Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 4
Before the Flood
Written by: Toby Whithouse
Directed by: Daniel O’Hara
Broadcast Date: Saturday 10th October at 8.25pm on BBC One
The Gallifrey Times have seen Before the Flood and have put our spoiler free preview together.
Before the Flood, in many places, builds on the strengths of Under the Lake without overusing them. There’s still a few great, superbly tense sequences of ghost-related horror (one involving Cass is a genuine nail-biter), but, wisely, Before the Flood dials the ghost horror back a little in order to keep the concept from getting too stale. The ghosts were some of the strongest parts of the first episode, but it’s good to see Whithouse not resting on his laurels and merely repeating what worked in Under the Lake.
The most confounding part of the episode is almost certainly the conclusion, which is where the aforementioned storytelling boldness and gumption comes in. The story wraps up in a way that feels entirely unexpected, but it teeters perilously between being a hugely clever and thoroughly unpredictable resolution and being overly tricksy and a little nonsensical (it does say a great deal that the conclusion requires a bunch of exposition after the fact). For this reviewer, it just about landed on the side of ‘clever’, but there’s a sense here that a smaller-scale and more straightforward conclusion would have removed the element of niggling uncertainty that this viewer, and perhaps some others, was left with.
The real issue here is that the episode’s structure is frankly bizarre, gleefully throwing in and then subsequently discarding ideas that could be major parts of another episode, giving this episode a disjointed feel. Especially stacked up to the traditional first part, there’s a sense that the writers cobbled together a handful of pitches for individual episodes for this one – and while none of these ideas are bad, it would have been nice to have a little more of a coherent through-line than the jumbled hodge-podge of concepts we have here. The episode’s momentum also fails to build in the same way Under the Lake‘s did – the episode dovetails into what would appear to be the third act much earlier than expected, but then spends a great deal of time dragging its feet, sucking much of the tension out of what should have been a thrilling ticking clock of a climax.
Truth be told, simple labels like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ feel simplistic here. Before the Flood is simply one of those rare TV episodes that’s never consistently good or bad, alternating furiously to create a quality curve that’s more of an incoherent squiggle. Admittedly, when everything is averaged out, Before the Flood is decidedly not a poor episode – but nor is it a classic, and it’s certainly a tad weaker than part one. With moments of absolute genius packed in with some inexplicable storytelling choices, Before the Flood truly is a rollercoaster ride in every sense of the word. This one might split people, that’s for sure.