Monday, October 5, 2015

Doctor Who: "Under the Lake" Review

The Doctor and Clara arrive in an underwater base with mysterious ghosts roaming within it in "Under the Lake."
While Doctor Who's grand adventures when the universe is at stake are certainly fun, the series is often at its best when it delves into the mysterious and creepy side of the universe or when it picks things up for a witty and exciting adventure through space and time. "Under the Lake" falls into the latter, and it is much welcomed return to what makes the series great.

Unlike many of the recent creepy episodes, "Under the Lake" relied more on the mysterious element rather than the usual thrills, and it managed to setup an intriguing first part of a story. Unfortunately, the ghosts themselves are not particularly scary. A bit creepy maybe, but nothing like the Angels or even the 2D aliens from last season. However, it made up for lack of thrills with a mystery that the Doctor must figure out. Are these people really dead? What is causing it? And why is this alien ship causing it? Other than that, there is not much to say about the story. It is simple and that's fine. On the other hand, the direction, acting, music, and wit elevate the episode to another level. 

Director, Daniel O'Hara, creates an excellent sense of eerie mystery throughout the episode. He could have included a few more thrills, but there are a couple of nail-biting moments to be had. The lighting and set production is another highlight as it is slightly reminiscent of Ridley Scott's Alien, granted, most sci-fi thrillers are like it in some way.
Unlike the usually forgettable supporting cast, the new characters in "Under the Lake" are surprisingly memorable as they each give strong performances. Arsher Ali as Bennet is a particular highlight, as he gives the character a believable mix of fear and curiosity. After this episode and the miniseries about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle titled, "Arthur & George," Ali is proving to be a capable actor. Sophie Stone plays the deaf leader of the expedition, which is an interesting change from the norm, especially for a character in authority, and yet the episode does not make it too big of a deal. Morven Christie plays the Doctor's fangirl of sorts as O'Donnell. Her character is likable, and defined well despite the limited screen time. Colin McFarlane makes his second appearance in the Whoverse after playing an American agent in the Torchwood "Children of Earth" miniseries, although he does little more than walk around like a zombie in this episode. 

Peter Capaldi continues to do a fine job as the Doctor, and yet he seems to lack a special something that makes his character standout. However, the scene where Clara gives the Doctor a notecard to read is hysterical, and a perfect use of his brand of comedic wit in a serious episode. Jenna Coleman is doing a fine job in her role, although she still seems to lack the necessary material to truly standout. With that said, one of the highlights of the episode is of the Doctor's concern for her everyday life, which seems to sow the seeds for her impending departure from the series.
I need notecards for these type situations!
Murray Gold finally mixes things up with his score for the episode. Instead of the typical bombastic orchestral beats, the score has an eerie synthetic vibe to it. It creates an unnerving feeling that adds to the mysterious nature of the ghosts.  

Towards the end, the Doctor convincing the other crew members to aid him in figuring out what is the cause of the ghosts is well executed as their actions seem believable considering their characters. And, the turn of events actually validates the need of the two-part format because the story would lack the characterization of the supporting cast if it was wrapped up in one episode.
"Under the Lake" ends on yet another cliffhanger with the Doctor appearing to be in full ghostly form. It seems that endings with the Doctor is unexplained situations, which are obviously not as ominous as they first appear, will be a staple this season.

For me, "Under the Lake" is the best Doctor Who episode since "Flatline" from last season. It is far from perfect, but with the recent lack of innovative and witty adventures, "Under the Lake" is a more than welcome return to form.

Overall: 8.4/10- Mysterious and eerie, "Under the Lake" is a well acted, skillfully directed, and an all around excellently atmospheric episode that reminds us of what Doctor Who can and should be.

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  1. As a South Carolina resident, this episode was interesting to watch, as we're pretty much surrounded by flood waters every which way.... ;)

    Enjoyed the episode, though. I love Capaldi's Doctor and Coleman's Clara, but I do feel that they aren't always given the most consistent material to work with in regards to their actual characters. I do love their doctor/companion dynamic, though, and the cue cards were definitely my favorite part. :)

  2. Perhaps Capaldi was scripted a little generic here but the episode was solid, old fashioned fun. You're right that the ghosts weren't that scary. Looking forward to next week's conclusion.

  3. Great review! :) Agreed, the episode was really good and enjoyable, with a very memorable cast. It's always nice when that happens. Looking forward to seeing what happens next.


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