Under the Lake Plot Summary:
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) land the TARDIS on an underwater station that, after discovering an alien spacecraft, becomes haunted by ghosts out to kill everyone on board.
Typically, as we conclude the third episode in a new series of Doctor Who we’ve already experienced ‘that’ episode. You know the episode, it’s the standalone that doesn’t seem to fit into the rest of the series, that you forget about by the time the Christmas special rolls around.
It seems that Series 9 is bucking this trend by delivering a third thrilling, tense, and jaw-dropping episode after delivering two previous thrilling, tense, jaw-dropping episodes.
‘Under the Lake’ assumes the classic Who archetype – the monster of the week. It’s a tried and true story that works perfectly on a series like this. It’s an easy fallback for the writers of the series because what true Whovian is really going to roll their eyes in disgust and think, ‘Ugh, The Doctor and his companion are battling another blood thirsty monster?’ If you are, then you really don’t get the fun of this series.
This episodes ‘monster of the week’ plays a bit differently though. There’s a claustrophobic, Alien-like tension in the air. It’s not the scariest Who episode, but it’ll definitely have you gripping your chair a little tighter, and your heart racing a bit faster than normal.
The ‘ghost on a ship’ monster theme is presented in a pretty intriguing way — these ghosts are constantly mouthing a series of words over and over again. This actually makes the ghosts more terrifying, and it keeps you more invested in finding out the ‘big reveal’ of what they’re saying. If there were your run-of-the-mill ghosts, this episode probably would’ve easily become ‘that’ episode.
It was a brilliant move to have The Doctor actually finally believe in ghosts. All the crazy creatures on Who are accepted without even a flinch from The Doctor. Yet, having him freak out over the fact he now believes in ghosts made for a great bit of comedy, but also gave some terrifying gravity to the ghosts. If The Doctor believes in them (and the TARDIS wants to flee because of their presence), then you know these are more than your average ghosts.
Speaking of The Doctor, it should also be noted that Peter Capaldi is just perfect as our favorite Time Lord right now. He seems to have struck the right balance between crankiness, and compassion. He’s still a know-it-all, but he’s less acerbic about it, and a bit more ‘mad professor’ than just straight-up mad. His chemistry with Jenna Coleman is at a much better place than it was last series, as the two seem much more natural together, even more so than when Coleman was with Matt Smith. As a result, the air of fun has returned to Doctor Who which had left the series for spells last year, has returned at full force.
While the suspense is masterfully maintained throughout the episode, it’s the final moment, the actual big reveal that punches you right in the mouth. Spoilers — there’s a new ghost, and it’s The Doctor.
This reveal completely blows your mind. How? Why? What? Does anyone get this? Of course we don’t, that’s why we have to tune into next week for the thrilling conclusion. And this fact is what’s making Series 9 one of the better series in some time. The episodes are not being contained to one solitary 60-minute (minus commercials) run, it’s being given time to breathe and evolve. We’re able to watch it unfold in a more logical and well-paced manner. So many times we’ve seen Doctor Who episodes cram the ending in the last five-ten minutes and you’re left feeling a bit empty, like you didn’t get the pay-off you deserved.
The story of ‘Under the Lake’ has a lot more to be told, and now we’re getting a whole new story about The Doctor being a ‘dead man walking’ which is actually more interesting that the whole ghost business. It seems that mortality is really playing into the overall theme of this series. Has anyone else noticed references to Clara’s death in first few episodes? How about the whole sequence where The Doctor is concerned about Clara’s new cavalier attitude towards danger? We know Jenna Coleman is leaving the series, but does her exit equal death? In addition, do we really think the writers of the series are contemplating the end of The Doctor? This is probably an unrealistic scenario, but you never know, right?
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is currently raising Sophie on a mixture of Doctor Who, Anthony Bourdain, and pro wrestling. Bill is beyond excited that Pop-Break is now six years old, and this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read weekly on Monday for the Happy Mondays interview series as well as weekly reviews on Doctor Who, and Law & Order: SVU. He is a graduate of Rutgers University, and currently works as a project manager for a tech company, and a freelance writer for NJ.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites