Sci-Fi · TV & Movies

Doctor Who Review: Under the Lake

Ohhhhmygod, y’all! That was much more intense than I expected! A streamlined plot AND an awesome deaf character AND an underwater setting AND a genuinely gripping cliffhanger all in one go?? I was pretty into “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar,” as you know, but “Under the Lake” left more excited for next week than either of those.

Doctor Who Under the Lake promo pic

I’m just so, so happy that there’s a real plot here, not just bells and whistles. No bizarre left turn, just thickening. It’s a classic Who set-up, getting a bunch of characters into a confined space and then adding a sci-fi monster, but it’s a classic because it can really work if all those elements are done properly.

The characters are engaging and differentiated — Cass, the leader of the team, is a smart and resourceful and awesome chick. She’s also deaf, with a personal sign-language interpreter, but while she does use her ability to lip-read for the plot, her real plot-significance is that she can figure out the answers to the story’s questions. She’s great. I did wonder why this future couldn’t provide some kind of assistive technology instead of an entire interpreter, which I’d think would be more expensive for the company, BUT I loved that they were close but not treated as a unit, and I loved that he was cool and brave in his own right. The other characters don’t get as much screen time, but the highest compliment I can give is that no one is “the annoying one” and I still remember all their faces and care what happens to each of them.

Doctor Who Under the Lake Cass

The other two elements of the set-up also work splendidly. I love an underwater setting and they had several good shots. The sci-fi monster(s), too, were just interesting. It’s a ghost — it’s making more ghosts — it’s trying to tell us something — it’s not trying to tell US anything… I loved the way the script teased the questions out one at a time, drawing the viewer into the plot, trying to predict the answers. There are still questions to answer in the next episode, and OH GOD the cliffhanger. YES we all know the Doctor isn’t going to die, but I MUST KNOW HOW THIS IS RESOLVED and I must know it NOW.

The negatives for this episode really relate to the series as a whole. For the second time this season, the only black character died before the intro. Seriously, twice in a row, people. Then, it seems Clara’s back in gung-ho “Let’s have an adventure!” mode. I really wish they’d make up their minds what kind of character she is. And while the Doctor’s prompt cards were funny, his characterization regarding interpersonal skills is inconsistent. The jokes happen, but rarely enough that I forget “insensitivity” is meant to be part of his character.

Doctor Who Under the Lake cards

Still, I’m very impressed by this episode’s success with a new villain. Sometimes they just seem made-up, like Colony Sarff, but this one actually commits to one concept and doesn’t answer its questions too soon. I can’t wait for next week’s conclusion, slightly changing the set-up but, I trust, delivering the promised resolution. And these two-part episodes were an awesome, awesome choice for the season!

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9 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: Under the Lake

  1. I thought the ending was great as well. I’ve read reactions to it in which people thought it was predictable and not suspenseful because we know the Doctor’s not dead. I agree with you, however, in that I know he’s not dead, but I’m terribly curious to know how he became a ghost and how he’s going to get out of it. I thought it was the perfect place to end and leave me wanting more.

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  2. This story was much better than the Moffat season-opening 2 parter. A coherent plot and moments that for written other than for reasons that were just “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” I also liked the shout-outs to the past, with subtle nods to Classic Series writer Victor Pemberton (who did an underwater-menace story in 1968 and whose name tracks closely with Vector Petroleum), and to Sarah Jane Smith.

    That said, my fear is that the only reason there was a deaf character, was because the ghosts needed to be lip-read. Hopefully she will serve a more organic plot function (and NOT just “the noble self-sacrifice of a tertiary character that saves the day) in Part Two.

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    1. Yep! I’m a sucker for the Classic clips, but really I prefer the more subtle nods. It’s less distracting.

      I felt like Cass did a lot more than lip-read in that one scene, she was prominent throughout the episode. But if she has a noble self-sacrifice all that goes out the window.

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    1. That’s such a hard question for me to answer, because I’ve never NOT watched Who, lol. I think the first two-parter might be confusing, because it has so many characters established either last season or decades ago, BUT it’s not overly complex, and if you’re paying attention you could probably treat all that as “implied backstory.” Be told that characters know each other and just assume they do without needing all the little details of their pasts. The second two-parter that Under the Lake begins is much more accessible though.

      Really if you want to start watching I don’t think there’s any need to start with what’s on the air RIGHT NOW though, unless that’s all you have access to. There’s so much Who in existence that the starting point can be very narrowly tailored to your interests and approach preferences. 😉

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    1. No idea! The first two were by the showrunner I believe, and he’s the one I have very serious doubts and complaints about on many levels. This one and its conclusion are by a guy who’s done some solid episodes before. (Although I’m not sure if I’m remembering directors or writers and don’t want to go down the rabbit hole to check.)

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