“Before The Flood”, the fourth episode of season 9, opened with something that I haven’t quite seen in Doctor Who before – the Doctor talking directly to the audience, breaking the fourth wall. The entire first sequence consisted of Peter Capaldi explaining the Bootstrap Paradox. It was fun, unpredictable, and really got you thinking; if a time traveler goes back in time to meet Beethoven only to find he doesn’t exist, he needs a way to publish his sheet music. So the time traveler gets the sheet music published himself, and as a consequence, essentially becomes Beethoven. But the question remains – who composed all that music in the first place?
It was an unconventional way to open the episode, but it was incredibly effective in hinting what the audience should expect for that episode – a whole lot of time travel. The relevance of this opening sequence soon reveals itself, as the Doctor send clues to himself in the future based on things he learned in the past in a desperate hope to defeat the Fisher King in the past in order to save the future. If that sounds like a mouthful, that’s because it is. In a desperate plea to make it all make sense, the Doctor explains it to Clara (and us), bringing the episode full circle when he asks again, “Who composed Beethoven’s 5th?”
Although there is an explanation of the episode, it still doesn’t really explain it. I’m a firm believer in showing, not telling. However, the writers seemed to think that they could get away with wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff by simply saying “HEY! IT’S A PARADOX!” Sorry, but if you’re going to go for the confusing storyline approach, it should still be slightly coherent – which this episode wasn’t.
What the episode did do well though, was inducing fear. Most notably, the scene of the deaf Cass walking the corridors, unbeknownst of the ghost looming behind her. The use of sound in this scene was particularly effective, placing the spectator in the shoes of a deaf person trying to flee from something she cannot hear.
That’s about where the good stops though. What follows is an elaborate story of the Doctor allegedly dropping hints to himself to do specific things in the past, eventually revealing that the ghost Doctor is actually a hologram. It’s things like this that make me dislike two-parters – the audience is deliberately misled to believe that something is way better than what the reality is. Seriously, how cool would it have been if the Doctor was legitimately dead? There’s also some weird romance story that reveals itself, which in my opinion, alters the strong character of Cass into another victim of the poor female character development that the show has been criticised of.
At the conclusion of this episode, I was left wholly unsatisfied; it reiterated my fear – that maybe Doctor Who just can’t write decent endings anymore. There seems to be so much emphasis placed on setting up a storyline that the writers get overwhelmed by what they’ve done, sneezing out an ending rather than giving it the meticulous attention that it deserves. It makes me question the future of the show, and whether it can really continue on for as long as it has. That being said, if Maisie Williams (more commonly known as Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) and Peter Capaldi acting together next week don’t save the season, then I don’t know if anything will.
REVIEW SCORE: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)