Recap: ‘Doctor Who’ – Something spooky is happening ‘Under the Lake’

Series 9 of “Doctor Who” is in full swing. Now that the tone has been set for the year – friends can be enemies and enemies can be friends, the world is much more gray than black and white – it”s time to momentarily forget all that in favor of a ghost story with a twist.

“Under the Lake” has the TARDIS taking the Doctor and his companion to SeaLab 2119 yet another mining operation where things are more than what they seem. But maybe this time they should've brought the Ghostbusters.

The Good

• Twelve and Clara are back in action, as a team. Without the distractions of Missy or Danny Pink, the dynamic of the Doctor and his “Carer” is able to come back to the forefront. Twelve is still very bad at interaction with humans and Clara”s teacher background comes into play beautifully in the form of index cards for every occasion. That bit added both a moment of levity to a otherwise dark episode and reminded the audience how well Clara plays the intermediary buffer between the Doctor and the rest of the world. 

On the other side of the coin, the Doctor knows Clara”s manic desire for adventure is a coping mechanism masking her unresolved pain. Yes he is Clara”s enabler, whisking her away on one adventure after another. But he is also concerned Clara needs to slow down and stop running. After all, there is only room for one madman (or madwoman) in the TARDIS. These two contradictory aims – to selfishly keep Clara with him and a desire to see her find peace – is very Doctor-like.

• After a very lore heavy opening to Series 9, it was nice to have a “Monster of the Week” breather. A mystery to solve without deep connections to the greater Whovian universe was just the distraction we needed to forget we last saw Missy about to outwit a bevy of Daleks.

• Correct me if I”m wrong, but I believe Cass (Sophie Leigh Stone) is the first deaf “Doctor Who” character. She”s definitely the first in a position of power. When Moran is killed in a fiery ghost inferno, Cass becomes the commander and it is never implied in any way that she is less than fit for the job. While her ability to read lips does become an obvious plot point, episode writer Toby Whithouse didn”t use Cass”s disability to define her character. It is merely just part of who she is.

The Bad

• I”m sure “Doctor Who” thinks it has a good reason for replacing the sonic screwdriver with the sonic sunglasses, but no. That”s enough now. Bring back the screwdriver.

• By the end of the episode, all the build up and bluster about the dead being ghosts seems to have deflated by the appearance of an ethereal Twelve. After all, the entire reason Eleven couldn”t go back in time to retrieve Amy and Rory is because Rory saw the date of his death. If the Doctor is dead, and Clara knows he”s dead, then there”s no way for her to retrieve the TARDIS and go back to save him. So whatever is going on, it isn”t ghosts.

• The special effects budget was completely used up on the (amazing) looking ghost characters. Sadly this meant there wasn”t enough left over to put the cast into orange wetsuits and send them out to retrieve the casket from the flooded valley. There”s a bit of a letdown when you realize the closest you”ll get to seeing this submerged town is through the lens of a VR-controlled robot. 

The What?

• Why is Earth still using petroleum in 2119?

• By now it”s pretty obvious that alien life exists, even to mundane Earth denizens living in the Whovian universe. If 21st century Londoners are quickly becoming blasé about extraterrestrial life, why are scientists and military personnel in the 22nd century so hesitant to label the spaceship as such?

• The TARDIS is afraid of ghosts. This is adorable. That is all.

• How did they get that coffin inside? That robot didn”t look nearly beefy enough to haul that thing through the muck and debris of flooded streets back to the mining facility. I call shenanigans.

*Apologies for the lack of recap last week due to unforeseen personal circumstances.