"Before the Flood" wraps up the second two-parter of the season in an unexpected way.
To open the episode, the Doctor explains the "bootstrap principle" to, presumably, the audience in an almost fourth-wall breaking fashion. My first thought is that the explanation was for O'Donnell and Bennett, but either way, it introduced a fascinating concept to explore.
The "bootstrap principle," also known as the causal loop, is defined as "a paradox of time travel that occurs when a later (future) event is the cause of an earlier (past) event, through some sort of time travel. The past event is then partly or entirely the cause of the future event, which is the past event's cause." (wikipedia.com) And to find that out, I did exactly as the Doctor said, "Google it."
In sci-fi, the exploration of scientific concepts and ideas is one of my favorite aspects of the genre. It gives the creators the freedom to test hypothetical concepts to see how the writers interpret them. Of course, since "bootstrap principle" is a paradox, it is logically impossible to make work, and thus the writers must create what the outcome of the paradox would fit within the context of their fictional universe.
Making concepts such as this work is incredibly difficult. You must make the audience believe what is happening, and to a degree, "Before the Flood" accomplished this feat. With that said, the explanation lacked a few keys points of explanation. By the end, everything happened, and while it was entertaining, something felt like it was missing. In many ways, the episode is similar to the paradox where the Doctor was "killed" by River Song in the "Impossible Astronaut." Other than the lack of explanation, using the real hypothesis gave the episode a solid base from which to build upon, even if the result was less than perfect.
In non-plot related aspects, the cast from the previous episode continue to impress with strong performances, particularly Arsher Ali as Bennett. Morven Christie as O'Donnell plays the fangirl surprisingly well, as her "fangirl" moment of exuberant exclamation felt genuine. Paul Kaye as the alien, Prentis, injects some much needed humor into the episode. The other supporting cast members do a fine job as well with the supporting cast being some of the most memorable and well developed in quite a long time.
Capaldi continues to be excellent at what he is given. However, he seems as though he is doing everything the creators want from him without much personal input. There is nothing wrong with his performance, but he rarely is given the opportunity to go off the hinges and do something out-of-the-box. But again, he is definitely very good, just not a standout.
Jenna Coleman is given some strong material during the scene where she implies that the Doctor and his adventures is the thing that gives her life purpose after Danny's death. One of the best moments is towards the end with Ali's character Bennett since their situations are similar.
In terms of production, Daniel O'Hara's direction loses the creepy atmospheric tone of the previous episode in favor of a more straightforward tone. It certainly works, but without Gold's unique score or a creepy setting, the episode felt a tad bland in the sensory department. However, the special effects for the Fisher King are quite solid, albeit a little too much like cosplay rather than a living creature.
Combined, "Under the Lake" and "Before the Flood" is a strong Doctor Who adventure. With that said, the series continues to lack the indescribable special ingredient that makes the franchise standout as one of the best on television. Nothing is particularly wrong, but it lacks the sense of awe that previous seasons capture so well at times.
Overall: 8.5/10- Less atmospheric and more scientific, "Before the Flood" explores a fascinating concept, delves into Clara's character, and wraps up the two-part story in an entertaining, albeit not perfect, fashion.
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