By Lewis White
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
'The dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple.'
The second two-parter of series 9 of Doctor Who promised to be a supernatural ghost thriller in a compact base. Sound familiar? This episode takes queues from other popular Doctor Who episodes of a similar genre, much like The Impossible Planet. Though this episode may not be anything new, it does add a new and very compelling story element Doctor Who has rarely touched on: ghosts. So will this storyline shine from something new, or suffer from a repeat of old plot points?
The first episode Under the Lake begins with our supporting characters: the crew of an underwater mining facility. These characters are incredibly compelling, especially Cass (played by Sophie Stone), Doctor Who's first deaf character. Cass makes an interesting and strong leader of this group, and holds her own very well. The group comes across a strange ship, and discover a line of alien writing inside. Not long after, a ghost appears, one of their own is killed, and their dead comrade becomes a ghost himself.
Fortunately The Doctor and Clara are on hand, as the TARDIS has broken down and they decide to investigate. Here we get our first proper look at the ghosts. It's a rather discomforting image, as the spectres have no eyes, taking a needed spin on the classic ghost cliché. The Doctor and Clara are saved by the crew, and discover the strange writing when they see the ship up close. The words inscribed on the ship wall, oddly not translated by the TARDIS, are later revealed to be 'the dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple' – after Cass is able to lip read the ghosts' silent speech, repeating the exact same words, over and over. But what does it mean?
Both our heroes and the crew are soon in mortal peril, as more ghosts appear and they begin to break into the mining base's systems, shifting the base into night mode (when the ghosts are strongest). The Doctor is forced into action, and they all try to escape before the base is flooded. Their return to the TARDIS is halted when the Doctor is separated from Clara and half the crew. Just when it seems there might be hope for them, we are left with a chilling cliffhanger: the Doctor's ghost staring back at Clara.
The second part opens with the Doctor speaking directly to the audience to explain the bootstrap paradox. This is where something happens even if it wasn't able to happen, so time has to adjust itself (also known as a 'casual loop'). This neatly foreshadows the rest of the episode as we're jumped back to the Doctor's plan: to understand how the ghosts came to be in the first place.
While Clara tries to protect her group and discover how the Doctor has a ghost, the Doctor himself goes back in time to discover the truth. It doesn't take him long to work out that the ghosts only attack those who have seen the mysterious writing on the alien ship. This leads to the reveal of the big bad for this story: the Kingfisher.
This creature, determined to return to the modern day and destroy everything with his army of ghosts, makes for a good villain and adversary for the Doctor. A fascinating conversation shows us he already knows about the Doctor and Gallifrey. However, the Kingfisher suffers from low screen time, disappearing from the episode too quickly. His death is too immediate, and feels like little more than plot convenience.
In the end, we learn the truth of the Doctor's 'ghost', as he is able to save most of the crew members and Clara, and defeats the big bad and his ghostly army. We as the viewers are left with another version of life after death.
So, did the episode succeed? Yes and no. The first episode is heart pounding and creepy, with a compelling cliffhanger and an atmostphere that has you on the edge of your seat. Unfortunately the second part did not live up to the hype and set up of the first, and suffered from being merely mediocre. At least it brought in new ideas and played on the typical conventions of a well-known genre.
As a side note, I think the the opening title sequence with the Doctor playing the theme on electric guitar may be my new favourite thing.
Lewis enjoyed this episode and is loving the return of 'Doctor Who', 'The Flash' and 'Supernatural'.
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