I’m back again with my friend Kevin Harvey, author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture. Today we are discussing the most recent Doctor Who episode “Before the Flood.”
Previously, we talked about “The Magician’s Apprentice,” “The Witch’s Familiar” and “Under the Lake,” the first part of the story that “Before the Flood” concluded.
For us, this episode finally brought agreement on Clara, disappointment on the villain, and excitement about the future (with some worries over potential tears being shed).
Maybe some future event caused us to write this post … or maybe this post caused us somehow to write the previous posts … or maybe my brain just hurts. On to the questions.
Now that we’ve had the conclusion to the story started last week, what are your general thoughts about “Before the Flood” and the story arc as a whole?
Aaron: If ever there was a “wibbly wobbly timey whimey” episode of Doctor Who, this was it. So much so, they had the Doctor open the episode by talking to the audience and setting up a thought experiment with Beethoven (more on that in a minute).
We need a good time paradox episode occasionally to remind us that he is traveling in time and that can cause unforeseen “ripples” or people to disappear from a photograph if we are dealing with Back to the Future.
Having two-part stories, while nerve-racking, allow secondary characters more time to grow on the audience. I don’t think the deaths and subsequent grief would have meant nearly as much had the crew only been around for one episode.
All-in-all, I’m not sure there could have been a better follow-up to an epic season premiere. “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” brought ghosts into the Doctor Who world in an interesting way, introduced a new evil alien race, hinted at some future events with the “Minister of War” line, and advanced Clara and the Doctor along in their story. Plus, we had Peter Capaldi play a rocking version of the opening theme.
Kevin: Yes, now that we can judge last week’s “Under the Lake” properly, I would agree that this two-parter might go up there as being one of the better two-parters in the series. I think my favorite has always been season five’s “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon,” but where “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” best those two is that they could serve better as both a stand-alone series that would make sense on its own, as well as a starting point for newcomers. At least much more than starting right in the middle of the River Song storyline.
“Before the Flood” had the time-travel paradoxes and the dos and don’ts, an obviously strong bond between Clara and the Doctor and their admitted love and dependence on each other, and along with the reference to the “Minister of War,” who will probably be the big bad this season, we were reminded of a previous big bad, Harold Saxon (a.k.a. the Master), plus an obscure reference to Magpie Electricals (the maker of both the Doctor’s amplifier in the opening scene and the TVs used to attempt invading the planet the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in season 2).
So I’ll say it now, for any non-Doctor Who fans reading this: “Under the Lake” might be an okay place to get started, and then Netflix the rest after Christmas when the season ends.
What do you make of the Doctor starting the episode off by breaking the fourth wall? And what do you make of the Bootstrap Paradox that played a central role in the “solution” to the ghost problem?
Kevin: I wonder how many people Googled “Bootstrap Paradox” per the Doctor’s request in the opening monologue on Saturday night. I know I did. And I can guarantee you I’ll be going back to it in the chapter on time travel that I plan on including in my next Bible in pop culture book, which will focus on sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.
Basically the paradox involves causality and pre-destination, and what really causes what. Scholars, philosophers, and Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory could probably go on for hours discussing this at length and come to no conclusion. But I say just watch “Before the Flood” and come to the conclusion of the Doctor—a simple head shrug.
If the day ever comes when Doctor Who comes to an end (and I say “if” instead of “when,” since it’s already been on for over 50 years), I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire series ends up being one gigantic Bootstrap Paradox, going back to the war and the Doctor stealing the TARDIS.
And I’m okay with the solution of the two-parter basically being a paradox, with no clear answer on who gave the message to the Doctor to give to his hologram. It’s a good reminder that there are always greater powers at work around us all, even the Doctor. Not even he can save all on his own.
Aaron: As a philosophy nerd, I enjoyed the whole mind-bending nature of the episode and the time traveling paradox. It provided a fun (and thoroughly believable in the Doctor Who universe) explanation for the how of it all.
If you want to get all technical, the whole thing is called a casual loop in that an event in the future is the cause of an event in the past which in turn is the cause for the event in the future. Both the future and the past events exist, but there is no way to break out of the time circle to determine their origin.
In some philosophy classes, we would discuss Christian prophecy and God’s perfect foreknowledge in much the same way. There are answers to be had, but only after lots of brain cramps and caffeine.
As to how many people Googled it. You’re right. Lots.
— Corbin Davenport (@corbindavenport) October 11, 2015
Let’s see if we can make it 3-for-3 on disagreeing about Clara. How did you feel about her this week?
Aaron: After reading some other reviews about “Under the Lake,” I was beginning to doubt my own thinking about how they were subtly keeping Clara’s grief over Danny in the back of the viewers mind and using it as a motivation for her reckless behavior. But this episode seemed to prove me right.
Clara, unsure of who she is anymore without Danny to provide a tether to life outside the Tardis, is becoming more and more like the Doctor. Early in the Twelfth Doctor’s run, he asked her if he was a good man. She couldn’t answer then because she didn’t know him well enough. If he asked the same question today, I don’t think she could answer, but only because she would have to ask herself the same question.
I think this story arc was one of the most important for Clara on the whole show and is moving her toward her soon coming end.
Kevin: Nope. We’re 2-for-3. Sorry. Clara’s line midway through the episode when she said, “He taught me to do what has to be done” shows how much she has become “the magician’s apprentice.” Rose, Martha, Donna, and Amy—all with strengths and weaknesses of their own, save for the perfect Amy—were, in the end, companions of the Doctor who served specific roles to be able to use their differences to assist the Doctor.
But this season, Clara is becoming more and more like the Doctor, the perfect apprentice. And you know what the Doctor does really well? Step in front of danger if it will help save someone—which will most likely be Clara’s fate as she continues in her apprenticeship.
I think it’s already been made clear with last year’s roller coaster ride of emotions between her and the Doctor that she’s now in this until the end. Her future with Danny Pink that we were teased about in last season’s instant classic episode “Whisper” has been wiped away, and there will be no other happily ever after for Clara. (I’m stocking up on Kleenex now, by the way.)
Did you agree with Bennett and Cass’s critique of the Doctor and Clara? Were they being too careless with the lives of others?
— Doctor BOO! (@DoctorWho_BBCA) October 11, 2015
Aaron: The Tardis allows its passengers to understand virtually any language, but it is not able to translate empathy. We saw that with the cards Clara made for the Doctor last week, but I think we saw that even more with both Clara and the Doctor this week in the cavalier way they treated O’Donnell’s death and Lunn risking his life.
While many characters often treat the Doctor as if he was a god, we can see he is not omniscient and he is not always good, or at least, he does not always make the best moral decision. Outside of his companions, he often treats others as if they were pawns to be used to text his hypotheses about the enemy (see “Mummy on the Orient Express”).
For me, I think Bennett and Cass were right. The Doctor and Clara, as she becomes more like him, are not thinking enough about the lives of those around them. They are much too concerned with the adventure and not enough on the aftermath.
Kevin: Since we agree that Clara is becoming more and more like the Doctor, then we need to look toward him with this problem of theirs. As he becomes more selfish and less empathetic, so does she. So if he were to reevaluate some of his recent decisions and see his flaws, the apprentice would as well. And that’s exactly what the Doctor needs to do.
Previous Doctors have filled episodes with great lines as “An ordinary man. That’s the most important thing in creation”; “There’s no such thing as an ordinary man”; and “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” But the Twelfth Doctor has become less concerned with saving everyone, and has focused more on saving most everyone—or even worse, only Clara.
With the many Christlike comparisons we and many others like to attribute to the Doctor at times, this is a reminder that he’s not the Lord; he’s merely a Time Lord. And maybe that’s even a better comparison to make. Just like Christians, or “little Christs” as the term actually means, are to be like Christ, they by no means are Him. We all have great flaws and sin in our life, as does the Doctor.
But if the Doctor continues his course on looking out only for Clara, not caring as much for others, what will he do when he loses her, as we are predicting? Will he focus his love on all of humanity once again, or will he go in the opposite direction, abandoning us all?
What did you make of the Fisher King?
Kevin: He’s slow, easy to fool, and has nothing to do with either the Holy Grail or Robin Williams—all in all, a little disappointing for me for the climactic ending of this otherwise fantastic two-parter. Why wasn’t he really dead when Albert Prentice (A. Prentice. Apprentice. Get it?) brought him to earth to be buried? What was his plan with all the dead souls he was stealing from people? (And why were they appearing 150 years later, and not right then?)
I’d like to think that we’ll soon get more appearances from either the Fisher King or others of his species soon, and therefore more answers, but the universe of Doctor Who is so vast, unless you’re a Dalek or Cyberman, it could be a few years until we see you again. (Still waiting for more Weeping Angels, by the way.)
Aaron: Yeah, I was a bit disappointed with him. How can the henchmen (the ghost) be more terrifying than their leader? He seemed almost like an add-on or explanatory device just to give the ghost a purpose beyond saying, “Boo!”
I admit he was fairly intimidating in the dark church basement, but once he came out into the light he looked much less real and much more like a costume. (Maybe, there’s a spiritual point to be made, but I’m not going to push that.) Plus, I’m not sure what to make of us “Come at me, bro” pose as the water rushed toward him.
Favorite quotes from this week?
This wasn’t a very “quotable” episode for me. Perhaps, it had something to do with all the mind-bending paradoxes and timey whimey stuff. But there were a few one-liners I appreciated.
“Bootstrap paradox. Google it.” — the Doctor
“My first proper alien and he’s an idiot.” — Bennett
“May the remorse be with you.” — Prentis’ undertaker business card. Nice little Star Wars allusion
“I was demoted for dangling a colleague out of a window.” The Doctor: “in anger?” “Is there another way to dangle someone out of a window?”
— Jennifer Neyhart (@JenniferNeyhart) October 14, 2015
Kevin: I have to agree. So I’ll add to yours, three lines from either Clara or the Doctor that show where they’re at in their relationship with each other. And as much as we might dislike some of the recent moments where they’re not as concerned for others as they probably should be, you have to love their bond and devotion to each other.
“If you love me in any way, you’ll come back.”—Clara
“I’ll come back for you. I swear.”—The Doctor
“I’m changing history to save Clara.”—The Doctor
What spiritual content did you notice in this episode?
Kevin: The Doctor’s line of “You can’t just go back and cut off tragedy at the root” was illustrative of what God also knew He couldn’t do back “before the Flood” when sin entered the world at the garden. He could start mankind over, in a way, with Noah, but He couldn’t wipe away the effects of that first sin. And that’s why Jesus was/is necessary. Not to erase tragedy at the root, but to take the punishment for it in place of mankind.
I always love the Doctor’s determination to save someone, in this episode’s case, Clara. Though we can argue if he’s being a bit selfish and insensitive with his willingness to break rules for some and not others, to save some while sacrificing others, for me his love and devotion toward Clara reminds me a little of all the times the Gospel writer John describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Of course we know that Jesus loved all His disciples equally, just as He loves us, but John liked to personalize Jesus’ love and say, “Me. He loved me!” So when the Doctor is willing to break rules, send messages across time, and sacrifice himself for Clara alone, it’s a reminder that on that cross Jesus was thinking about me. Not just mankind in general, but me! And just as hearing Clara’s name on that list as presumably the next one to die is what motivated the Doctor to do whatever it took to save her, Jesus was motivated to get up on that cross because of the next person on the “list” who would spend eternity in hell if he didn’t.
And speaking of the cross, when the Doctor finally arrived at the church, with the cross in the background over his shoulder, he says, “Now I’m ready.” What did you make of that?
Aaron: As you talk about in your book, sometimes shows or movies point beyond themselves to biblical truth without their even realizing it. But the scene you mention can’t be an accident, can it? I’m choosing to believe intelligent design here.
It’s how I wish more Christian art would be presented—with subtlety and nuance. The Doctor is clearly not Christ, but there are hints that he reflects someone greater. No one gets down on their knees and prays to receive Christ, but under a cross the hero decides to go meet death head on to save others. Oh, and this all happens in a church. This isn’t an allegory, but there are clear allusions.
Join us again next week when we’ll talk about “The Girl Who Died,” when we will hopefully discover the identity of Maisie Williams’ character. Here’s some previews to get you ready.
This is cross-posted at The Bible in Pop Culture as Two Geeks & the Doctor — Episode 9.4.