This season is all about the two parters and continuations and this episode is no exception. Continuing on from the less than excellent Under the Lake, we’ve got part two – Before the Flood. Now this one has some definite elements that are quite interesting. Ones that absolutely make you think, and perhaps the first is the Doctor’s own discourse at the start of the episode when he talks about the “Bootstrap Paradox“, however that’s not the only thing that’s cool with this one – you also get … The Fisher King. An awesome new villain that they definitely spent some budget $’s on (unlike the pretty pathetic space-ship truth be told) he is absolutely chilling and malevolent and a character that not only knows about Time Lords, but one that seemingly scoffs at their power and prestige. You can’t really ask for more in terms of an enemy!
Lets talk a bit about the Bootstrap Paradox in the Doctor’s own words shall we?
The Doctor: So there’s this man, he has a time machine. Up and down history he goes, zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, getting into scrapes. Another thing he has is a a passion for the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. And one day he thinks, ‘What’s the point of a time machine if you don’t get to meet your heroes?’ So off he goes to 18th century Germany, but he can’t find Beethoven anywhere. No one’s heard of him. Not even his family have any idea who the time traveller is talking about. Beethoven literally doesn’t exist. This didn’t happen by the way. I’ve met Beethoven. Nice chap, very intense
[holds up a bust of Beethoven and strikes a similar expression]
The Doctor: Loved an arm wrestle. No, this is called the ‘bootstrap paradox‘. Google it. The time traveller panics. He can’t bear the thought of a world without the music of beethoven. Luckily he brought all of his Beethoven sheet music for Lugwig to sign. So he copies out all the concertos and the symphonies, and he gets them published. He becomes Beethoven. And history continues with barely a feather ruffled. But my question is this – who put those notes and phrases together? Who really composed Beethoven’s 5th?
[plays the first notes of Beethoven’s 5th on his electric guitar]
See this has always been the problem with the Doctor. His own influence and knowledge of history has had him making changes to it many times – sometimes in small and subtle ways (Vincent and the Doctor) and at others in more significant ways (The Shakespeare Code). While there have been so-called “fixed points in time” that he can supposedly NOT influence, many times this been nothing more than a talking point and not really reality so I’m very glad to see him address it here himself. It’s actually really quite refreshing!
The story itself picks up right where we left off the last episode with Clara trapped in the underwater base by the ghost of the Doctor and the Doctor himself now back in time at the same site, but before it was flooded. He needs to find out where the ship came from and where its crew are and also who put the message in the ship that causes the dead to come back.
However when he initially explores the ship – the message isn’t there. It seems he’s arrived before it was placed and while there was another very interesting conversation with O’Donnell that gave us some more interesting titbits to the future of this season –
O’Donnell: What year are we in?
The Doctor: [checking the wind direction] 1980.
O’Donnell: So, pre-Harold Saxton, pre-the Minister of War, pre-the moon exploding and a big bat coming out.
The Doctor: The Minister of War?
The Doctor: [cutting her off] No. Never mind, I expect I’ll find out soon enough.
We still don’t know who or what placed the message in the ship. We do however find out fairly quickly who the first ghost we saw is. The Tivolians are a race that has been conquered. Conquered in fact so many times that they now take pride in this status! I hope I don’t cause any conflict but I suspect they are similar to the Polish people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries here as their land was at a strategic crossroad and needed to be invaded. Now while that might have made sense on Earth – I don’t necessarily understand the same argument in Space, but putting that aside, the first ghost was the Undertaker, a being that has taken the last rulers of the planet to a desolate corner of the galaxy (Earth) for burial.
When confronted by the Doctor and his companions for this episode, much hilarity ensues (some of it I must admit quite forced!) but there are some good scenes. We learn however that the occupant of the vessel – supposedly deceased – is called the Fisher King and while he was brought here for burial, he’s perhaps not as dead as he’s led everyone to believe. The truth in fact is significantly more evil – the Fisher King it seems is able to use the electromagnetic signals of the dead to revive himself and his people. By creating a host of “ghosts” through the message he carves into the side of the ship, he plans for the long term and an eventual return.
The Fisher King – I can’t really speak any more highly of this character than I have already. They are not your typical villains from Doctor Who by any means. They seem to know who they are and what they are capable of to a very great degree and if there is one thing you know … its that they hate the Time Lords!
Time Lords… cowardly, vain curators who suddenly remembered they had teeth and became the most war-like race in the galaxy.
His short time on screen and his confrontation with the Doctor is quite interesting for what it reveals about the larger Universe’s view of the Time Lords, or at least what the Fisher King’s view is. Interestingly, the Fisher King can tell immediately that the Doctor is a Time Lord, and the contempt in which he holds the Doctor’s people and the Doctor himself is palpable, and of course that’s only to be expected, as the Time War’s effects reached far beyond Gallifrey and the Daleks. One wonders the reaction when Gallifrey truly does return, and one suspects it will be far worse than we have been shown so far. The Fisher King himself however is only on screen for a very short time and while the conversation between him and the Doctor isn’t at the same level as the one between the Doctor and Davros it is still quite excellent. Tricked by the Doctor fairly easily, the group is not unscathed as he has managed to remove O’Donnell from the equation.
Meanwhile in the Doctor’s own future, Clara, Lunn and Cass are struggling to survive when O’Donnell’s own ghost comes onto the scene also and releases the other ghosts that had previously been trapped. Now this in all honesty is somewhat confusing … I can understand that they are portraying it in a linear fashion – i.e. her ghost can’t exist until she dies in the past, but considering that the Undertaker’s ghost was present when we initially saw him, it doesn’t really work. You can’t have one part of the story work linearly and another part not. I think this should have been done differently to be honest – perhaps in some ways like Interstellar where the timelines were literally all mixed up – as this definitely didn’t work for me.
However cleverly the Doctor had realized that even though there was a threat of him dying (his ghost) he had an out and he programmed a hologram to look/act like his ghost. This hologram was able to trap the remaining ghosts within the faraday chamber again and now that the Doctor knew what had happened and why he was able to ensure that they were properly destroyed (by UNIT) without endangering the Earth