“Before the Flood” was a pleasure to watch and a solid follow-up to “Under the Lake.” There are a few problems, but from the first moments I felt like I could really relax and just be a Doctor Who fan, because this is good stuff.
I love the “Listen”-style monologue opening — I loved it in “Listen” and I still love it here — and the rocked-up intro was fun! The monologue sets the perfect stage for the episode’s theme, the Bootstrap Paradox. If you go back in time, discover Beethoven doesn’t exist, and publish all his music yourself to preserve the timeline… Where did the music come from? Beethoven didn’t write it, but neither did you. The paradox usage is great, allowing the “future” and the “past” to interact. Anything like that takes some suspension of disbelief, but if you’ve got a whole show about time travel I wanna see that stuff. It’s just a good usage of the show’s premise, and I’m a huge proponent of really delivering on its setting. That’s what makes a show (or book, movie, etc.) so truly itself, memorable and unique.
The characters are quite good. Clara’s statement, “You’ve given me something else to be,” it really works for her. I can see her as someone who didn’t know who she was and was trying to be who she was “supposed” to be, but couldn’t be. That’s why she was bizarrely fixated on her “normal” life and going home to it every night, despite seeming entirely unsatisfied by that life. The statement itself reminds me of the way Rose appreciated the Doctor, and that’s the part of her I always understood. I still can’t stand Clara — I’m not a Rose fan, come to that — but maybe I’ll just pretend from here on out that this is her for-realsies characterization (even though I fully expect it to change again).
Cass is still totally badass, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that she makes it to the end! There is a weird moment of “deafness as superpower” with the Daredevil-style sonar bit, and why couldn’t she have just GLANCED OVER HER SHOULDER instead of this protracted sequence, but she lives and she’s awesome and she’s not discounted as a love interest, so I’m calling it good.
But seriously though. You have this awesome character in Cass, but you LITERALLY kill the feisty fangirl LITERALLY FOR BEING SO FEISTY AND FANGIRLY. She’s punished for insisting on participating. This, after the previously-mentioned killing of two black characters in two episode openers IN A ROW. I don’t know if I should blame Moffat personally or not in this case, but whoever’s responsible for this shit, GET YOURSELF TOGETHER.
Back on the positive side, I enjoyed this more subtle treatment of the Doctor’s responsibilities. For years, supporting characters have lambasted him for not saving people properly, for not “caring.” They treat him as if he’s “responsible” for the whole of time and space, but he’s not an official. He’s a private individual. If he does have responsibilities, they’re issued by the Time Lords, not the humans, and we can expect them to lie with the timestream. So, does responsibility issue from power, like Spiderman says? Or is what he does the equivalent of a gift to those he saves, not a right on their part to be saved? There’s a class dynamic here as well as an individual one. None of that is addressed in the episode, all we really get are a few downplayed accusations, but I prefer that to the one-sided whining we usually see. There’s nuance here in how and when the Doctor chooses to act.
“Before the Flood” didn’t have the same gripping quality of the first half or the horror-story timing, and the ending is confusingly rushed, but it’s a satisfying conclusion with strong script ideas and minimal distractions. I like these two-parters immensely, and I’m enjoying the trend of basing each around a philosophical question or paradox, an idea with a name. It might get old if they did that season after season, but after last year, we were desperately in need of cohesion and coherence. Clearly stating the theme may be a blunt way of providing that coherence, but it’s a welcome one.
And I still love the shades!