Doctor Who series 9: geeky spots in Under The Lake

Toby Whithouse's Under The lake is packed with references, from a 7th Doctor story through to Star Trek. Here's what we spotted...

This article contains lots and lots of spoilers for Under The Lake.

Under The Lake may not be the Dalek-filled continuity fest of the last couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t set our geek senses tingling. Here’s everything we were able to spot, from the obvious references to the slightly tenuous connections, from this week’s episode…

Ghosts From The Past

Under The Lake is a perfect example of what’s commonly referred to as a ‘base under siege’ story. These were a staple of the classic series, particularly during the Patrick Troughton era, not least because they meant the ever-stretched production team could save on the set budget. The first proper base-under-siege tale was William Hartnell’s final story, The Tenth Planet, in 1966 – which also saw the introduction of the Cybermen.

One base-under-siege tale, 1984’s Warriors Of The Deep, was set aboard an underwater base, Sea Base 4, and featured the return of both the Sea Devils and the Silurians. The story was set in the year 2084, a mere 35 years before Under The Lake takes place. The video game Shadows Of The Vashta Nerada, which takes place in the 23rd century, is another base-under-siege tale set in an underwater complex and is the first of two such encounters for Matt Smith’s Doctor – the second being 2013’s submarine tale Cold War.

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The Doctor has faced ghost-like beings on several occasions in the past, the first time being in 1972 tale Day Of The Daleks, which saw the third Doctor investigate ghost sightings – actually revealed to be time-travelling guerillas from the 22nd century.

Ghost sightings have been more common on the show since 2005, with Christopher Eccleston facing the gaseous Gelth in The Unquiet Dead, David Tennant discovering that 2006’s Army Of Ghosts were actually a Cyberman invasion force, and the eleventh Doctor and Clara in Hide dealing with the one force in the universe scarier than ghosts: love.

Vector Petroleum are the latest in a long line of Doctor Who mining corporations – the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe faced the Issigri Mining Company in 1969’s The Space Pirates, while the third Doctor and Jo saved a colony of humans from the Interplanetary Mining Corporation in Colony In Space two years later. And the sixth Doctor met the memorable Sil, representing the Galatron Mining Corporation, in Vengeance On Varos in 1985.

Cass is the first deaf character in Doctor Who’s 52-year history. However, the character of Toberman in 1967’s Tomb Of The Cybermen was originally intended to be deaf, but any mention of this was removed prior to filming.

The Doctor identifies himself as a member of UNIT to the crew of the Drum. Between 1970 and 1975, the Doctor held a regular job as scientific advisor to the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce – which was renamed the Unified Intelligence Taskforce at the request of the UN after the series returned in 2005.

One of Clara’s cue cards for the Doctor reads ‘It was my fault, I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen’. This is an explicit reference to the 1976 departure of popular companion Sarah Jane Smith, who was dropped off in a hurry by the fourth Doctor in somewhere that wasn’t her home town of Croydon. Toby Whithouse, writer of Under The Lake, revealed in his 2006 tale School Reunion that the Doctor had, in fact, left Sarah in Aberdeen.

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We hear the sound of the TARDIS’ cloister bell in this episode, designed to warn the Doctor when the TARDIS senses the direst of emergencies.

It first rang in 1981’s Logopolis, signalling the fourth Doctor’s upcoming regeneration and the near-death of the universe. It was heard on just two more occasions in the classic series, as well as in the 1996 TV movie. However, in the wake of the Time War the TARDIS has seemingly become a lot more jittery – the cloister bell has now rung out on 18 separate occasions in the last ten years.

The first thing the Doctor does on reaching the canteen is test the temperature of a mug of tea with his finger. In 1989’s Survival, the final story of the classic series, the seventh Doctor walks off into the sunset with his companion Ace, telling her of the many worlds they still have to visit: “Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice… Somewhere else the tea’s getting cold”. Toby Whithouse is clearly fond of this scene; the final line, “Come on, Ace; we’ve got work to do” was modified and used by Sarah Jane at the end of School Reunion.

The Doctor may not have a radio on board the TARDIS anymore, but some of his previous companions have – his granddaughter Susan famously listened to John Smith and the Common Men in opening story An Unearthly Child, while Ace’s 80s boombox was blown to smithereens by a Dalek in 1988 story Remembrance Of The Daleks.

Aliens From The Future
Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh

The ghost in the top hat is a native of the planet Tivoli, a famously cowardly race (proudly referring to themselves as ‘the most invaded planet in the galaxy’) whose members include Gibbis, played by David Walliams in The God Complex.

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The Doctor once again flashes his psychic paper in order to persuade the crew to trust him. First wielded by Christopher Eccleston in The End Of The World, the paper was writer Russell T Davies’ way of avoiding one of the most common tropes of the classic series, in which the Doctor and his companions would be regarded with distrust for most of part one of a story in order to pad out the running time. With shorter stories in the new era, Davies needed a way for the Doctor to get involved in the action as quickly as possible. The paper doesn’t always work, mind – Shakespeare was too clever to be fooled in The Shakespeare Code, while in Army Of Ghosts it’s revealed that all Torchwood operatives undergo basic psychic training.

Whilst listing the things that the ghosts in this story aren’t, the Doctor references holograms (most recently encountered in Mummy On The Orient Express), flesh avatars (seen in The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People, which revealed that Amy Pond had been replaced with a flesh avatar for several episodes), ‘digital copies bouncing around the Nethersphere’ (from last series’ Dark Water/Death in Heaven) and the Autons, plastic replicas controlled by an alien intelligence who first appeared in Jon Pertwee’s debut story Spearhead From Space and were last glimpsed in The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang in 2010.

The Doctor switches the TARDIS’ handbrake on in order to keep her from trying to move; in The Time Of Angels, River Song explains to Amy that the only reason the Doctor’s TARDIS makes its famous wheezing, groaning sound is that he always leaves the handbrake on when in flight.

Since 2005, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver has been able to open any lock (another time-saving measure by Russell T Davies) – except for when it hasn’t. Deadlock seals were introduced in 2005’s Bad Wolf as a shorthand for explaining why the sonic won’t work in a situation, and have appeared repeatedly ever since.

An increasingly concerned Doctor warns Clara that there’s only room for one Doctor in the TARDIS. This continues a plot thread that began in earnest in last year’s Mummy On The Orient Express, at the end of which Clara chose to carry on and lie to her boyfriend Danny rather than give up on her time-travelling life. Since then, Clara has acted as the Doctor on two occasions: when he was trapped within the TARDIS in Flatline, and to confuse the Cybermen at the start of Death in Heaven.

Colin McFarlane’s character Moran may be named after Toby Whithouse’s fellow Doctor Who writer James Moran… Or it could be coincidence.

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The Doctor’s UNIT security code has the word ‘apple’ in it. The use of ‘apple’ as a number stretches back to 2005’s The End Of The World, in which the year five billion was written as ‘5.5/Apple/26’.

In an astonishingly prescient move, the Doctor references next week’s episode title in telling the crew they must go ‘back to Before The Flood’…

Outside The Base

Colin McFarlane, who plays Moran in this story, has appeared in everything from The Fast Show to Coronation Street, but may be best known to British viewers for his distinctive voice work on The Cube and the Buzz series of games. He previously popped up in the Who universe during Torchwood: Children Of Earth, and played Loeb in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Elsewhere in the cast, Pritchard is Steven Robertson, who was a series regular on Toby Whithouse’s Being Human as well as appearing in series two of Utopia; while ghostly Tivolian Prentis is actor Paul Kaye, who rose to fame irritating celebrities as interviewer Dennis Pennis in the 90s but has gone on to more serious acting pursuits, including six episodes as Thoros of Myr in Game Of Thrones.

A Faraday cage features heavily in this story. Named after their inventor Michael Faraday, Faraday cages are used to shut out electric fields. The tenth Doctor and his friends were protected from the effects of a wormhole in Planet Of The Dead by the bus they were on acting like a Faraday cage. There’s also a fun video on YouTube of Mythbusters star Adam Savage stood in a Faraday cage and dancing while the Doctor Who theme is played on tesla coils. Here it is…

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The flood door that shuts on Clara is labelled ‘1701B’. NCC-1701 is the registry number of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek; the NCC-1701-B was the Enterprise on which Captain Kirk was presumed dead in Star Trek: Generations.

Clara and the Doctor reference unseen adventures with Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement in the early 20th century, and Dame Shirley Bassey, the Welsh singer whose hits include the theme tunes from James Bond films Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker. The Doctor also makes a joke at the expense of singer Peter Andre, whose hits include ‘Mysterious Girl’, ‘Flava’ and a duet of ‘A Whole New World’ with Katie Price. We don’t mention her often on this site.

Cass references Ghostbusters, proving that Paul Feig’s film will have no negative impact on the franchise’s reputation in the long term. The Doctor has made mention of the film before, having sung the theme tune in 2006 story Army Of Ghosts.

As mentioned in our review of the episode, the base being owned by Vector Petroleum may be a nod to the Weyland Corporation from the Alien series of films.

Being able to switch between day and night on a whim is a core gameplay mechanic in two of the games in the Legend Of Zelda series: The Ocarina Of Time and The Wind Waker.

If you spot any of our deliberate mistakes/things we missed while looking up the history of mining companies in Doctor Who, let us know in the comments!

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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.