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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “Before the Flood”


[previous: “Under the Lake”]

warning: spoilers!

So, Doctor Who is now breaking the fourth wall — that is, for the benefit of those not familiar with the term, having the Doctor address us by speaking directly into the camera — only to explain something that will be explained again at the end of the episode. Is this meant to be clever? Is it meant to imply that we watching are sort of dumb and need it explained twice? Is it meant to be its own spoiler for the episode (for whatever bizarre reason the show might want to spoil itself in advance)? Is it presumed that we won’t want to think too much about all of this, even though the “bootstrap paradox” supposedly actually invites us to think about it quite a bit?


I actually fear that the presumption is that we should not think too much about anything we see. Many fans of the show seem to be embracing this idea: you know, “It’s fun as long as you don’t think too much about it!” Yet part of the fun for me was that Doctor Who was always a show that rewarded extra thinking-about. But all that gets me with this episode is stuff like this:

• Why is the “Fisher King” called that if it’s not intended to be a reference to the Arthurian legend, which the character here does not appear to bear any resemblance to?

• What is the deal with this alien warlord calling himself the Fisher King anyway? Did he fake his death in order to kick off a really roundabout plan to invade planet Earth? Why not just come to Earth on his own with his battle fleet? Why did he need an undertaker and ghostly beacons transmitting his location? Why would he want to invade a place that is so remote and desolate?

• Killing a few people, as terrible a thing as that surely is, is worse than altering the rules of time with perhaps devastating consequences to the entire universe?

• And speaking of killing a few people, how many lives did the Doctor endanger — and perhaps end entirely — by blowing up that dam without warning? (There would almost certainly be an impact beyond flooding one small fake town.) And all just to save Clara? Doesn’t that put the Doctor in the same league, by his own argument, as the Fisher King? I get that there’s a motif running through this season about how Clara is becoming as callous as the Doctor, but there’s no acknowledgement at all of the Doctor’s large-scale recklessness here. (And hey, the thing about Clara putting people’s lives at risk might have more impact if it hadn’t just been established that the life she was supposedly putting at risk was not actually at risk at all… again by the arguments of characters here that no one refuted.)

This episode hasn’t done a thing for the finding-it-very-hard-to-care that has overtaken me when it comes to the Doctor these days.

Random thought on “Before the Flood”:

• The bit about Cass’s perception of the world, as a deaf person, was sort of interesting…


…except it, too, made no sense. Her first instinct, if she thought something was happening that she couldn’t hear, would be to look quickly around, wouldn’t it? As she had done moments earlier. And only then, if she sees nothing, to check for vibrations of something happening further away. This was a clever idea tripped up by the wrong execution.

[next: “The Girl Who Died”]

posted in:
tv buzz

  • Maria Niku

    It would be easier to be interested in Clara’s development towards greater and greater callousness, if she’d been defined as a person at any point (as opposed to a magical woman who is everywhere and in every time and can do everything). As for the Doctor talking directly to the camera… Maybe the writer had binge-watched House of Cards and decided and decided it would be cool cos Frank Underwood does it.

    Must admit I didn’t get around to watching this second part yet. Being in the middle of re-watching Tom Baker’s stories in order (at The Deadly Assassin) at the moment, I wonder if watching it will ruin my mood again…

  • David_Conner

    “There would almost certainly be an impact beyond flooding one small fake town.”

    I don’t think so, actually – the setup is that it’s a remote military base in Scotland where you could safely conduct live-fire exercises, so it *would* be pretty far away from inhabited areas. And even in 1980, it looks like the site has been in disuse for decades (note all the out-of-date Stalin posters, for instance.)

    Yeah, they could’ve added dialogue to indicate that nobody else was put in danger by the flood, but I thought that was conveyed pretty well by these storytelling shorthand methods.

  • Graham Pilato

    Yeah — on a rewatch, I actually dealt with all these sorts of questions about what actually was going on and I’m pretty satisfied. It’s a vacant place — and the flood had to come. The Doctor really did just step in and become the paradox. And the question of how he did it can elude him — the same way sign language can. I love it. In another era, he’d have an answer. The 7th or the 11th Docs would have answers. This one is afraid of them. This is one willing to play with these rules in order to set things right — a rightness behind simple history as set. But what he actually both intellectually emotionally deems necessary and suitable. And he learns about himself that way! I really loved this one.

  • Graham Pilato

    Clara is redefined beautifully — in my eyes, anyway — in season 8. Her relationship as governess to the 12th Doctor’s little boy in a old man’s body Doctor has become one of my all time favorite Doctor/companion relationships. The idiotic impossible girl arc was even rescued from the non-ending it got in Name of the Doctor by the enormous consequences of being there for him in Listen. When once she was a walking plot device (most of Bells of St. John through Name of the Doctor), she’s now a lovely co-hero.

  • Danielm80

    The Doctor may not want answers, but I do. In previous episodes, the show has kind of gotten away with time paradoxes by giving them an aura of mystery (as in “Blink”), by drawing attention away from them (as in “The Day of the Doctor”—although that was more of a plot hole than a paradox), or by turning them into a joke. “The Lodger” essentially turned the Doctor and Amy Pond into Bill and Ted: “At some point in the future, we’ll come back here and drop off a key. And here it is!” This episode tried to make the paradox into a philosophical problem, but for me, that just called attention to the failure in logic. It’s as though Superman suddenly said, “You know, Lois, people can’t actually fly. According to the laws of physics, we should drop right out of the sky. But doesn’t this give you an amazing sense of wonder?”

  • Chris Lockard

    As far as the Fisher King questions….I believe the reference was in regards to the fact that he was beaten in battle and forced to fake his death in order to escape. He is now awaiting his own people to come rescue him so that he could overthrow a new planet and be restored to his former glory. In the fable, the Fisher King is a wounded king waiting for someone to come heal him. The connection is that both are awaiting help so they can become whole again.

  • Jurgan

    Didn’t the Doctor also break the fourth wall at the beginning of “Listen?” He went on for several minutes about evolution, and I think he was supposed to be talking to an invisible monster he thought might be there, but from a meta perspective it felt like a flimsy excuse to monologue at the audience.

  • if she’d been defined as a person at any point

    Bingo. We need to know what Clara was like before in order to understand how she’s supposedly changing now.

  • “Beaten in battle and forced to fake his death” is hardly the essential bit of the Fisher King story (and the wound has metaphorical connotations that are about anything but making war). The essential bit is “last keeper of the Holy Grail.” Not evil overlord. Not by any stretch of the metaphor.

  • At least there was a flimsy excuse for a monologue. There’s none at all here.

  • GeeksAreMyPeeps

    Whithouse indicated at the Q&A at New York Comic Con that he gets a short pitch from Moffat for the episodes he writes and there’s a lot of back and forth with him on the outline until Moffat is happy, so I think it’s safe to say we can blame Moffat for everything

  • It’s worth noting that this is not a special Doctor Who circumstance. This is how TV production works. The showrunner is god.

  • bronxbee

    ha! i said the same thing on the Part I review… it’s all moffat, all the time.

  • Chris Lockard

    Eh I would say you are stretching if you are demanding that much of a connection to the classic fable. The core idea that he is simply awaiting someone to heal him, or make him whole again, applies. Its made to be a reference to and not an exact recreation of the story.

  • Jurgan

    I’d say you can blame the episode writer, director, actors, etc. for little things, like an awkward bit of dialogue or confusing set design or something like that. I don’t expect a showrunner to go over every word of the script with a fine-toothed comb. Big things like the fundamental rules of the universe changing are something the showrunner should be watching, and I have no doubt Moffat approved all such changes. Alternatively, the people working under him might know the sorts of stories Moffat wants and be writing to his sensibilities, so even if they think there are better ways to tell a story, they could be trying to avoid rewrites by focusing on cool moments and flashy set pieces.

    Some of this is speculation, but ultimately the buck stops with the man in charge. I don’t expect perfection- some things will inevitably slip through the cracks- but any problems are ultimately Moffat’s responsibility to fix. The most likely scenario to me is that he’s not fixing them because he doesn’t see them as problems.

  • LA Julian

    No, the core idea of the Fisher King is that he is THE archetypal Wounded Healer, the one who protects the mystical Source but cannot access it himself, and only thus does his waiting for someone else to restore him have any resonance.

  • Er, no. No good writer uses literary references like this without an intention to make the reader/viewer think of the thing being referred to. That’s the entire purpose of the reference!

  • I don’t expect a showrunner to go over every word of the script with a fine-toothed comb.

    But that is *exactly* what a showrunner does!

    I can’t believe so many people can think that an episode of any show gets produced that the showrunner doesn’t go over with a fine-tooth comb.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Her first instinct, if she thought something was happening that she couldn’t hear, would be to look quickly around, wouldn’t it? As she had done moments earlier. And only then, if she sees nothing, to check for vibrations of something happening further away. This was a clever idea tripped up by the wrong execution.

    It made sense to me — yet another spin on the old “I have a hunch that something might be behind me but I can’t tell for sure because it ducks away like a gremlin on a plane wing if I turn around” trope — but then I have several cousins who are hearing-impaired like Cass so that might just be bias speaking.

    Or yet more proof that we need more diversity in TV critics.

    Then again it’s not like I like every deaf character I see on TV. Nor do I like every Hispanic character, every Polish-American character, every Catholic character, etc….

  • Tonio Kruger

    Perhaps he was meant to be a reference to the Robin Williams King movie of the same name.

    Because, after all, he was kinda homeless just like the Robin Williams character in that movie — though, of course, less benign…

  • Chris Lockard

    To me this just seems like a casual reference which isn’t anything new or forbidden. Lost, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, True Detective and Breaking Bad have all done the same with various literary references.

  • RogerBW

    If you’re not doing anything with the reference, then you’re just dropping the name so that people can say “ooh, I recognise that”. Which I suppose is not completely valueless, but it’s a very cheap trick, and a slap in the face to anyone who knows what the thing might actually signify.

  • But even “casual references” need a purpose, or they *aren’t* references.

  • Chris Lockard

    Yes the purpose is to give a shout out to a piece of literary work. Its not something that is required information to enjoy the episode. Whitehouse takes small parts of the original story (he is a king who has lost his empire and can only hope to have it restored with the help of others) but the reference isn’t meant to be anything more than a casual allusion to the story. Its like naming a character Bilbo because you love The Hobbit.

  • Danielm80

    If you name a character Jonah, it might come across as a casual reference. If you name a character Judas Iscariot, it calls attention to itself. And if a character from an alien race adopts a name from a foreign culture, and that name refers to two of the most influential figures in the history of the world, it calls so much attention to itself that it takes people out of the story.

    My personal explanation is something like this: The Fisher King comes from such a warlike culture that he interprets every story from a military point of view, and he reduces the original Fisher King to nothing but a wounded warrior. But the episode provides no evidence to confirm or deny that explanation. It’s just guesswork. The story shouldn’t require viewers to do that much of the heavy lifting.

  • Jurgan

    Wow, that’s a little condescending. You “can’t believe” there are people who know less about the methods of British television production than you?

    I know it’s the showrunner’s job to do that, but at the same time there are limits. If you lay everything at the feet of one man, doesn’t it sort of imply that no one else is contributing anything significant? A big part of being a leader is delegating. If the showrunner does too much editing and rewriting, it can hurt morale. I’ve heard stories (don’t know if they’re true) of Gene Roddenberry being impossible to work with because he would overrule any script that didn’t meet very specific guidelines. It’s his job to make it fit the show’s universe, but he can’t do it all himself. So sometimes he has to say “I’ll look through it, but I’m not going to police every single word- I trust you’re good at your job.”

  • Tonio Kruger

    This. It’s one thing to expect the viewer to use his or her imagination. It’s another to expect them to write your story for you.

  • I didn’t mean to be condescending. And you must know that there’s a HUGE difference between “I’m not going to police every word” and not “go[ing] over every word of the script with a fine-toothed comb.” The two are NOT exclusive.

  • Jurgan

    In that case, I don’t think we’re disagreeing about anything but semantics. To me, those terms sound like synonyms. Okay, moving on.

  • I think It’s kind of like when, at the conclusion of Fury From The Deep, the Second Doctor warned the children in-character that his next adventure will be scary. Or when the First Doctor wished his viewers Merry Christmas. It’s not a legitimate part of the story.

  • I didn’t like this episode very much either. The Base Under Siege story was great so why did we need a diversion to an abandoned faux-Soviet town?
    Also, someone really needs to set down some rules on what the Doctor can and can’t do. In this episode alone, he seems to keep changing his mind all the time.
    “I can’t even touch fixed points, otherwise a catastrophe will happen.”
    “I can get Clara no problem.”
    “I’m gonna save myself!”
    “Nah, just kidding, I planned the whole thing ahead!”

    The definition of a fixed point used to be flexible, but this is ridiculous.

  • RogerBW

    [citation needed] on Fury from the Deep. There’s no non-diegetic content there.
    Something done once in 1965 and pretty much universally regarded as a misstep isn’t exactly a good precedent.

  • Danielm80

    This whole episode reminds me of Austin Powers. From The Spy Who Shagged Me:

    Austin: Wait a tick. Basil, if I travel back to 1969 and I was frozen in 1967, presumably, I could go back and visit my frozen self. But, if I’m still frozen in 1967, how could I have been unthawed in the ’90s and traveled back to…

    [goes cross-eyed]

    Austin: Oh, no, I’ve gone cross-eyed.

    Basil: I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself.

    [to camera]

    Basil: That goes for you all, too.

    Austin: Yes.

    [Transcription via IMDB]

  • Sorry, my mistake(I have a memory like a… darn, I can’t even remember the quote). It was from the end of The Enemy Of The World actually, although not part of the newly recovered footage. Here’s the audio…

  • Radek Piskorski

    “This episode hasn’t done a thing for the finding-it-very-hard-to-care that has overtaken me when it comes to the Doctor these days.”
    Oh dear, it has overtaken you ages ago. We can see it.

  • Radek Piskorski

    There’s nothing wrong with time travel paradoxes. They’re part of the physics of time travel. They are not storytelling flaws.

  • Danielm80

    When an event is actually impossible, you can’t excuse it just by saying “It’s a paradox!” That’s a cheat, even if it’s a commonplace cheat and even if it sounds like a philosophy lesson. At some point, someone had to compose the works of Beethoven. It would make more sense to say “It’s a miracle!” At least that’s explained by the existence of an omnipotent god.

  • As I’ve noted many times.

  • Stephen Robinson

    If that’s what they’re going for, it doesn’t work for me, because I tire of the “woman serving as mother substitute for grown-ass man” trope. I miss the main character who is mature and wise (and, yes, both the 3rd and 4th Doctor joked about not being “grown up” but that was defining “grown up” as stodgy contrasted with their playful curiosity). The 2nd Doctor consoling Victoria after the death of her father in TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN… that is a more interesting character to me.

  • Stephen Robinson

    Moffat has written Clara in ways that I can’t imagine would pass muster in a college-level creative writing course. She goes from a nanny to a schoolteacher as if *she* is the one who can regenerate (those are two distinctly different jobs). Her family existed within the vacuum of a couple episodes but that’s it.

  • RogerBW

    Ah, OK, a trailer. Clearly not intended to be in continuity, given that there’s nowhere for it to fit between the end of EotW and TWoF.
    But in any case, I think we can agree that fourth-wall breaking is a bad idea if it’s done too often? I would add to that “without good reason”, and I’d certainly categorise the bit in The Feast of Steven that way.

  • (It could take place during The Web Of Fear)

    Given how disconnected the whole Beethoven scene is from the rest of the plot, I don’t think it’s even necessarily canon. Like the trailer, it was just for the viewers.

    As for fourth wall-breaking in general, we have to agree to disagree there. If it is done in a good way(like this episode), I see no reason why not to have it in the show more. There’s just something endearing about having the Doctor speak to the audience directly. It’s theatrical in a way that fits the character, especially the Capaldi incarnation.

  • Danielm80

    Given how disconnected the whole Beethoven scene is from the rest of the plot, I don’t think it’s even necessarily canon.

    Are we allowed to do that? Can we decide that any scene that’s especially odd and puzzling isn’t really canon? Because I’d love to get rid of the Thanksgiving dinner in “The Time of the Doctor,” and most of “Angels in Manhattan.”

    Like the trailer, it was just for the viewers.

    A lot of scenes in the episode clearly weren’t written for the viewers–at least, not this viewer.

  • Lol. What I meant was that it was a scene that was not a part of the story and since it broke the fourth wall, it wasn’t intended to be “part of the universe”.
    But besides that, I think we are actually. Doctor Who canon is fan-friendly. There’s no clear definition of what goes and what doesn’t. Series 8 never happened.

  • Blake’s 7 fans decided that we would just ignore the entire final season of the show. I have a feeling something like that is going to happen to NuWho…

  • Danielm80

    The important thing to remember is: Han shot first.

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