Discussing Doctor Who: Under the Lake

Doctor Who under the lake ghosts Clara Doctor

I’ve written repeatedly about Doctor Who here on the blog (including Lasix dosage), so I thought it could be fun to have a blog discussion about each new episode this season with a friend, fellow nerd and Whovian—Kevin Harvey.

Kevin is an editor and author, including his most recent book (which is relevant to this discussion) All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture. He blogs at BibleInPopCulture.com, where he talks about the intersection of faith and culture, and you can catch him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

In case you missed it, our previous Discussing Doctor Who focused on the opening story, The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar. If you haven’t watched “Under the Lake” yet, be advised, as River Song says, “spoilers.”

What are your general thoughts about “Under the Lake”?

Kevin: To review “Under the Lake” at this point it tough. Understandably, it has the unfortunate luck to be the next episode after the incredible two-part season opener. Almost any episode would be at least a slight disappointment, except for the rare genius standalone episode such as “Blink” or “Listen.” And then add the fact that itself is one-half of another two-parter… How could we organize too many thoughts on an incomplete episode? It would be like reviewing Raiders of the Lost Ark up until the scene when Indy discovers the location of the ark.

But all that said, “Under the Lake” is intriguing so far. I found it strange that this is the first time the Doctor has encountered ghosts. Cybermen, Daleks, weeping angels, a variety of monsters and aliens—but never ghosts? So the Doctor’s excitement to keep investigating what is unknown to him was fun. It turns out the 2,000-year-old Doctor has not seen everything under the sun, which made for some great looks from the giddy Doctor.

Aaron: The more I think about this episode the more I like it. They could never “match” the opening story with both the Master (Missy) and the Daleks, so a return to a monster-of-the-week formula was inevitable. But I felt like this gave a few interesting twists on the concept.

They’ve had the Doctor land on bases with crews stubbornly chasing something dangerous several times before. The Tardis is always in a place they cannot reach. (It’s like a horror movie that has to place the protagonist outside of cellphone range.) But usually these episodes are single episode stories, so the Doctor solves the mystery rather quickly.

Here, with the two-parts, we get the standard moments of discovering the identity and purpose of the monsters, but we get a surprising cliffhanger of the Doctor becoming a ghost himself. I did not see that coming until Clara looked out the window and saw another floating figure.

Without Missy to play off of, how do you think Clara did this week?

Clara Doctor Who Under the Lake

Aaron: I enjoyed Clara much more than usual in this episode because I think they are progressing her character in an interesting way. Perhaps knowing the end is near has helped them write her much more intriguingly.

She, sometimes even more than the Doctor, wanted to rush into danger. She wanted to face monsters and have adventures, but she almost seemed giddy to be in life-threating situations—asking the Doctor to high-five her when they saw signs of a struggle on the underwater base.

I feel like Clara is still mourning Danny from last season, but is coping with it by hurling herself into deadly circumstances with the Doctor. She clearly was affected by his discussing the nature of death and the possibility of life after it. Not having someone to celebrate her safe return, as did the crew members, clearly upset her.

No matter how well she attempts to hide it, the Doctor can tell Clara is wounded. It’s only a matter of how much. I’m worried that Clara may be the first companion since the reboot to end her time on the Tardis because she dies.

Kevin: Unfortunately, I was thinking the exact same thing upon watching this episode—that Clara will be the first companion since the reboot to die. And since I admitted my unapologetic love for Clara last week, that could end up being an episode just as heart-wrenching as Amy Pond’s farewell in “The Angels Take Manhattan.”

Yes, her overwhelming desire for adventure is either going to end in her death or in her being responsible for something really tragic, or both. But I do love her run-toward-danger mentality.

But I actually have a different opinion than you of her use in this specific episode. For me it was disappointing that after three seasons and numerous adventures all the writers can do for her in an episode is make her the tag-along girl who adds no contribution whatsoever to the Doctor’s investigation. All she did was ask questions and smile at the Doctor’s egotistic sense of humor. At this point, I’d like to see her adding more to the story like she did in the first two episodes of the season.

How did you like the “ghosts” as the monster/villain this week?

ghosts Doctor Who Under the Lake

Kevin: I already mentioned my surprise that this was the Doctor’s first encounter with ghosts. And so since the writers have ten years of shows and villains behind them, as well as the luxury of seeing how ghosts have been used in countless other movies and shows, I would’ve like them to avoid the seemingly inevitable plot device in which someone beyond the grave is trying to communicate something to the survivors, but they’re doing so in code. “The dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple.” Come on! Just tell us what you mean! If there’s something in the church they need to find, just tell them what it is, why don’t you? But like I said earlier, we’ve only seen half the episode, so maybe we’re not getting the full story yet.

And just a (probably coincidental) tidbit I noticed about the ghosts. As we would expect, they can walk through walls since they are apparitions, but they can also pick up tools and other items. When Jesus raised from the dead, he too could apparently walk through walls (as shown when he suddenly appeared in the Upper Room with the disciples), but he also hugged people and cooked and ate fish.

Aaron: If these are actual ghosts it will be the first time the Doctor has faced them, hence his giddiness. Every time in the past, the apparent ghosts have turned out to be something else. The Third Doctor faced time traveling soldiers in “Day of the Daleks.” The Gelth haunted Charles Dickens as a ghostlike gas in “The Unquiet Dead.” The Cyberman appeared as ghosts in preparation for an invasion in “Army of Ghosts.” Most frequently, Clara and the Twelfth Doctor thought they were encountering the paranormal, but it was a lovesick time-traveling beast (only Doctor Who).

What did you take away from the Doctor’s interaction with the crew of the underwater oil rig?

crew Under the Lake deaf sign language Doctor Who

Aaron: I loved the introduction of “the cards” as it again reveals the otherness of the Doctor. The death of their friend is merely an avenue for him to understand something new about the universe, not a sad loss about which he grieves with them.

I did feel like the crew was fairly flat. There is not much to distinguish one member from another. Once Pritchard established himself as the greedy guy, you knew he was going to die chasing after wealth. Having Cass, the deaf leader, talk through someone else, however, is a nice reflection of what the ghosts are doing.

Kevin: Ah, I see what you did there concerning the deaf lady, having to speak through someone just as the ghosts do. But I’m still tired of that plot device. Just communicate to us, ghosts!

The crew reminded me of the crew from another Doctor Who two-parter, going way back to the Rose Tyler days, “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.” And like with that crew, as you said we could already pick out some of the fates awaiting these cookie-cutter characters.

But the Doctor’s script cards to help him relate better with humans tripped me out. Two of the ones he didn’t use said, “I completely understand why it was difficult not to get captured” and, “It was my fault. I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen.”

I like that it’s important to Clara that he relate better to those he comes across on their journeys, because she wants them to see the Doctor that she knows and loves so much. That was what she wanted from Danny Pink before he died, and I believe she hates that Danny died not knowing the Doctor she knows.

Favorite quotes from this week?

Under the Lake the Doctor Doctor Who

“I don’t know but I’m pretty certain it’s not so they can all form a boy band.” — the Doctor explaining why the ghosts wanted more people on the base

“At least if I die, you know I really will come back and haunt you … all.” — Bennett, one of the crew members

“Whenever I step outside, you are the smartest person in the room.” — the Doctor providing a compliment as only the Doctor can.

Kevin: “Well, no actually, I can’t [speak sign language]. It’s been deleted.” — the Doctor

“There was no such thing as socks, or smartphones, or banjos…until there suddenly were.” — the Doctor

Crew member: “You’re gonna go back in time? How do you do that?”

Doctor: “Extremely well.”

What spiritual content did you notice in this episode?

ghost Doctor Who Under the Lake

Aaron: One of my favorite subtle ways that Doctor Who nods in the direction of the spiritual is the way the solution or salvation is often found in a church building. In one of my favorite episodes, “Father’s Day,” the Doctor tells everyone to run into a church because it is the only place that can protect them against the monsters. In the end, someone has to go and sacrifice himself to save everyone else.

In “Under the Lake,” we again see the church as a focal place. All of the coordinates the ghosts are sending out, the destination to which they are aiming is found in the church. I’m sure we’ll get more of this next week, when the Doctor actually travels back to the time and we see what happens in the church before the flood.

If these are, in fact, ghosts, it will be another episode where the show embraces a more spiritual perspective—excepting the existence of a soul or life after death. Depending on the writer, some episodes will have a spiritual component and others will assume a completely materialistic point of view.

I’m always interested to see how they fit the supernatural into the world of the Doctor who seems a bit like Sherlock Holmes in that he always assumes (and most often finds) a completely rational and natural explanation for something that initially seems to be beyond that.

Kevin: Yes, the church is once again a focal point in Doctor Who. Like you, I’m anxious to find out more next week. What will they find in the church “that has the power to raise the dead”? I also like that in order to find out why this is all happening, the Doctor says he has to go back to the time before the flood came and put the town under water. Something happened before the flood that has to be reconciled somehow.

Just as how “something” happened before Noah’s flood (that something being the fall of man in the garden of Eden), and Jesus had to offer himself up as a sacrifice too in order to reconcile that, as it would appear from the preview for next week’s episode that the Doctor willingly sacrifices himself also.

The Faraday Cage was also a major plot device in this episode, which caught my attention because it’s been used in many other places in pop culture, such as Fringe, Persons of Interest, and Mr. Robot. I’m definitely no scientist, nor am I even smart enough to play one on TV, but from my limited understanding of the Faraday Cage, electric currents within the cage’s conducting material protect those inside the cage from external electric fields by canceling out the effects of the electricity. So in the case of Doctor Who, something within the walls of their Faraday Cage keeps the dead people from coming in and killing them.

So death cancels out death, and therefore they are safe. Apply that to Jesus’ death, which saves us from the death that we all deserve. His death cancels out our death. Or maybe I completely botched that and I am more dumber than I think …

Join us next week, as we explore “Before the Flood.” Here’s a couple trailers to get you ready.

This is cross-posted at Kevin’s site as Two Geeks and the Doctor — Episode 9.3.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.