I started writing this before I saw Under the Lake and having seen it, the episode reinforces what I’ve been thinking for a while. Of course it will though, because confirmation bias.
I was thinking regardless how big a fan you may may not be of Doctor Who under Steven Moffat, you can’t deny he can write, or influence, a good speech. With Toby Whithouse this remains the case. There’s dialogue that’s on point, mostly remains consistent with characters, and which moves the action forward, while offering twists or a hint of something more. As I’ve said before, in Doctor Who, the bad guys tell the truth and everyone else lies.
We’ve seen that whether’s it’s Clara arguing with Missy or The Doctor’s war of words with Davros, much of the tension and drama is revealed by what they say, and because it’s a time travel show, when they say it. It’s also about what they can’t or don’t say to whom.
This episode, it was a quiet interlude between the action for The Doctor to ask Clara: something along the lines of ‘sup gurl?’ It was also revealed in the cards Clara makes The Doctor read out, in recognition of his lack of manners and questionable sense of empathy. And then they were back to the running around a place difficult to escape, just like in The God Complex, and also comes complete with Tivolians. And that episode too, was written by Whithouse.
In this episode, our heroes and their intrepid underwater base team have their conversations with Sign Language, and with ghosts who repeat phrases no one can hear, but can use Morse Code, and via ear pieces and through intercoms. It heightens the tension and adds to the complexity. It makes everything unsaid by Clara and The Doctor more significant. It’s about whether we can trust what people say.
Then, the fact that the dead are transmitting a beacon they read yet didn’t understand when alive is further meat on the bones of this thematic subtext, which, in this episode becomes the text no one can read. Circles within circles.
This episode strongly recalls another two parter base episode where The Doctor and Rose encountered something a bit clever in the The Impossible Planet and the Satan Pit. In that story, the TARDIS again landed and wasn’t happy about it, the writing didn’t translate and communications devices of the Ood were used as a relay for The Beast, again another untrustworthy big bad truth teller. This time the science lot are from UNIT, last time they were from the Torchwood Archive.
Visually, this episode is reminiscent too of 42, with The Doctor and Companion separated in different locks, Him vowing to save Her.
Water’ll do next?
Water is symbolic of the subconscious and is the stuff of dreams. It is necessary for life, but also brings death. As in the Waters of Mars episode, we know floods kill, and yet water is necessary for nuclear energy. And we’re in an ‘enclosed space drama’, where fear and desperation are heightened. So, of course there are ghosts. But since this is Who, the ghosts are never what we think they are, even as the lake is also a cemetery and resting place of an alien craft. We need to see what happens next. I suspect Clara will have to dive in, and open the capsule-sarcophagus, if it’s reachable.