Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 3
Ah, I really loved this. Under The Lake is old school Doctor Who, using ingredients that we’ve seen many times before. Yet Toby Whithouse – back on Doctor Who duties for the first time since A Town Called Mercy in 2012 – brings lots of ideas of his own to a really effective episode.
It’s the first of a two-parter, and, as we saw with The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, that instantly allows space to be breathed into the story. That particularly aids a ghost story such as Under The Lake, where lots of little details are set into place, some of which the episode begins to scratch at.
Impressively, though, the episode still gets going really rather quickly. Just because the pacing is steady, too, Under The Lake is never less than interesting.
So we have those Doctor Who staples: a remote base (in this case, under the water), a small crew, and suddenly, said base is under siege. This time, there’s something ghostly about the foes, as the Doctor and Clara discover when the TARDIS arrives aboard.
In truth, just reading back that paragraph, it’s as if the episode could have been plucked from a website’s tag cloud. But that paragraph does it little justice.
A few observations, then. There’s clearly been some effort to diversify the crew in a couple of ways, but the most interesting – and it’s far from box-ticking – is that the captain here, Cass, is deaf, and requires someone to sign for her. Furthermore, there’s a tip of a hat to the Alien franchise’s Weyland Yutani, in that the base in question is owned by a big corporation, which in turn informs some of the choices that are made. Said base, as you might expect, sees lots of corridors, which are duly run down.
Two things really stand out here, though. The first is that Under The Lake is a really intriguing mystery. It’s like reading one of the many Batman stories where Batman’s actually allowed to be a detective, as Clara and the Doctor go through the assorted clues, and gradually begin to reveal the unfolding story.
Secondly, Under The Lake is really quite chilling. The ghostly foes are excellently realised, and director Daniel O’Hara – making his Who debut (although he does have Being Human and Wizards Vs Aliens on his CV) – knows how to make a ghost story work. He knows how to make a chase down a corridor work terrifically well too.
Leaving the story with things to a resolve, and a cliffhanger worth tuning back in for, Under The Lake is a bit more traditional a Doctor Who story so far than we’ve had over the past two weeks, and a tense piece of television drama. So far, for this particular story, so very good…