Warning: This post contains spoilers for Under the Lake.
Saturday night saw another two-parter begin as the Doctor and Clara faced a ghostly threat who used axes, the base itself, and most frighteningly, a plastic chair, to kill off the crew in an attempt to strengthen the signal of a mysterious transmission. Oh, and it certainly appeared that the Doctor had joined their ranks by episode’s end… What did our team make of it? Read on to find out!
With Under the Lake, the pre-titles sequence set the tone: a creepy, horror-inflected tale with familiar elements of classic base-under-siege episodes to reassure casual viewers that this show is still very much accessible to anyone. Under the Lake‘s main asset, aside from the effective horror, was the mystery – a tantalisingly unfolding conundrum that acted as an effective throughline for this first instalment. Add in a strong guest cast, with Sophie Stone’s Cass a genuinely heartwarming example of spot-on disabled representation, and a excellent curveball of a cliffhanger, and you have a polished, thoroughly enjoyable instalment that’s unfortunately too unambitious and generally derivative of other episodes to rise any higher than ‘solid’ – there is a feeling here that more unusual and daring storytelling decisions would have powered this episode into ‘classic’ territory. Still, coming after a hugely ambitious and daring opening two-parter, this comfortingly familiar slice of trad-Who served as a warm reassurance of Who‘s continued versatility. Now, the question is: will it seal the deal with Before the Flood? 8/10
Ben (Assistant Editor)
‘Base under siege’ stories are a staple of Doctor Who and Under The Lake proves why they work so well. The threat of the unknown contained within an inescapable setting works well in this story. Doctor Who has never really done proper ghosts before, and whilst we know that there will be scientific reasoning behind them, they prove to be an eerie enemy that easily overcomes the usual safety devices such as doors and walls. The crew of the base are a well rounded bunch. It’s nice to see a deaf character in the show, especially when there’s a genuine need for the character, not just thrown in to be politically correct. Over the course of the episode, I felt I got to know the crew, so that when they were in danger or being bumped off, I genuinely cared about them – not an easy feat in 45 minutes. The effects were also pretty impressive, with the ghosts looking quite sinister and impressive. The ghosts were well used and have become a strong character that provided genuine scares. For the first time since The Empty Child, I actually shouted an expletive at the television. The cliffhanger was also exciting. Even though we know the Doctor won’t be dead, it will be interesting to find out how he came to be a ‘ghost’. Under The Lake confirms that Series 9 is headed in a darker direction, with more scares and a more dramatic tone than previous series. This episode would’ve scored higher were it not for the continued use of the ‘sonic sunglasses’, which I really don’t like. 8/10
Owen (Instagram & News)
We all know this isn’t the most structurally unique episode, but Under The Lake continued with the momentum, drive, claustrophobia and darkness of previous base-under-siege attempts. With a fast pace, but methodical thinking and some (finally) well written side-characters, the third episode of Series 9 reminds us of a little piece of magic and adventure that we lost occasionally throughout Series 8. It may not be an epic, but it’s certainly a hit, and whilst it’s story bubbles between mediocre to exceptional, Capaldi and Coleman alike rush into frivolous rituals of running and risk as usual accompanying the action. With stakes being set very high, and a brutally dazzling climax, let’s hope Before The Flood follows with dignity. 8.5/10
Following its rather unconventional opening two-parter, Series 9 found itself in rather more familiar territory for Doctor Who this week with a traditional base-under-siege story that was thoroughly exciting and engaging, if not particularly groundbreaking. Under the Lake‘s underwater setting provided an extremely eerie and claustrophobic atmosphere, enhanced by Daniel O’Hara’s skilful direction and Murray Gold’s suitably spooky score, and elements such as the Faraday cage and day/night modes not only made the base feel real but were cleverly used within the plot. Telling the story over two episodes meant that this first part had room to allow the mystery of what the ghosts were and what their purpose was to unravel in a way that slowly and effectively built up tension throughout the episode. Under the Lake also benefited from a hugely talented supporting cast, with Sophie Stone’s no-nonsense yet protective Cass a highlight, but the real standout was a reliably excellent performance from Peter Capaldi, his Classic Who-style Doctor perfectly slotting into an equally Classic Who-style episode from his first encounter with the ghosts right up to another shocking cliffhanger for this series. Ultimately, Under the Lake was a solid and enjoyable offering which balanced humor and horror well, boasted some great acting performances and left several intriguing questions to be answered in the second half – the most pressing being how on earth is the Doctor going to get out of this one? 9/10
What saved this episode for me is the heartwarming way the relationship between Clara and the Doctor has moved on. They seem to have developed a new level of understanding for each other and there is a comfortable more natural feel between them, somehow summed up when the Doctor awkwardly explains he has a ‘duty of care’ to Clara. In the lead up to Series 9 there was talk of how Clara would be helping the Doctor with his social skills, and Under the Lake showcased this. An obvious example is the set of cards Clara has written out for the Doctor to teach him the correct response to any given situation so that he doesn’t just blurt out spontaneous Twelfth Doctor rage. I highly recommend pausing the screen on each card flicked through (five including the phrase the Doctor settles on), as they really are hilarious, including ‘It was my fault, I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen’. Dragging myself away from the relationship focus, Under the Lake didn’t entirely work for me. After 25 minutes I felt all we had was a few basic facts, too much of it was drawn out and yet later on there are concentrated moments which are hard to keep pace of. At times the volume levels between soundtrack and dialogue seemed wildly out, taking away the clarity of Peter Capaldi’s lines. I did love the sense of underwater base I got and the supporting cast were great, but part two of this episode has a lot to do before I can see this becoming a classic. 7.5/10
Our team’s average totals out at 8.2/10, down from both The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar (is Doctor Who in a ratings crisis)? You can see our team’s leaderboard below so far for Series 9:
- The Magician’s Apprentice – 9.25/10
- The Witch’s Familiar – 8.92/10
- Under the Lake – 8.2/10