It would make sense that the new Doctor Who episode would immediately take advantage of the chance to show just how much its special effects game has really stepped up. I’m not referring to the impressive effects of the ghosts, but the shot that happens a little while after the titles sequence, we get what can be seen as an improvement on the “bigger on the inside” shot in The Snowmen– namely, the shot in the underground lake base which shows the TARDIS with the door halfway open, with Clara walking around inside. On paper it may seem as if this isn’t much of a technical achievement, but consider the fact that for mere decades Doctor Who has gotten by on its beautifully bizarre imagery. Let’s not forget to mention the fact that in its golden years people had to put up with turkey tins and puppets as props and had to use their imagination, so technical achievements like these and their beautiful imagery is a sign of just how enduring Doctor Who has been over the years.
Warning: Here be spoilers
Add to that a wonderful old-school scaretale written lovingly by Toby Whithouse, and you have Under the Lake, an intense and impressively creepy episode that shows Doctor Who at its best- sending kids to hide behind the couch while boasting brilliant storytelling and splendid imagery to boot. Under The Lake is definitely nothing new by Doctor Who standards- it’s a ghost tale, which is something Doctor Who has done many times before, and is yet another “contained environment” story. As with a lot of these stories there’s a lot of running up and down corridors and hiding from ghosts, but while the running up and down corridors can get a tad tiresome after a while it doesn’t detract too much from one of the best scary Doctor Who stories to date. There’s not a lot of originality on display here, but that doesn’t matter when it’s well made, well written, and well acted.
The Doctor and Clara arrive in an underwater mining facility named The Drum, located somewhere beneath the Scottish Loch. The crew of the facility have spent a good amount of time under the lake doing research, when two hollow-eyed murderous ghosts arrive. When The Doctor and Clara arrive, the spaceship is empty, and The Doc and Clara themselves almost immediately encounter the ghosts. They find the crew hiding out in one of the chambers, and together they all try to find out exactly who the ghosts are, and how they can be eradicated. Predictably, of course, it doesn’t take long for the crew to begin dropping like flies (including one meeting a rather wet death, natch), and they do less finding out about the ghosts and more hiding.
There’s really not much to sum up this episode with, because it really is as simple as it sounds. Lovingly crafted and written by Toby Whithouse, Under The Lake moves along at a break-neck pace, while at the same time not feeling overly rushed. In fact the pacing really is the best thing about this episode. The moments of suspense are well-balanced, featuring The Doctor and Clara’s first encounter with the two ghosts- a tense and suspenseful scene throughout, and the fact that all but one death is left to the imagination also helps. It also helps that a lot of the suspense comes from The Doctor and Clara trying to negotiate with the crew, and it’s also done without the characters spelling out the plot- something that Doctor Who has been missing for quite a while. Then again, it also helps that Steven Moffat didn’t write the episode.
However, this is only the first of a two-parter. Toby Whithouse is a good writer and has written some of the best Doctor Who stories (The God Complex being one of my personal favourites), but if the cliffhanger ending is anything to swear by, this coming Saturday’s episode has some pretty big shoes to fill. But as both a part one and a standalone episode, Under The Lake works- from its old-school feel to its thrills and suspense. Let’s hope it exists into the next one.
-Big ups to the deaf actress- apparently the first deaf actress on Doctor Who. She did a splendid job and her character was really cool as well.
-Did anyone else get a bit of a series 3 vibe from this episode?
-A lot has been made about the sonic glasses and a lot of people are even pissed that they could replace the sonic screwdriver. I personally think they won’t, but I thought they were a nice touch.
-Wasn’t a huge fan of the scene of The Doctor telling Clara to get a boyfriend to be honest.
-Clara, on the other hand, is very determined in this one and I hope we see more of this from her in the coming episodes. Less Kill the Moon Clara and more Series 9 Clara, please.
-Did anyone else expect Clara to immediately say to the ghosts “Are you ever going to NOT fall for that?” after fooling them with the hologram?
Episode Rank - 8/10
Toby Whithouse goes back to what made Doctor Who brilliant in the first place and brings a new vibe to it.