Critiquing Capaldi: “Under the Lake”

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For me personally, Doctor Who has always been about the adventure. It’s always been my favourite aspect of the show, seeing what chaos our lead characters get into each week. Escapism is probably the reason I got into the show as a small child, and why I’ve stuck with it throughout my life. I’ve always found the concepts engaging, and the fact this show can tell any story it wants to fascinating. But the adventure stories have always been my favourite. It’s why I probably have a slight preference to the classic series. By preference I mean I prefer chocolate cake with icing and chocolate buttons to chocolate cake with icing, but I digress. I simply find the plot that tad bit more interesting of the character work on the whole. However, the best stories are the ones which merge the two together. The best stories are the ones which know the show’s strengths, I feel. While it’s certainly an uncanny choice, I think Under the Lake does this. While it admittedly doesn’t offer much new ground, it uses its familiar tropes in an interesting way and doesn’t do much wrong.

Toby Whithouse’s strength has always been “good, solid Doctor Who”. He’s no Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat, he’s probably never going to write an objective classic, but for good solid pieces of Doctor Who, he’s the man really. All of his stories, in the main show at least (the less said about Greek Bearing Gifts, the better), feature fairly interesting concepts and decent character work. He’s the master of the “filler” story if you like. He knows how to tell a good story and while yes, he may be a tad formulaic, he’s good at what he does, so I don’t really have much of a problem with it. Going into this story based on Whithouse’s other work, you don’t really get anything which throws or surprises, but I do think his familiar tropes are used better here than they have been before, which is why he gets away with it.

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Firstly, is the plot. I’ve always found ghost stories interesting, particularly in Doctor Who. It’s a concept I do think which has a lot of potentials, and it’s used in a fascinating way here. A lot of that is due to the design, the phrase simple but effective comes to mind with them, and the lighting and atmosphere built around them. But I do think they’re written really well too. The Doctor’s interaction with them is also extremely fun to watch, the childlike excitement he gets from seeing them is something Capaldi does extremely well. I also like the way the story is told. This is first and foremost a sci-fi story, not a horror one, and the script is very aware of that. It’s all about the science behind the ghosts, not the fear behind them, though it’s fair to say they are bloody terrifying. I can imagine being scared of this one if I was a kid, and that’s a good thing. Fear is the show’s superpower after all.

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Secondly, is the characterisation. Firstly, the characterisation of the Doctor and Clara. Whithouse writes the Doctor really well here, getting the mix between his various emotions perfectly. He’s still blunt in a humorous manner, the cue cards have me in stitches, and he’s still wonderfully arrogant, though the lighter touch is also very well executed. As I have already mentioned, the excitement and glee in Capaldi’s performance is really fun to watch, and it’s clear as day he’s having a great time filming this one. You also get the really lovely scene in the TARDIS, where the Doctor tells Clara that he has a duty of care. It’s a very touching scene and it’s very subtle too. Clara is also written magnificently. Her enhanced recklessness is really fun to watch, and I feel it’s naturally the next stage to becoming the Doctor, which she already is. Jenna Coleman is also really having a lot of fun here too. I don’t know what it is, but there’s almost a little twinkle in her eye that she’s thrilled to be there, which helps the performance and really suits the character. It builds on her development from last series wonderfully, and it’s great to share the adventure with her. It’s episodes like this why I’m glad she’s here for this series.

This episode also has a brilliant guest cast. Firstly, it’s very diverse, which is really nice to see, as always. But most notably, all the characters feel real and believable. Okay, maybe Pritchard is a tad too unlikeable and is a minor stereotype of his role, but eh, they came from somewhere, and it’s played really well. The other characters are all fantastic too. Bennet being instantly likeable, reminding me of a certain Rory Williams, and Lunn and O Donnell being great fun too. Obviously, the best guest member is Cass. Played wonderfully by Sophie Stone for a start, why I haven’t seen that woman on my TV since is a crime, but secondly for everything she stands for. I have already written a whole article on this (http://www.doctorwhotv.co.uk/celebrating-cass-77030.htm) but I feel she’s a strong and inspirational character to us all. One which doesn’t let her disability get her down, but also doesn’t ignore it, instead embracing it. Also, a character who is very caring, and it’s fantastic to see a deaf character as the star of the team. While a lot of other shows would have her as the redshirt, Cass is the leader and the cleverest of the bunch. An all round fantastic character, and I hope she managed to inspire some deaf kids out there after transmission. Whithouse is admittedly iffy on representation, but not here. Well done to all involved.

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The direction is fantastic, the atmosphere is creepy, and Gold’s Score is also brilliant. The episode is also perfectly paced I feel. I’m honestly engaged throughout. It also is a rare case of a two-parter where the first part doesn’t feel like it’s entirely build up. Sure, some is there, and this may be down to the nature of the story, but I do feel that this could stand on its own right and would be good on its own, despite being a more traditional story than the last few. If I had one criticism, it would be the waste of Colin McFarlane, a fantastic character actor, but he is terrifying as a ghost at least.

Overall: Exciting and a whole lot of fun, this is my kind of Doctor Who. Water great story.

Previous Score: 10
New Score: 10

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