“Under the Lake” Review

Me, I like a good base-under-siege story. And Toby Whithouse (the most likely successor to Steven Moffat, I think, as lead writer) isn’t capable of turning in a dud script. So on its own, I think this story would stand up well. But this year’s stories seem out of order, and it’s doing them a disservice. Clara here, wanting to join a 200 year long new years party, is the Clara whose just emerged from the Last Christmas dreams – with a renewed appetite for partying the Universe away. But Last Christmas was followed by the Doctor’s melancholy suicidal ‘mercy’ mission to Davros’ death-bed. And now it’s like that’s never happened. The last two episodes have been event television. This is comfort viewing – a story I’ll happily pull out of my blurays for a Sunday afternoon treat.

I’m also not sure what to make of Capaldi’s performance in this. He doesn’t seem to want to do Tenant/Smith-style goofery, which is what has been written. He is so watchable when he’s relaxed (which he seems to do only in a battle of wits with a space mummy against a stopwatch, or with the aid of a tank and a guitar) but shut him in a confined space with a bunch of humans and… well, his edginess isn’t fun to watch, like previous incarnations.

Anyway, all that said, it’s a well-paced, tense episode with a suitably intriguing bunch of characters. It’s a shame the greedy idiot is offed so soon, because although he’s completely two dimensional, Capaldi is at his most fun with a punch-bag. The remaining crew are more sympathetic. Sophie Stone’s Cass is terrific. Having a deaf character shows up the fact there have been none in Doctor Who‘s previous 52 years. Perhaps we can have a few more now? Actually, have I missed all the other deaf characters in recent TV shows? Is it really 16 years since Joey Lucas?

Perhaps it’s not quite up there with The Impossible Planet, or The Rebel Flesh, but they set a high bar – and besides, I’m trying to judge it against other two-parters without giving it the benefit of seeing the conclusion – which, from the trailers, looks excellent. Oh, and a great (if, yet again, timey-wimey) cliffhanger. Cliffhangers make me happy.

Interesting to note that UNIT still seems to be around in the 22 century. We’ve had evidence of Torchwood in the far future (as well as before the founding of UNIT) but I think this is the furthest future we know of for the intelligence taskforce. Of course, it’s perhaps a bit odd/convenient that the crew not only know of its existence but also seem to be familiar with what are presumably confidential files on its former scientific advisor…

As I’ve made minor criticisms of Moffat and Capaldi here, let me just finish by noting the “Doctor Who in crisis” churnalism this week that has been seized upon by commentators eager to claim they have identified the problem (usually the head writer or the lead actor) and that THINGS THAT MUST CHANGE. However objectively these assertions are framed, they read as “I don’t like, I don’t like” but I guess that much is fine. If you don’t like Moffat’s writing or Capaldi’s performance, you are entitled to your opinion. But if you believe what is written in the Mirror (who have run ratings crisis stories every year), well, as the Doctor would say “It’s OK, I understand…”

The Magician’s Apprentice had a consolidated rating of 6.52 million, only slightly below last series’ average of 6.9 million. You may not like the way he’s writing the show, but if you want to discuss its success you have to give credit to the man is still getting such healthy audiences 5 years after taking over. You are entitled to your own options, but not your own facts. Doctor Who is not in crisis.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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