The first two episodes of Doctor Who‘s ninth season were very dense affairs required a hefty about of knowledge of The Doctor’s history and mythology of the show to fully enjoy it. The follow-up episode “Under the Lake” is a much more a straight forward horror/sci-fi story works as a standalone story with some references to the wider series.
The TARDIS takes The Doctor and Clara to in an underwater mining base in Scotland in the year 2119 with The Doctor sensing something very wrong with his beloved time machine. And it turns out his instinct are right because the base is haunted by two ghosts, including the base’s deceased commander, attacking the reminding members of the crew at night. It is up to the Doctor to find up what the ghosts, what they want and do what he does best, save the day.
When watching “Under the Lake” it felt very similar to the season 2 episode “The Impossible Planet”, The Doctor and his companion landing in a location that would raise questions on how they would have got they, the people on the base are in working in a tough and isolated environment while on an exploration mission which they are not able to go outside and having to battle a supernatural threat that should not exist. The crew on the base find a spacecraft, a ruin that had been in the lake for centuries and has text written in a language that not even the TARDIS cannot translate. Due to the underwater setting the episode is similar to the James Cameron The Abyss, having a private/military combined mission to explore and finding alien technology of some sort.
Clara’s fun side again, wanting to head off into another adventure but the Doctor being more cautious considering how the TARDIS is acting. A fun little moment is when the Doctor gets excited about the prospect of facing ghosts and Clara has to disciple him, making him read his cue cards for more sensitive with his social interactions. The cast from the base is more a mixed bag, some characters being better written then others: Morven Christie as O’Donnell was a delight as a fan of the Doctor and his work, being eager to work with him but then there was Steven Robertson’s Pritchard who was so one-dimensional as the money grubbing corporate man he borders on parody. Fans of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” should be able to recognizable one of the members of the crew.
The ghosts have effectively creepy look, having black voids for where their eyes should be and the episode uses its setting to give the story a very claustrophobic feel. The narrow corridors and rooms only leave so many places where everyone can run and hide; it is also handy for budgetary reasons but good writers and directors know how to turn these limitations into advantages which “Under the Lake” is a fine example of.
“Under the Lake” ends of a cliffhanger, the first time in the modern era of Doctor Who where a two-parter is followed by another two-parter. We will see how what the second part put would have installed for us and how it justifies itself seeing the story premise could have worked a single episode. At least from the promos the second part is going to be a change up to part one.
Fans in England who watched Doctor Who over the Rugby made a wise decision considering the result.