Before the Flood


The Doctor travels back to Caithness in 1980 to investigate the events surrounding the alien craft’s arrival.

The pre-titles scene for Before the Flood is bold and unexpected. The Doctor breaks the fourth wall, which is something that feels right for this incarnation. The very first time we see this face, in the triumphant finale of Day of the Doctor, he looks directly at the camera. He does the same in his first full adventure, Deep Breath, when the Clockwork Man has taken a tumble from the hot air balloon. In both instances he looks confrontational, as though daring the viewer to question him.


This Doctor has developed since then. In both Listen, and in this scene, he has become more professorial than threatening. A cool lecturer, who has brought his electric guitar in to illustrate his point. The opening is a very playful scene, with more Magpie product placement and the clockwork squirrel that we learned last week the Doctor built from his radio. It’s a testament to the strength of this story that such a scene doesn’t disperse any of the tension. As soon as the TARDIS has landed in Scotland, we’re straight back into the peril.


Peter Capaldi playing the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th, followed by his accompaniment to the Doctor Who theme tune continues his rock ‘n’ roll Doctor idiom. It also makes sense of the pre-series publicity shot at Abbey Road.


The high stakes are set out early in this story. In his conversation with Clara in 2119 (I like that he keeps correcting the orientation of the screen during FaceTime), the Doctor learns that his ghost exists in the future, he knows that he cannot alter history. Stories like this evoke the ‘Time Lord Victorious’ from The Waters of Mars, and other examples of the Doctor’s inability to change the future. The Doctor can’t break these rules (even though we’ve just seen him break the rules by addressing the audience directly). The resolution was both satisfying and hard to guess. Only in hindsight do the Clara hologram in part one and the re-use of the TARDIS control room Doctor hologram from The Parting of the Ways and Blink become relevant as set-ups.

The pre-flood 1980 scenes are set in a military base made to look like a Russian town. This brings to mind science fiction stories like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers; analogies to the threat of being infiltrated by communist ideology. Any of the characters could have had their brains re-written by the Fisher King’s writing and turn against their friends.


Writer Toby Whithouse really makes full use of the longer running time, taking the opportunity to really build suspense and threat. Most episodes wouldn’t have time for the scene where Cass is stalked by the axe-wielding ghost, but it’s a memorable and effective highlight of the episode. The Fisher King is an impressive, if barely used, creation, like the Destroyer in the Doctor’s other foray into Arthurian legend, Battlefield. This Fisher King relates to the one from myth in that he is unable to complete his task on his own, enlisting the help of others to save him. His knowledge and opinion of the Time Lords, and face-off with the Doctor, are all reminiscent of Mr Finch in Whithouse’s School Reunion.

Once again, in a series that began with the Doctor’s final confession/will, the theme of survival continues against the trappings of death – this time a hearse and undertaker. The Doctor, Missy and the Daleks are all survivors, and in The Magicians Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar we learn about the survival strategies of all three. The Doctor here discusses the similarities between the Fisher King and the Tivolians’ survival strategies. Clara talks about how to emotionally survive a bereavement. We have been presented with multiple characters with strong survival instincts so far this year, and The Woman who Lived sounds like it will continue pulling at this thread.

"That will to endure. That refusal to ever cease."

“That will to endure. That refusal to ever cease.”


Order this series on DVD:

Doctor Who – Series 9 Part 1 [DVD]


2 thoughts on “Before the Flood

  1. There seemed to be at least a superficial visual connection to “The Curse of Fenric”, with the brick buildings in the military base, and with the Russian motif, too.

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