This article contains lots and lots of spoilers for Before The Flood.
The Doctor and his friends may have gone back to before the flood in this episode, but even the 1980s aren’t safe from echoes of the past; if anything, there’s more of them there, on account of it being the past. So here are our geeky viewing notes for this week’s episode…
Before The Revival
The Doctor seemingly opens the episode by addressing the audience. There have been a handful of occasions in the past on which the Doctor speaks straight into the camera and could possibly be talking to the viewers – Tom Baker’s glib “Even the sonic screwdriver won’t get me out of this one” in The Invasion Of Time, for example. But the only televised instance in which the Doctor is definitely not talking to himself or a companion comes at the end of The Feast Of Steven, episode 7 of William Hartnell’s 12-part epic The Daleks’ Master Plan. Broadcast on 25 December 1965, the episode ends with the Doctor wishing his companions a happy Christmas, before turning to the camera and adding “And incidentally, a happy Christmas to all of you at home!”.
We’re treated to a special rock version of the opening credits music. One-off arrangements are usually reserved for anniversary specials (1983’s The Five Doctors and 2013’s The Day Of The Doctor both featured unique versions of the tune). Two episodes from the Jon Pertwee era – Frontier In Space Part 5 and Carnival Of Monsters Part 2 – accidentally featured a version of the theme tune for their Australian airings which had been created to replace the current one but was ultimately rejected. Fans in the 90s would have seen this version appear on the respective VHS releases.
There are several menacing-looking plastic dummies scattered around the training facility – these usually spell bad news whenever the Nestene Consciousness (Spearhead From Space, Rose and others) is involved. Fortunately, they turn out to be a red herring here.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Doctor has only had dealings with the Cold War once before, in the 2013 story called, well, Cold War. The seventh Doctor did have dealings with Russian soldiers in The Curse Of Fenric, however – a story which also featured an evil presence beneath a church, the sudden appearance of inscriptions that weren’t translated by the TARDIS, and even a sequence in which the Doctor whispers a list of names of his friends…
The Doctor wets his index finger and uses it to detect the year. Previous uses of the Doctor’s damp finger have included the fourth Doctor pretending to detect Aukon’s power in State Of Decay and work out which moon he’s on in The Power Of Kroll, the seventh Doctor detecting wind direction in Battlefield and the eleventh Doctor locating the flight deck in Flesh And Stone.
The Doctor describes the ripple-like effect even a small change can have on history. One of Sylvester McCoy’s most magical scenes, in 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks, saw him taking a rare pause from the action to have a philosophical chat with a cafe owner (Played by Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air aka Joseph Marcell) about how ‘every great decision creates ripples’.
Remembrance Of The Daleks also featured a ‘coffin’ that was far more than it appeared – in that instance a Gallifreyan weapon of destruction rather than a suspended animation pod – and the Doctor caused an undertaker to faint when he spotted it floating out of his office behind the Time Lord. An undertakers’ was also the crux of 2005’s The Unquiet Dead, which saw undertaker Mr Sneed possessed by the gas-like alien Gelth.
The Fisher King isn’t the first to try to drain the Earth’s oceans; in 1967’s The Underwater Menace, mad scientist Professor Zaroff plans to destroy the planet by draining them into the Earth’s core, causing the Earth to explode due to the resultant steam pressure. And in Mark Gatiss’s 1999 sketch The Web Of Caves, David Walliams plays an alien trying to come up with a plan for the Doctor (played by Gatiss) to stop. After a day of deliberation, he decides to drain the oceans. The Doctor’s response is a nonplussed “What for?”.
Back To The Future
Though Beethoven has never appeared in Doctor Who, he was mentioned by the tenth Doctor a couple of times; in 2007’s The Lazarus Experiment he claimed Beethoven taught him to play the organ, while in 2008’s Music Of The Spheres, a mini-episode broadcast as part of the Doctor Who Prom, he once again alludes to them having met, making a joke about Beethoven’s deafness. Incidentally, this mini-episode also heavily featured the Doctor talking into the camera – explained as a space portal connecting the TARDIS and the Royal Albert Hall.
A bootstrap paradox, otherwise known as an ontological paradox, is a genuine scientific term used much as the Doctor describes here. The idea has appeared in many sci-fi shows and movies, but in Doctor Who-land perhaps the most notable example is 2007’s Blink, whose entire plot revolves around the tenth Doctor leaving video messages for Carey Mulligan’s character, but only knowing what to say in those messages because she transcribes them and gives them to his past self at the end of the story…
The Doctor has his guitar out again, as seen in The Magician’s Apprentice. His amp is branded with Magpie Electricals – the tenth Doctor faced the owner of the electrical shop, Mr Magpie, along with the villainous Wire in 2006’s The Idiot’s Lantern. The logo has been used on a number of in-universe electronic devices since then, and a branch of Magpie Electricals could even be seen aboard Starship UK during the 33rd century in The Beast Below.
O’Donnell quotes Neil Armstrong’s famous line “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as heard across the Earth when Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969. The Doctor had his own role to play in that transmission – in Day Of The Moon, the eleventh Doctor interrupted it at a crucial moment with footage of a Silent.
In two lines clearly designed to see whether we’re paying attention, O’Donnell mentions the Doctor’s companions Rose (2005-6), Martha (2007) and Amy (2010-12), before namechecking former prime minister Harold Saxon – actually the Master in disguise, as referenced throughout the 2007 series before finally being revealed in The Sound Of Drums – and the events of last year’s Kill The Moon. She also mentions the ‘Minister of War’ – almost certainly a foreshadowing of things to come. Could the minister be connected to the Minister of Chance, as played by Stephen Fry in 2001 webcast Death Comes To Time? Answer: probably not, but it’ll be fun finding out…
O’Donnell takes a moment to share her excitement over the TARDIS being ‘bigger on the inside’. Though the TARDIS has always had this property, the phrase ‘bigger on the inside’ didn’t appear until 1972’s The Three Doctors, ironically when the third Doctor asks Sergeant Benton “Aren’t you going to say ‘it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside’? Everybody else does.” It’s become something of a catchphrase since 2005, having been used at least 25 times. It’s subverted by the Victorian Clara in The Snowmen, who notes that it’s ‘smaller on the outside’. There’s a montage of ‘bigger on the inside’ moments, here.
We’re once again teased with the notion of the Doctor’s final and permanent death. This has been a key plot point a few times during Steven Moffat’s time on the show – the first time was during The Big Bang, when the Doctor erased himself from existence, only to be resurrected by Amy. The Doctor’s death on the shores of Lake Silencio loomed large over the 2011 series, while The Name Of The Doctor and The Time Of The Doctor saw the Doctor discover and defend his ‘final resting place’ of Trenzalore in a centuries-long siege before being granted another regeneration cycle by the Time Lords – the ‘clerical error’ the Doctor refers to here. And of course, the Doctor also believed he was headed to his death three whole episodes ago. He wasn’t.
There are two allusions in this episode to the Time War, an event which initially occurred off-screen prior to the series revival in 2005 and has been revisited on occasion since, most notably in The Day Of The Doctor. Clara mentions the Doctor’s survivor’s guilt, while the Fisher King talks about how the Time Lords became the most war-like race in the galaxy – we saw something of the lengths they were willing to go to in David Tennant’s swansong The End Of Time.
The Doctor cannot change history… Apart from when he can. In 1964’s The Aztecs, he tells companion Barbara “You can’t change history. Not one line.” However, the truth is a lot more fluid than that, and as the fourth Doctor shows Sarah Jane in 1975’s The Pyramids Of Mars when he takes her back to her present to find it transformed into a desolate wasteland, the timeline is always in flux.
The post-2005 series introduced the notion of ‘fixed points in time’ and that it’s fine to change some things but not others – the tenth Doctor explains to Donna in The Fires Of Pompeii that he instinctively knows which moments are fixed and which aren’t, describing it as ‘the burden of the Time Lord’. We see differing consequences of meddling with fixed points when Rose saves her father in 2005’s Father’s Day, bringing forth the alien Reapers; and when River Song fails to kill the Doctor in The Wedding Of River Song, which creates a timeless, ‘mash-up’ of a universe in which everything is happening at once.
The Doctor utters the phrase ‘tick tock’ when supposedly going to meet his end – 2011’s Night Terrors introduces a nursery rhyme alluding to the Doctor’s impending death at the hands of River, featuring the lines ‘Tick tock, tick tock, he cradled and he rocked her/Tick tock goes the clock, ‘til River kills the Doctor.’
The Doctor tells the Fisher King that the Earth is protected; in his debut story The Eleventh Hour, the eleventh Doctor’s ‘hero moment’ came as he called the alien Atraxi back to Leadworth to emphasise that the planet is under his protection. The tenth Doctor gave a similar speech in his own introductory tale The Christmas Invasion, telling the Sycorax to let any other would-be invaders know that the Earth is defended.
The twelfth Doctor continues to be something of an amoral figure; as in last year’s Mummy On The Orient Express, he is willing to let people die in order to test his theory. And before the Fisher King is killed by the flood, he states “The Time Lord lied!”. As stated by both River Song and the Doctor during the eleventh Doctor’s era, the first rule of dealing with the Doctor is that ‘the Doctor lies’.
The TARDIS returns Bennett to the base using one of its emergency protocols, complete with an explanatory hologram of the Doctor. Another emergency protocol was used to return the TARDIS to the tenth Doctor and Martha Jones in Blink, and the very similar Emergency Program One was used by the ninth Doctor to return his companion Rose to her family when the Doctor faced a Dalek army and an impossible decision in The Parting Of The Ways.
The Doctor plugs his sonic sunglasses into a convenient port in the base computer to save the day in this episode. He did the same thing with Rose’s phone to defeat the Cybermen in The Age Of Steel.
A tip of the undertaker’s hat to the comments section this week – many of you pointed out what we missed in the first part of this story in that there’s a mural in the canteen with three characters who look very much like they’ve stepped out of the original Star Trek. As pointed out by commenter David, it’s similar to the mural in The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. With the first two episode titles of the series echoing the Narnia books, could there be a pattern emerging? It is, after all, not implausible that next week’s Viking episode might feature a Horse And His Boy…
Speaking of Star Trek, the scenes in which Lunn roamed the halls of the base with the ghosts were reminiscent of some of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s most memorable encounters with the Borg; on several occasions, an away team would beam over to a Borg cube and explore corridors and chambers filled with the ruthless cyborgs, always being ignored – until the moment they were perceived as a threat…
The legend of the Fisher King predates Doctor Who, and even the 1991 Terry Gilliam film of the same name; he is in fact part of Arthurian folklore, tasked with keeping the Holy Grail safe. The Doctor gave the Fisher King in this story a choice; he chose… poorly.
The scene in which Cass uses the vibrations in the floor and the air to sense the ghost and the outline of his axe, along with the accompanying visual effect, is reminiscent of the way in which the blind Marvel comic/film/Netflix series character Daredevil ‘sees’.
The sound of the Fisher King is made up of two familiar voices; as has been heavily publicised, the monster’s scream is provided by Corey Taylor from heavy metal group Slipknot. The speaking voice of the Fisher King is Peter Serafinowicz, who provided all five of Darth Maul’s lines in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, had a minor role in Guardians Of The Galaxy and has made many television appearances including Parks And Recreation, Spaced and his eponymous sketch show The Peter Serafinowicz Show. The actor inside the Fisher King costume, Neil Fingleton, appeared as a giant in Game Of Thrones and has also starred in Jupiter Ascending, 47 Ronin and X-Men: First Class.
Did you spot any of the allusions and similarities we’ve deliberately omitted from this list? Let us know in the comments below!
When he’s not analysing Doctor Who in too much detail, Pete presents and produces Geeks Say Things, the Den of Geek podcast. You can subscribe and download all three episodes so far here.
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