Breaking the fourth wall, Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor confuses the viewer right from the off. But this trippy opening is the perfect way to allow viewers to know that this follow-up episode, ‘Before the Flood’, is going to be confusing. His rants about meeting Beethoven and bootstrap paradoxes allow for a fantastic retelling of the iconic theme tune. Bravo Capaldi, who performed this tune himself.
Set in two time periods, we follow the Doctor, Bennett and O’Donnell in 1980, where they encounter Albar Prentis, the pre-ghost Tivolian glimpsed stalking the underwater base last week. He is as annoying as David Walliams’ Gibbis from 2011. Paul Kaye is, of course, underused, but, as I argued a few weeks back, the inclusion of recurring monsters helps to flesh out the universe of Doctor Who.
Prentis is an undertaker, who is taking the legendary Fisher King to his final resting place. Only the Fisher King isn’t really dead, and after learning from Clara that his ghost has appeared, the Doctor scarpers. And thus the bootstrap paradox. Because the Doctor knows that he dies – apparent by his ghost in the future – he cannot escape dying, and the TARDIS prevents him from leaving the past. Predictably O’Donnell dies, but I doubt many viewers will care. All that we care about in 1980 is the Fisher King.
Whose appearance is a bit of a letdown. Admittedly he looks stunning – and I mean, stunning! – and he is voiced brilliantly by Peter Serafinowicz, but this plot fizzles out. He is a rather poor threat, with little to back up his zany way of survival, and he is tricked by the Doctor way too quickly. He should have been introduced a lot earlier to allow these threads to be expanded upon. But, alas, at least he has a brilliant death, as the Doctor blows up the dam and floods the town. The effects here are particularly brilliant.
Back to the future now. Clara, Cass and Lunn are being terrorised by ghosts, in what is a cheap rehash of last week. Only this week it’s scarier. In particular the shot of Cass heading down a corridor, interspersed with Moran dragging an axe along to kill her. The extended shots of silence are utterly terrifying, as we glimpse what Cass herself is experiencing – utter silence. Once more writer Toby Whithouse has made Cass’ deafness a plot point.
So, with the Doctor defeating the Fisher King in the past (and Cass and Lunn kissing one another – yawn), how do Prichard, Moran and he die and become ghosts? That is the second instant of the bootstrap paradox. Both events happened – the Doctor dies, and the Doctor doesn’t die – in two distinct timelines, but because he eradicated one, the other exists simultaneously. Their origin cannot be determined. Yes, it is confusing. But Doctor Who works at its best when it makes the audience scratch their heads.