There was a lot of hype surrounding this episode of Doctor Who. Steven Moffat said it was one of the scariest episodes the show has ever produced. As a lover of horror films, this set the bar very high for this episode. Would Under the Lake have me and my family watching from behind the sofa or would it fall flat?
Our story begins in an underwater mining facility in Caithness, Scotland in the year 2119. The crew discovered a craft of unknown origin and bring it on board to investigate. They discover some strange writing inside and that’s when the “ghosts” start appearing. They’re appear to be repeating some words and attack the crew. Once someone is killed they return as one of these ghosts.
The Doctor and Clara arrive and jump right into the fray. The Tardis clearly does not want to be there and doesn’t seem to want to be anywhere near the ghosts. At first Clara and the Doctor are reluctant to believe these creatures are ghosts but the more they evaluate the situation the more it seems they are as they appear. The Doctor is worried for Clara. He wants to be sure she is truly alright after everything that has happened. She claims to be fine and while the Doctor is less than convinced they continue on.
The group has learned they ghosts cannot penetrate the lead lined walls of the Faraday cage in the mining base. They end up luring the ghosts into the cage and trapping them there. While the ghosts are in the cage they analyze what the ghosts are saying. They are repeating the words, “The Dark, The Sword, The Forsaken, The Temple”. The Doctor says they are coordinates and the ghosts are transmitting them to space. It leads them to a church in the submerged town. That’s where they find a suspended animation chamber that should have the craft’s pilot inside. The Doctor doesn’t believe the pilot is inside but the chamber is deadlock sealed and he cannot open it.
The ghosts are an interesting creature. They look like the person before they died except their eyes are hollowed out. Their mouths are moving but you cannot hear the words they are saying. They are completely homicidal in wanting to kill anyone who has seen the writing. The only person who they haven’t tried to kill is the one member of the crew that did not see the writing. Every time the Doctor has encountered ghosts in the past they have turned out not to be ghosts in the way we imagine. They’re usually some sort of alien race like the Gelf in Series 1 Episode 3, or coming through from a different plane like the Cybermen Series 2 Episode 12. So far these ghosts look like they the real deal but I’m sure we’ll learn more about them in the next episode.
They learn to use the mining base against the group. They call a relief sub down through Morse code and ask for medical personnel. The ghosts are trying to get more people to see the writing so they can be killed and turned into ghosts to transmit the signal. The computer malfunction because of the ghosts tampering and begin to open the flood doors. The Doctor and Clara have 30 seconds to get to the Tardis before they are cut off by the flood waters. Clara doesn’t make it to the same side as the Doctor and as the corridor between them fills the up separating them, the Doctor promises to find a way to save her and the 2 crew members with her. The Doctor goes on to the Tardis with the 2 crew members that were able to make it with him and tells them they’ll need to go back in time to save Clara and the other crew members. Clara and the 2 crew members go to the dining hall. As they look out at the submerged village they see another ghost. As it turns we see the Doctor as a ghost.
Coming off the first two episodes, my overall expectations were very high. Maybe I set my sites a bit too high. To call this the scariest episode of Doctor Who had me expecting a lot more. I found Blink, Midnight, Hide and Listen to be far more scary and exhilarating. The episode was good but not at all as scary as I had anticipated. There was a very funny scene where the Doctor forgets to be empathetic to the crew on their deceased captain. Clara reminds him of the cue cards she made for him. She helps him find one appropriate for the current situation and he still manages to make his condolences sound condescending. It is a decent story but not the scariest episode ever.
There is still hope for this 2 part episode. We’ll see if Before the Flood can redeem this story.