and being stalked by 'ghosts', it's actually a little disappointing that the episode isn't more frightening than it actually is. Admittedly, the 'ghosts', themselves, are wonderfully creepy creations - eyeless phantoms that stalk the halls of the facility, and who would look perfectly at home in any horror film. But, the episode, itself, often doesn't make the best use of them. The sight of a single 'ghost', for example, slowly walking toward a group of people with a chair raised over its head would have to be one of the least frightening things that Doctor Who has ever expected me to be frightened by. It actually becomes increasingly disappointing, throughout the episode, to see how small a threat these 'ghosts' actually are - with the only real danger they pose being their ability to touch and manipulate objects around them (only those made of metal, apparently).

Still, there's a deeper mystery at work, here, to hold the attention of the audience, as well - something going on behind the scenes that hasn't been revealed, yet. These 'ghosts' are clearly working toward some unknown goal. But, of course, we're going to have to wait until next week to learn what that might be, because the episode also manages to bring things to a close with a pretty fantastic cliffhanger.

In all, Under The Lake is a decent enough follow-up to the fantastic opening episodes of the ninth season - though, it's also one which doesn't really make the most of the 'horror' vibe it began with. It's also an episode featuring a supporting cast who, while also decent enough, aren't really given enough to work with the make much of an impression on the audience. But, still, Under The Lake does have its share of entertaining moments - and, it is able to set things up for a, hopefully, great follow-up episode next week.

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