Timey Wimey Talk: ‘Doctor Who’ Series 9 Episode 4: ‘Before The Flood’
Doctor Who carries its fair share of wackiness. As eccentric and off the wall as The Doctor tends to be, I can’t ever recall him breaking the fourth wall.
Until this last episode.
His dissertation about “The Bootstrap Paradox” (also known as a Causal Loop*) is not only fascinating, but it sets the tone for the entire episode. The idea that if you had the ability to time travel, you could essentially become Beethoven boggles the mind. The Doctor makes his bones traveling through time and space and changing the flow of events, however we also know that there are some fixed points in time that he cannot change, particularly anything to do with his own timeline. The events in “Before the Flood” are an example of that situation.
We start out with The Doctor, Bennett, and O’Donnell traveling back in time to 1980 looking to engage the mole like creature who started this whole mess. The ominous Soviet Union paraphernalia that inundates the town (turns out it was an invasion training base for English soldiers during the Cold War) creates an almost paranoid atmosphere. You feel like Big Brother is actually watching.
The Big Brother not watching was the mole like creature Alba Prentiss, who just happens to be an undertaker transporting another alien for burial. Turns out the supposedly “dead” alien is the real entity behind the ghosts and the transmissions. Thank goodness for that plot change because Prentiss may be one of the most annoying aliens I’ve ever encountered on Doctor Who. Could the “please oppress me” remarks get any creepier? It was like 50 Shades of the T.A.R.D.I.S. Yeesh.
Meanwhile in 2119 on the underwater base, Clara deals with the harsh possibility that The Doctor may actually be dead. His ghost (?) keeps repeating a sequence of names over and over again. And in one of the oddest moments in Doctor Who history (and that’s saying a lot) The Doctor actually has an interaction with his ghost via video chat. Talk about Timey Wimey. His conversation with Clara is much more intense however. Although The Doctor says this is a fixed point in time he can’t change, Clara is having none of it. Clara’s statement, “I don’t care about your survivor’s guilt!” cuts to the heart of the matter. She’s already lost Danny. She can’t afford to lose The Doctor. Her response is essentially, “You’re The Doctor so fix it.”
Turns out The Doctor has to fix a dead alien who’s not really dead. The merry trio discovers Prentiss dead (yay!) and his passenger gone. Before long it’s stalking all three and eventually kills O’Donnell, much to the consternation of Bennett. The confrontation between Bennett and The Doctor drips tension. Bennett realizes The Doctor let her die to see if the list his ghost was saying was actually a sequence of people who would die. The Doctor is nothing but pragmatic and his only concern is saving Clara. Funny enough some of that ruthlessness apparently rubbed off on Clara, as later she’s accused of being callous by putting Lunn at risk.
The Doctor’s attempt to go forward in time and save Clara reinforces his belief that he’s dealing with a fixed point in time. The T.A.R.D.I.S sends The Doctor back in time to the moment just after they arrived in 1980 the first time, where he and Bennett see their past selves. (And if that’s not a Back to the Future Part II moment I don’t know what is!) Much like Marty McFly or Doc Brown running into their own selves, The Doctor will not allow Bennett to save O’Donnell. It’s tragic and again kind of callous but nothing we haven’t seen before with Doctor Who.
Yet despite The Doctor’s callousness and despite his insistence that he can’t change his destiny this time, The Doctor proves to be wily and tricky once again. He doesn’t just dare to violate the laws of time and space but the laws of life and death as well. It’s funny how a simple lie to an alien about words on the inside of a spaceship can change things for the better. Simple yet elegant at the same time.
And before you can say, “Bob’s your uncle,” The Doctor emerges from the suspended animation chamber safe and sound. The next thing you know his ghost leads all the other ghosts into the Faraday Cage and traps them. I was a little disappointed from a plot perspective when The Doctor’s ghost turned out to be a hologram. It basically just stole the hologram trick from last week’s episode. Plus the last second reveal of Lunn’s love for his commanding officer was a little pat.
What wasn’t pat was the ultimate conclusion of “Before The Flood.” Much like the Beethoven example at the beginning of the episode, The Doctor brings the story back around to “The Bootstrap Paradox.” The messages from The Doctor hologram were a tip to The Doctor about when to confront The Fisher King alien. It forced him to take action. Yet The Doctor said those things because that’s what the ghost said. The only reason he created it was because he saw it first here. It’s Beethoven all over again, a causal loop with no beginning and no end.
One thing that also appears to have no end is the quality of the episodes for Series 9. Saturday can’t come fast enough.
On a scale of 0 to 10 Sonic Sunglasses this episode rates an 8.
*If you’re interested in “The Bootstrap Paradox” you might want to check out Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “By His Bootstraps.”
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