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Recap / Doctor Who S35 E3 "Under the Lake"

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Under the Lake
Ghosts from the future? Good thing Charles Dickens isn't around.
Click here to see the Radio Times magazine poster for this episode:
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Daniel O'Hara
Air date: 3 October 2015
Part 1 of 2

"So we're fighting an unknown alien force that has taken the form of your commanding officer and a cowardly alien... underwater... in a nuclear reactor. Anything else I should know? Somebody got a peanut allergy or something?"
The Doctor

The one where the Doctor needs cue-cards.

The first episode of a two-parter written by Toby Whithouse, continued in "Before the Flood".

The crew of a base located at the bottom of a Scottish lake have brought inside a mysterious object they've found on the lake bottom. It appears to be a spaceship, and as the crew are inspecting it, one of the engines suddenly ignites, killing Moran, the base commander.

A few days later. The Doctor and Clara arrive at the base, and the Doctor notes that the TARDIS seems to be unhappy with landing there. Clara's not too concerned, because she's raring for an adventure. The two of them, wandering the base, find two ghosts, Moran and a Tivolian in a suit and top hat. The ghosts lead them to the bay where the spaceship is. The Doctor and Clara board the spaceship, and the Doctor notes a few things missing: a cryogenic pod for the pilot, and one of the power cells. There's another thing: four mysterious symbols carved on the wall.

After exiting the spaceship, the ghosts appear again, and try to kill them. The Doctor and Clara are forced to run from the ghosts, and encounter the surviving crew members, who beckon them into the base's Faraday cage. The ghosts can walk through normal walls, but the Faraday cage is a no-go. The crew tell them that the ghosts only come out during the artificial "night mode", but that when day mode comes back on it'll be safe to go outside — and day mode will be back up shortly.

The Doctor wants to know something else: What are the ghosts? Why are they killing people? And what do they have to do with the symbols on the spaceship?


  • Action Girl: Clara is in full-out In Harm's Way mode, which disturbs the Doctor, though he doesn't stop her from acting as bait for the ghosts later. She is the one who gets to tell the Doctor, "Run!"
  • Admiring the Abomination: The Doctor, as usual.
    The Doctor: Every time I think it couldn't get more extraordinary it surprises me. It's impossible! I hate it! It's evil! It's astonishing! I want to kiss it to death.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: The episode cliffhanger is the Doctor apparently becoming one of the ghosts. (Coincidentally, the Doctor often adopts the first name "John" as an alias.)
  • Arc Words: "Duty of care" is invoked again, after Clara used it to describe her responsibility to her students in "Kill the Moon".
  • Artistic Licence - Space: The Doctor deduces that the "sword" in the coordinate is the sword on Orion's belt, with the Earth at the point of the sword as seen from space. However, this in an interstellar message depends on the recipients knowing that other stars visible from Earth create the approximate shape of a humanoid warrior, in order that the line of stars can be interpreted as a sword (and not all cultures on Earth even make this association). Further, the two stars and one nebula which form "Orion's sword" almost certainly don't line up to point at Earth (or, really, the Solar system in general). It's only workable if the signal's destination is directly on the opposite side of our solar system from Orion, and our Sun happens to lie in line with the sword's other stars from that location's perspective.
  • Asshole Victim: Pritchard, the petroleum prospector who goes on and on about wringing as much profit from as many "assets" as he can "legally" claim regardless of the danger to the crew, is the second victim.
  • Bat Deduction: The Doctor's translation of the ghosts' statement takes four nouns and pulls intergalactic coordinates out of them. It's justified as the words from the spaceship wall have rewired everyone's brains to think in that direction.
  • Beyond the Impossible: The Doctor says they will "attempt the impossible" by capturing the ghosts, but given that they already know that the ghosts can't enter the Faraday cage it's a logical assumption that they can't exit it either. Thus, it is a Downplayed Trope at most.
  • Big Bad: The ghosts are the only known threat in the episode, with the identity of who created them remaining unknown.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Fans familiar with sign language have indicated that when the Doctor attempts to sign to Cass, although it appears he may be signing gibberish, in fact he's signing "you're beautiful". Later, when the Doctor warns Clara not to "go native" and just before he says "I just had to say something" his right hand forms an unusual gesture that ASL readers have said comes close to being the sign for "I love you". This is immediately before the season's first use of the phrase "duty of care" that at the end of the season becomes a euphemism for "I love you".
  • Black Dude Dies First: Moran, the first victim of the episode, dies pushing Cass out of the way when the outer thrusters of the spaceship suddenly reignite.
  • Came Back Wrong: The Ghosts don't seem to have any trace of the person's personality and instead only want to create more ghosts.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Ghost Pritchard doesn't kill Lunn because he hasn't seen the writing yet, and so wouldn't become a ghost.
  • Captain's Log: The episode starts with Moran giving a standard captain's log narration.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Ghost Pritchard tries to attack the crew with a chair. The daytime setting causes him to vanish before he gets the chance.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Clara claims she's perfectly fine when the Doctor tells her she needs to stop being more like him and perhaps even find a new relationship. See this entry under the next episode.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The ghosts are silently mouthing something when they advance on their victims. Good thing there is a deaf lip reader on board.
  • Cliffhanger: Our Hero Is Dead and becomes another ghost at the base as the result of traveling to the past!
  • Clockwork Creature: Clara mentions the Doctor turned the TARDIS radio into a clockwork squirrel.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • The Doctor and the cue cards. Even Clara gives him an "are you serious?" look when he reads out all the dialogue options on the card by mistake.
    • The Doctor was driven nuts by hearing "Mysterious Girl" every day for two weeks, so he turned the TARDIS' radio into a clockwork squirrel.
    • The Doctor pretty much is in this mode for virtually the entire episode. Other examples include his breathless excitement over the possibility of finding real ghosts, his failed attempt at using sign language (actually, he signs something correct, just not what he'd intended).
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Immediate press reviews on the night noted the similarity between Peter Capaldi and Tom Baker's diction, and even Hartnell's — there are moments when he moves and acts like the First Doctor.
    • One of the Doctor's "empathy cue cards" mentions leaving someone in Aberdeen, likely referencing when he left Sarah Jane Smith there instead of Croydon.
    • Another rattled off "exterminated" and "upgraded", the causes of death related to his most iconic adversaries; specifically, the Daleks and Cybermen.
    • The Doctor immediately pegs the alien ghost as a Tivolian, the same species as the cowardly Gibbis from "The God Complex".
    • The Doctor gushes about encountering real ghosts of dead people, not a Nestene duplicate or an echo stored in the Nethersphere.
    • Clara is still the Doctor's "carer", but now she points out moments where he should put on a show of caring instead of just doing it for him. Later, the Doctor also states outright that he has a duty of care towards her.
    • The Doctor says that Clara needs to find another relationship, a veiled reference to her now-deceased boyfriend Danny Pink.
    • The Doctor expresses concern about Clara becoming too much like him. She has actually pretended to be him twice, in "Flatline" and "Death in Heaven", though he may not be aware of the latter.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pritchard puts his own bonuses above the safety of the team. He doesn't even have a problem saying this out loud to the other team members.
  • Cowardly Lion: Despite his protestations of being a coward, and being the most reluctant to stay with the Doctor once the ghosts are contained, Bennett proves himself to be pretty brave.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Clara and the Doctor have prepared a stack of cards with various apologies in case the Doctor says something insensitive. One of them lists out multiple methods by which someone could meet a grisly end.
  • Cue Card: The aforementioned cards with stock phrases for the Doctor to use. It doesn't quite work as planned because the Doctor reads all the dialogue options without inflection.
  • Dissimile: The Doctor likes adventures as much as the next man... if that man liked adventures.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Cass getting angry gives this effect, since she speaks through an interpreter. Meaning that when she is scowling and telling the Doctor that she doesn't care if he wants to get himself killed, her words are calm and measured.
  • Distaff Counterpart: For the first time, the Doctor openly expresses concern about Clara becoming one with regards to him.
  • Doing in the Scientist: After previously denouncing "ghosts" as nonsense, the Doctor changes his mind and says that yes, they really are the souls of dead people. They're not something scientific like Auton duplicates, flesh avatar clones or digital copies "floating about the Nethersphere". He's ecstatic to meet a "proper ghost".
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: An underwater variant with Pritchard's body, which leads to the realization the Pritchard in the room is a ghost.
  • Ear Worm: Everyone who sees the mysterious writing inside the spaceship has their brains rewritten by it. When they die, they come back as ghosts who repeat the coordinates endlessly. The Doctor compares it to hearing "Mysterious Girl" by Peter Andre and being unable to get it out of your head. He uses the term "ear worm" to describe this.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • When first seen, Pritchard is trying to assert his company's right to the spaceship.
    • Even though this is the third episode of the season, Clara's urging the Doctor for more adventures — and the Doctor's rising concern regarding his — establishes her character arc for the remainder of the season.
    • Following an angst-filled opening two-parter where he didn't have much of an opportunity to exhibit this, this is the first episode in which the Doctor's warmer, goofier personality is on full display.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: The ghosts send out a message in Morse asking for a rescue sub, hoping to lure in more victims. Fortunately, the sub radios ahead and the Doctor calls it off. The trope is further invoked by the fact that Morse Code hasn't actually been a standard for distress signals since 1999; whoever understood it in 2119 must have been a student of history (that, or in the Doctor Who universe it never went out of style, or it came back into style).
  • Eyeless Face: The ghosts have empty eye sockets filled with darkness.
  • Eye Take: Clara gives the Doctor one when he accidentally reads out the complete empathy cue card.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: After Pritchard's been flushed out the airlock, the crew finds him in the mess hall. Then they see his corpse floating outside and he turns around, revealing the eyeless face of a ghost.
  • Facial Dialogue: Clara and the Doctor engage in this several times, with a particularly funny one being Clara's response to the Doctor accidentally reading all the options on his Cue Card. During promotions for Series 9, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman indicated in interviews that at this point in their relationship, the Doctor and Clara tended to express their feelings for one another through what was unsaid and through doing things while the other isn't looking. This episode — one of only a handful this season in which the Doctor and Clara aren't separated — demonstrates this, particularly during initial scenes after the opening credits, but continuing through to when they are separated and silently signify their trust in one another.
  • Fangirl: It turns out that O'Donnell is one, of both UNIT and the Doctor.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Twice in the episode, a tragic event later in the season is foreshadowed directly. First, as the Doctor says one of the questions he'd like to ask the ghosts is whether death hurt, there is a close-up on Clara. Later, the Doctor says to Clara, "You live and you die. That's it." Again, we get a close-up of Clara as he says this.
    • The Doctor expresses worry that Clara is getting too much like him, a theme that continues through the season.
  • For Science!: After they've trapped the ghosts and are free to leave, the Doctor convinces the crew to stay because they must want to know how and why these ghosts exist.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The Doctor's cards, with various forms of apologies.
    "I completely understand why it was difficult not to get captured."
    "It was my fault, I should have known you didn't live in Aberdeen."
    "I didn't mean to imply that I don't care."
    "I'm very sorry for your loss. I'll do all I can to solve the death of your friend/family member/pet."
    "No one is going to be eaten/vapourised/exterminated/upgraded/possessed/wounded/turned to jelly. We'll all get out of this unharmed."
  • Genre Savvy: Cass compares their scenario to Cabin In The Woods.
  • Harpoon Gun: Ghost Prentis tries to use one on the Doctor and Clara.
  • Hey, That's My Line!: Clara, who is well on her way to becoming the Doctor's Distaff Counterpart, shouts his "Run!" catchphrase before he has a chance to.
  • High-Five Left Hanging: While the Doctor and Clara are investigating the mess hall, she makes a comment and holds out her hand for a high five. He gives her a look and walks out of the room.
  • Hologram: One of Clara is used to lure the ghosts into the cage.
  • Indy Hat Roll: The Doctor dives underneath a rapidly closing door as the base floods, but he doesn't have a hat and wasn't retrieving his sonic glasses.
  • In Harm's Way: Clara is in full adrenaline junkie mode, enough that the Doctor is forced to call her up on it. It doesn't work, and she's soon acting as bait for the ghosts.
  • It Can Think: The ghosts are initially thought to be simple-minded until they reprogram the base computer to trigger night mode earlier than intended.
  • It's What I Do: There are a few moments of this, including one where Clara explains to Cass and Lunn that she's not overly worried about the Doctor heading off on his own. "This is how we roll," she says.
  • Jumped at the Call: At the beginning, Clara is begging the Doctor to go on another adventure and telling him she's "itching to save a planet". The Doctor is worried enough by this that in private he tells her she needs to get a hobby, or try to find love again.
  • Jumping-On Point: Although never promoted as such, this episode, along with Part 2, serves as a good jumping-on point for people unfamiliar with the show's mythology as it manages to illustrate the (current) Doctor-companion dynamic — including the impact being a companion has on people, explain the concepts of time travel and paradoxes, explain a bit of the Doctor's backstory (at least in terms of his involvement with Earth), touches on the fact the TARDIS is alive, and even squeezes in a line in this episode to explain why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. Except for some minor details, one can come into Doctor Who cold with these two episodes and understand virtually everything.
  • Lack of Empathy: Clara's getting the Doctor to work on his bedside manner, so to speak, with the help of cue cards. One of the cards comes close to referring to this trope by name.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Doctor's habit of "deleting" unneeded memories and knowledge is referenced again. This time he appears to have forgotten how to correctly communicate in and understand sign language (although according to fans who understand the language, his attempt at communicating with Cass results in him making a legitimate statement in ASL, just not the one he wanted). Some fans believe the Doctor subconsciously signs a rather intimate thought to Clara during their debate in the TARDIS (see Ship Tease under YMMV).
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: When the three ghosts are pursuing Clara and Lunn tries to lure them away, only Ghost Pritchard follows him.
  • Little "No": Clara lets out a few quiet "No's" when she sees the Doctor's ghost.
  • Living Legend: By 2119, the Doctor's exploits with UNIT are well-known (at least amongst military personnel). So when the psychic paper identifies him as the Doctor from UNIT the crew has no trouble trusting him, with O'Donnell going into full-out fangirl mode.
  • Lured into a Trap: The Ghosts are lured into the Faraday Cage by a hologram of Clara.
  • Mathematician's Answer: How does the Doctor travel in time? Extremely well.
  • Mirror Scare: Prentis is seen in the mirror by Lunn shortly before he attacks.
  • Mission Control: The Doctor and O'Donnell, one of the technicians, coordinate the runners who lure the ghosts into the Faraday Cage, directing their movements using the base's communication system and cameras.
  • Nocturnal Mooks: The ghosts are only active at night, which offers a hint to their true nature because the base's "night mode" and "day mode" are artificial and unrelated to actual night and day.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Clara mentions a planet where the natives have long necks and have been celebrating the new year for two centuries.
      Clara: I left my sunglasses there. And most of my dignity.
    • The Doctor claims Clara once got into an argument with Gandhi.
    • The Doctor once met Shirley Bassey, which got him overexcited.
    • Given the nature of the series, the Doctor for reasons unknown stayed in one place long enough to be driven nuts by Peter Andre's "Mysterious Girl" playing on the radio every day for two weeks.
  • Off Screen Moment Of Awesome:
    • Clara arguing with Gandhi.
    • The Doctor going spare listening to "Mysterious Girl" and turning the TARDIS radio into a clockwork squirrel.
    • The Doctor going all fanboy on Shirley Bassey.
    • Whatever Clara did to lose her sunglasses and most of her dignity.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Pritchard freaks out when he sees a ghost outside the airlock instead one of the crew.
    • Clara has a major one when she sees the ghost Doctor at the end.
  • Only in It for the Money: Pritchard is only in the base to recover the quantities of oil below it.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The "ghosts" here display a lot of standard ghostly behaviour — they come out at night, they can walk through walls, they can lift and throw objects, they're supposedly the souls of dead people — but they're also purposely created in order to transmit coordinates to an unknown point in deep space, and with each new ghost saying the words, the signal strengthens. They're also limited to metallic objects and can be trapped by a Faraday Cage, indicating they're electromagnetic entities of some kind. The day setting is what stops them, rather than it specifically being day.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: Shortly after the Doctor travels back to the point in time when the spaceship originally crashed, his ghost form materializes outside the base to the horror of Clara and the others. This reveals he'll perish in the effort to foil the threat in the past.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • The fact that one of the attacking ghosts is a Tivolian is odd, as the Doctor says Tivolians are cowards.
    • Ghost Pritchard not killing Lunn when it has the chance is awfully strange considering how "murder-y" they are.
  • Reading Lips: Cass is deaf, and can read lips, which comes in handy for figuring out the ghosts' inaudible mantra.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: A variation. The Doctor accidentally reads the entire Cue Card and ends up telling the crew, "I'm sorry for your loss. I will do all I can to solve the death of your friend-slash-family-member-slash-pet."
  • Red Herring: When the Doctor notes the missing power cell in the ship and believes the crew removed it, Pritchard suspiciously walks off on his own. When he shows up again later, it's revealed he just went looking for it outside.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The Doctor heads into the past, before the town flooded, to get the full story so he can fix things in the present. The Cliffhanger suggests it doesn't go according to plan.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Skewed Priorities: While ghosts are attacking the base, Pritchard doesn't want to leave as he might lose a bonus.
  • Squee:
    • O'Donnell has a moment of this when she first meets the Doctor.
    • The Doctor recalls having such a moment when he met Shirley Bassey.
  • Suit with Vested Interests: Pritchard, the Vector Petroleum rep who takes over when Moran dies, is more interested in the equipment than the crew.
  • Taking the Bullet: Moran pushes Cass out of the way of the rocket exhaust and is killed.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Pritchard gets the underwater variant, courtesy of Ghost Moran.
  • Translator Buddy: Lunn translates Cass's sign language for everyone else.
  • Trapped-with-Monster Plot: Stuck on an underwater base with murderous ghosts. It's a somewhat subdued case, since the ghosts only appear when the base is in "night" mode, and the change can be overridden. Furthermore, the cast succeed in trapping the ghosts and are free to leave at that point.
  • Verbal Backspace:
    Pritchard: I imagine they're pretty valuable.
    The Doctor: What?
    Pritchard: I mean powerful. Those power cells. I imagine they're pretty powerful.
  • The Virus: The Ghosts are made by someone seeing the words on the spaceship wall, then getting killed.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The ghosts are harmless unless they can get their hands on a weapon. The Doctor locks himself up with all three, knowing that being trapped in an otherwise empty Faraday Cage has rendered them incapable of hurting him.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Prentis uses the rockets on the spaceship for this, killing Moran.
  • Weasel Words: Pritchard starts most of his sentences with phrases like "It could be argued..." that essentially insulate him from legal repercussions to his suggestions.
  • Wham Shot: At the end of the episode, Clara assures the others that the Doctor will soon come back to save them. Then they see a new ghost appearing outside, and a closeup shot reveals it's the Doctor himself.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Cass gives this reaction to the Doctor when he's excited over the ghosts, telling him he can go and put himself in danger, but she's not endangering her crew.
    • Cass is also offended when the Doctor appears to be enjoying the realization there may be real-life ghosts about, sternly reminding him that one of them is their now-dead friend.
  • Window Love: After being stuck on either side of a sealed section filling with water, The Doctor and Clara do this through the windows in the flood doors.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Clara gives the Doctor this look after he accidentally reads out the entire cue card.
  • You Need to Get Laid: When Clara says she wants more adventures, the Doctor says she needs to find another boyfriend. Clara subtly hints that she has, and he's standing in front of her.