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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

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”]

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