I feel a current affinity with Dr Who, being that I’m now the subject of a Cyber attack (not quite the Cybermen but pretty close) from entities known as Referrer Spam. These internet nasties have found the blog that no one reads and are filling up my stats page with fake hits (which is actually quite nice if I pretend the hits are from lovely, imaginary blog reading friends and not evil web robots.) Lacking a sonic screwdriver or other Time Lordian tool, I’m having to put up with the dark side of the blogosphere for the time being, but enough of my blog related trauma.
I watched Dr Who for the first time since the last series, on Saturday after Strictly. Reeling (in the decidedly non-dance sense of the word) from the barmy, lycra’d and two-stepped goings-on at the Elstree studios ballroom, I found myself hurtling headlong into the even barmier world of Dr Who.
Before the Flood was a part two-er, and it says something about this exercise in BBC Sci-Fi weirdness that I had absolutely no compulsion to check out Part One on iPlayer. Not only did I not know what was going on, I didn’t want to know what was going on – especially when transparent ghosts started floating about, featuring eye sockets that lacked eyes. I think we can all stop pretending that Dr Who is a show for the kids – the present day team have forsaken the rather cosy and old (by which I mean when I was a kid) tea-time slot forever, in favour of night-time shocks and horror.
Before the Flood opened with a Peter Capaldi monologue straight to camera. The good Doctor invited us to chummily break the fourth wall, employing the cleverly knowing and ironic style used so effortlessly by Stephen Moffat in earlier incarnations of the Doctor, and now in Sherlock, the Doctor’s private detecting counterpart.
Capaldi wittered on about Beethoven, striding around the Tardis before mentioning something called the bootstrap paradox and instructing us telly watching morons to ‘Google it’ you idiots – so this idiot did.
A bootstrap paradox is when a past event is partly or entirely the cause of a future event which is, in turn, the past event’s cause, thus the causal loop has no independent origin.
Now that the whole thing was abundantly clear and obviously rooted in scientific reality, I felt able to join Capaldi inside the time-travelling weirdness that is his head and settled down for this week’s episode.
Which turned out to be an ***ERROR*** ***ERROR*** ***ERROR*** (try putting on a dalek type voice) – you couldn’t hear it but there was a Tardis alarm going off inside my head – to be fair the whole pull up your bootstraps paradox thing should have warned me.
We appeared to be in Russia but were actually in a ghost town somewhere in Scotland, filled with actual ghosts. There were a couple of life-size Russian dolls loitering around in the lifeless streets (I’m a fan of Russian dolls, so got quite excited at this point). A stealth-type spaceship was parked up outside and Paul Kaye appeared, hiding beneath a lot of prosthetic rubber, in the guise of a Victorian undertaker (now you can’t go wrong with a Dickensian undertaker if you ask me, but why is he wandering around in 2119?) Mr Kaye dashed around very much like the White Rabbit from the pen of that other Victorian best seller, Lewis Carroll. The spaceship turned out to be a hearse, containing the very tall Fisher King wrapped in a biblical shroud (but then it would, wouldn’t it?)
I didn’t get it, but then I did get it. Like the Doctor I’d gone back in time, wandering into an episode from The Prisoner, that equally mind-bendingly wacky series from the 60’s – or one of the ghost town episodes from the early Avengers (the Steed and Mrs Peel one, not the Marvel ones) when the writers and the series lost the plot. But Toby Whithouse is an esteemed Dr Who scribe. Surely he hasn’t lost the plot; maybe it’s just hidden beneath layers and layers of unintelligible, time-shifting nonsense.
But I’m determined to give it a go. There are a lot of Whovians out there and they must be on to something – or are they Whoovers (ha ha, housewife-based joke.) According to the super-fan Whovite columnist for The Guardian, where they’ve apparently got an enthusiastic members-only Dr Who club going, this episode was absolutely terrific, linking to characters from previous episodes and with nods to past goings-on in the Who universe. So then it clicked. If I’m really going to have a stab at enjoying all things Dr Who then I need to become a Whovian geek, one well versed in Who Lore. This would be just about doable, if there wasn’t so much confusing and mind-boggling Who trivia out there and, besides, I can’t be bothered.
Must focus on last night’s episode. Is Before the Flood a biblical reference to Noah? The Fisher King covered in a shroud in the stealth spaceship (sorry hearse) would seem to be a biblical reference, given that he rises from the dead leaving his shroud behind; just like Jesus. He then goes on to meet Peter Capaldi for a quick chat in the local mocked-up church (the religious references kept on coming.) Even his name is suggestive of further godly images – Jesus, calling his disciples the fishers of men. Yes, probably not a good idea to liken this gigantic evil alien to our Christian Lord.
But the Fisher King also appears in Arthurian legend, as a wounded King charged with keeping watch over the Holy Grail, waiting for someone to come and heal him – rather like the Fisher King, here wrapped up in a shroud and waiting to rise again – Mr Whithouse didn’t really have this in mind did he? Am I grasping at cross-literature reference straws? (answers welcome in the comments section.)
The Doctor now comes in the form of Peter Capaldi (as previously mentioned.) Last time around I tried to warm to Mr Capaldi, I really did, knowing his obsession with Dr Who and subsequent triumphant casting as his childhood hero. But he’s just ever so slightly too weird, even in a world simply filled with weirdos. He’s only 57 (I can say this being on the verge of that great age myself) but looks like a 70 year old, stick thin granny; the kind that would jump out at you from the wardrobe, in your average horror movie, giving you a really big scare – or a Sci-Fi cross between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (the horror imagery appears to have stuck.) I’ve got to congratulate him on that waif like torso though, thick head of greying hair and right-on hoodie, most men his age are walking around with pot bellies and a bald patch. The Who rumour mill promises a Capaldi only episode in the not too distant future, maybe that one will win me over.
Anyways, there’s a real Doctor and an eyeless ghost Doctor trapped in a tank, and Clara is trapped in some sort of facility with lots of other ghosts and a human crew, one of whom is deaf providing some very entertaining sign language. Clara and the Doctor communicate between time periods via mobile phone (because mobile phones can do this as we all know) and the Doctor watches himself in a scene nicked almost completely from the Harry Potter one, where Hermione uses a time turning thing so she and Harry can watch themselves from behind a big stone wall. At one point the Doctor realises that he has to die, in a scene which rather effectively conveyed the ice-cold understanding that sometimes hits us all, when we occasionally stop to think and realise that one day WE HAVE TO DIE, and there’s no get out of jail free card.
The Fisher King rises from the dead, providing a looming presence as he towers over the Doctor in the church before going walk-about in a scene that should never have happened because, outside of the dimly lit church, we could see that the evil Fisher King was actually a very tall bloke walking around in an alien suit.
The Fisher King was then engulfed in a gigantic flood (although looking suspiciously small from where I was sitting, the special effects dept. failed just a tiny little bit on this one ) as an equally gigantic dam burst due to a bomb previously planted by the Doctor.
The Doctor came back from his ghostly non-death via a futuristic coffin with flashing lights, rapidly erasing everyone’s memories in very Men in Black fashion, via the use of appropriately Men in Black type sunglasses, and the day was saved – oh, and apparently it was the Doctor who (just seen what I did there) wrote those striking opening chords to Beethoven’s 5th, and not good old Beethoven.
The greatest composer that ever there was deserves a listen – here’s those famous chords.
I’m forgetting one thing. The Fisher King used some weird writing on the wall to change the human lot into ethereal ghosts – I have no idea how this worked but it’s given me a nice analogy to end with.
The Whovians love all this malarkey – as a non-Whovian I found myself wondering if the writing just may be on the wall for the current Who franchise.