I had to rewatch the previous episode to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, but all things considered this week’s Doctor Who 9×04: Before the Flood is somewhat consistent. There might be a plot hole here and there, but overall it tidies up the two-parter nicely.
Here’s what get at the start of this week’s episode. Ghost Doctor is reciting a different thing that the rest of the ghosts. A list of names. Actually, the list of all their names in order of Death. He’s actually off. There’s one that is not only in the incorrect order, but that should’ve appeared second. We’ll get to that. The point is that defying time and space (well, how else…) the Doctor can apparently video chat with Clara. Seems pretty simplistic to us that are watching both “present” and “past” timelines occur, but it’s actually complicated. I can only assume the TARDIS knows which time the call has to be issued.
The Doctor tells Clara he needs to see what Ghost Doctor is doing as much as possible. This ends up being the excuse for leaving the phone outside when Clara, Cass and Lunn run away to the Faraday cage room. I can only assume the phone doesn’t work in the room because all electromagnetic fields cease to work – wait, how did the Doctor manage to transmit a hologram into there or broadcast the Ghosts’ when he stepped in there to outside…? Guess you’re going to tell me that the sonic (glasses, still) is powerful enough to somehow bypass that because of Time Lord technology. Hold on to that thought, you’re going to need it later.
The TARDIS has taken the Doctor, O’Donnell and Bennett back to the 80s, where the town is abandoned, unflooded but has an otherworldly visitor (well, another one…). The ship turns out to be a funeral ship, dragging an enemy’s corpse to be buried in a distant, barren land (Earth). We meet the very-much-alive-but-kill-him-already Prentis, a funeral director from planet Tivoli and the living image of the first Ghosts. Tivolians are a race that loves to be enslaved by another species. Basically, they’re sniveling leeches that were liberated from a powerful enemy by the Arcateenians. Then they became so irritating that the Arcateenians enslaved them. A bit too much on the cheery side to be the origin of the Ghosts.
The point is that Prentiss didn’t write the message. Actually, the message has not been written yet. Prentiss is transporting a bandaged dead body that belongs to the Fisher King, the enemy that the Arcateenians fought. Apparently, the Fisher King gets better and goes on the hunt, killing Prentiss and chasing after our time travelers. Eventually, the monster gets O’Donnell and this for me is the great disparity.
This is the point in which O’Donnell appears as a Ghost back in the future. And this is why, for me, the list is in disorder. Chronically speaking, O’Donnell is the second victim. You might think that the timeline is being re-written. The Doctor dismissed that already when Clara was begging him not to die. He can’t change something because time space continuum blah blah. Bennett calls him on it when the Doctor realizes Clara is next on the list. The Doctor will break the rules for her. In fact, he already has. What he’s doing is figuring how.
Finally Clara clues in that Lunn is immune to the ghosts because he hasn’t seen the writing. When Ghost O’Donnell takes the phone, Clara asks Lunn to go get it. Cass furiously signs to Lunn. Cass is judging Clara for putting other people in danger, something she suspects she learned from the Doctor. It’s a parallel to Bennett calling the Doctor on Clara being the exception to his personal code. Clara just replies that she has learned to do what needs to be done. The whole getting the phone deal is just an unnecessary plot. It does give us a few nice scenes. Cass managing to figure out that Ghost Moran is about to chop her in two with the axe he’s dragging was a cool one.
The Doctor finally decides to take the TARDIS and just save Clara. You probably knew that when he announced that nobody was going to stop him, he was going to be stopped. He is, by the TARDIS itself. When the Doctor and Bennett appear, they’re back in the same abandoned town, just thirty minutes into the past. The Doctor has to restrain Bennett from warning O’Donnell while they wait for the timeline to catch up. When it does, Bennett is left in the TARDIS while the Doctor takes the stairs underneath the church.
At this point, you should be able to tell what happens next. There’s a confrontation between the Doctor and the Fisher King. The warlord (who looks like something you’d find in Blizzard’s Diablo game) knows who the Time Lord is, but falls prey to a ploy when the Doctor claims to have erased the markings on the ship. The suspended animation chamber is left wide open as the Fisher King goes back to check the funeral ship. Also, the Fisher King’s face resembles something, doesn’t it?
Obviously the markings are still there. The Doctor has taken one of the power couplings/energy modules/thingamajigs to blow up the dam and flood the town. The Fisher King is killed (or is he?) by the oncoming water while the Doctor enters the suspended animation chamber. This allows the Doctor to literally pop up back in nick of time where Clara, Cass and Lunn are being pursued by the Ghosts. As it turns out the Ghosts are then called by the call of the Fisher King, which is actually the Ghost Doctor who happens to be… another hologram, projected by the sonic glasses to appear after the Doctor leaves in the TARDIS and convey the message to Clara.
So if the Doctor was back engineering how the Ghost Doctor would behave and trap the Ghosts in the Faraday Cage again (so they didn’t learn their lesson the first time around?) who wrote those instructions in the beginning? That’s the paradox that the Doctor highlights at the end of the episode, but not the only conflict here.
Nice episode all around, some actually human characters although I didn’t like the whole everyone-was-in-love-with-someone-else angle. But let’s get to the highs and lows, shall we?
- It’s one entire timeline. Even in the future, the entire problem is set with a solution. It’s the Fisher King that takes the suspended animation chamber to the church to be found while he leaves the ship as a trap to produce Ghosts. However, since we’re in the same timeline, the Fisher King is dead by the time they find the ship. Inside the animation chamber is the Doctor. The Doctor is also responsible for the giant battery missing from the ship, as he took it to blow up the dam.
- All good. However, O’Donnell gets killed. In the past. So, why doesn’t she appear with Prentis when the ghosts show up? Well, because it would give away the plot. However, if Ghost Doctor puts the list in that paradox order it means the list is actually for the Doctor so he figures out what happens next in his own personal chronological “time”.
- The Ghost Doctor doesn’t appear until the real Doctor leaves. This appears to be so that the Doctor doesn’t jump in time before he needs the information. If the Doctor had seen Ghost Doctor in the beginning, he’d figure out he time traveled a lot earlier.
- The Ghost Doctor is projected by the sonic from within the animation chamber, going through the casing, the church, the water and into the mining facility. Wow.
- Both Clara and the Doctor get called on their bias toward each other. Clara is willing to put Lunn in harm’s way while being told by Cass. The Doctor’s rules of not interfering with the timeline count for O’Donnell’s death but not for endangering Clara.
- The painting of the monster in the break room resembles the Fisher King.
- The sonic being used to clear everyone’s memories of the coordinates.
- The TARDIS activating security protocol 712, which promptly takes it to… a safe place? The last safe destination? Is this the work of the sonic again, communicating with the TARDIS to tell it where to go? Seems the TARDIS reacts to the dam breaking. If so, how does it know to which time it should go? Was it waiting in the time stream / hyperspace?
- Everyone’s in love. Bennett and O’Donnell never say it, but after the reunion, Bennett tells Lunn to confess his love to Cass. A little too much romantic feelings in the Drum.
- The Doctor’s explanation of Beethoven and the Time Traveler allegory (the bootstrap paradox) is supposed to apply to the cues and clues he gets from the Ghost Doctor. Why create a Ghost? Why not have the sonic use some less scare-the-shit-out-of-Clara tactic? Dramatic license again.
- The Bootstrap Paradox. Google it. The Doctor actually leaves us some homework to do.
That will do for now.