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Saturday, 10 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Before the Flood (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Colin McFarlane,
Sophie Stone, Zaqi Ismail, Morven Christie, Arsher Ali,
Steven Robertson; With Neil Fingleton, Peter Serafinowicz,
      Corey Taylor and Paul Kaye 
Written by: Toby Whithouse 
Directed by: Daniel O'Hara
Transmitted on 10th October 2015

                                            As inhuman as any visitor to Earth

                                            The Fisher King wants to secure its Berth

                                            Until its kind come back for it

                                            And man is its slave-object

                                            With ghosts here and ghost there

                                            The Fell Alien ruins Nature everywhere

 

                                            Maybe a Time Lord of Gallifrey

                                            Who sounds like a Scot

                                            Could dispel the apparition misery.

                                             (That could be some Plot!)

 

After last week's grim cliffhanger, it appears the Twelfth Doctor will be the final iteration of the up-to-now enduring survivor of the Time War. He has travelled back to before the huge flood, that caused an alien spaceship to become shrouded in the depths of water for many many years. The objective? To try and ensure that Clara and the other survivors of the disaster that gripped the underwater base will end up intact, and to try and exorcise those disturbing ghosts once and for all. But some hard adjustments always are needed when drastic time travel is brought to the fore. Even with his vast experience and intellect, the Doctor may be biting off just a bit more than he can chew..

We have two new speaking roles this time round, with the essentially harmless undertaker alien Prentis (Paul Kaye) , and the utterly malevolent Fisher King (physically performed by Neil Fingleton). The latter sees little issue in enslaving humanity as a way of passing the time before he is 'taxied' home.  Despite this, there are split time zones for much of the running time. This results in many more scenes of small groups of people talking, and I do prefer this focus and urgency to the larger group discussions that had to fill out much preliminary character work in the first instalment.

And thus those still alive from the base crew get to do some fine work that mostly improves on their introductions before. Everyone gives a good account of themselves, but this time I actually found Arsher Ali the stand-out guest from those returning speaking roles. Ali really sells the different emotions his introverted character has, be they the amazing time travel experience, his generous prompting of the repressed romance between his two junior colleagues, and most meaningfully of all his dressing down of the Doctor. Despite the eventual victory, we are made to see how the Doctor is sometimes a little sketchy in his approach to overcoming catastrophe, and yet the loss of O'Donnell lies as much with her own determined choice to risk her life by stepping out of the TARDIS.

Much as I had hoped, Peter Capaldi does not just follow an utterly spellbinding turn in 'Under The Lake' but compounds it with every bit of his range and connection to an acting role that was a childhood dream of his. He breaks the 'Fourth Wall' at the start and finish as he talks classical music and the nature of invention. This is not something easy to do convincingly, but boy does it work a treat. And he manages to make the often complicated plot and exposition roll off as fundamentally believable and enticing. Again this was something that even some of the best Doctors of the past could show inconsistency with, excepting Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker (who always rose to the occasion).

 

Before the Flood (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)If not clear enough from the very first paragraph, I am very impressed by the new alien foe who finally arrives on-screen. He has a truly monstrous effect on the people in his surroundings; be it by his own hand  or by his unique powers that render three   dimensional individuals into rather shapeless ghosts.  And the peril for the wider world is confirmed in this conclusion,   making the Doctor's need to overcome the  Fisher King that bit more urgent. With a wonderfully HR Giger-like design and an expressively imposing voice  (Peter Serafinowicz - who also breathed life into Star War's Darth Maul) this monster overshadows his  ghoulish underlings without making them any less effective. And more importantly he functions also as a terrific foil to the Doctor, forcing our veteran do-gooder to come up with one of his very best ways of  solving a complex problem. It matters little at the end when the Doctor said the alien was always going to  die in that time and place, because what matters is that he carries out a damage limitation exercise to the  best of his ability..

The plan and its implementation comes off as remarkably clever without feeling like a cheat. A Time Lord  really should be able 'reverse engineer' events and circumstances, and also make the course of history  flow. The moment he jumps out of the (previously mysterious) casket with his tech-shades in hand and warns Clara not to come near him due to "morning breath", will surely go down as one of the defining moments of the Twelfth Doctor come Capaldi's relinquishment of the title role.

As for how this story itself develops from last time, I am similarly impressed how a very traditional part one is suddenly enriched far more than most would expect. The basic structure is still there but by the closing sequences this two-parter has got an identity and soul all of its own. The complex plot and storytelling is the catalyst for this change. And indeed viewers are really made to piece a bit of the elaborate jigsaw together, but the great thing about this show in today's times is its instant re-accessibility. The adventure is so rich and well-done from start to finish that re-viewings will be an absolute pleasure, rather than a chore, which I cannot always say with my hand on heart.

Also, editing and direction have been rarely bettered in any TARDIS tale this century. The pace is relentless or ponderous as required, and the sum total is perfectly synchronous. We really want to see how these very human people react to the chaos that has resulted from actions of in turn one ineffectual, one heroic and one despicable alien. There are some tough decisions, and even arguably avoidable losses along the way, but come the end, the living-death fate of the ghosts is conclusively avoided. A neat reference to UNIT, who are going strong in the future, is implemented also - just to remind us of the return to present day material with the Doctor's allies later on this series.

And should you go back to episode three, the line referencing a "minuet" suddenly goes from being a throwaway quirk to a smart tie-in to the Fourth Wall framework, that give this two-parter a whole added layer of meaning. The Doctor's almost boyish exuberance at having master-minded Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony could easily be a bit too conceited. However Capaldi pulls off the balance needed for this to be an alien, with many identifiable human qualities making a positive difference. It also enhances a wonderful pay-off taking place in the TARDIS at the episode's close, as his faithful companion has to take in what all the time-wimey actions that she provided for the Doctor were really about. And the slightly different title sequence to the norm (c.f. the Clara face in the credits for Death In Heaven) further signals that Steven Moffat and his associates are still full of ideas. Long may they remain to keep realising them.

Watch this without interruption, on a dark chilly night, and take pride in being part of the Doctor Who journey.