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Recap / Doctor Who S35 E4 "Before the Flood"

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The Doctor vs Darth Maul. Who will win?
Click here to see the Radio Times magazine poster for this episode: 
"Who really composed Beethoven's Fifth?"
The Doctor
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The one with a monster bellow provided by the lead of Slipknot.

The second episode of a two-parter written by Toby Whithouse.

The Doctor, Bennett and O'Donnell have gone back to the 1980s to investigate what happened when the spaceship landed, before the lake was created by a dam breaching — but Clara, Cass and Lunn had to stay behind, because they were cut off from the TARDIS by a flooded corridor. Sitting in the base's cafeteria, they saw a new ghost appear in the lake — the Doctor.

In the 1980s, at a fake town built by the British military to train for potential missions to the Soviet Union, the Doctor, Bennett and O'Donnell run into Prentis, the Tivolian who's a ghost in the future. He's still alive, and he's come to Earth to bury a recently-deceased conqueror of his planet, the Fisher King. He's doing it in the custom of Tivoli's current conquerors, the Arcateenians. After talking to him, the trio heads back to the TARDIS to confer. Prentis, after the conversation, returns to his ship to discover the Fisher King's corpse gone, and some familiar symbols carved in the wall...

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Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor gets a phone call from Clara, telling him about his ghost. Cass has been trying to lip-read what the Doctor's ghost is saying, and it's not what the other ghosts are saying. He's repeating a list of names, starting with the people who have been turned into ghosts. And, of those still living, O'Donnell's next on the list.

Sure enough, when they go back into the village, and discover Prentis dead, and are chased by the Fisher King, O'Donnell bites it, and consequently appears in the future as a ghost. Who's next? Clara.

How will the Doctor save Clara, stop the Fisher King's plan and prevent himself from becoming a ghost?


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Tropes:

  • Act of True Love: Clara outright demands this of the Doctor as she tries to convince him to try and change his destiny. Essentially, she's asking him to rewrite time.
    Clara: I don't care about your rules or your bloody survivor's guilt. If you love me in any way, you'll come back.
  • Almost Dead Guy: After getting shot, O'Donnell lives just long enough to be found and impart some dying words.
  • Always Save the Girl: "I'm changing history to save Clara." Unfortunately, saving that girl requires sacrificing another (O'Donnell).
  • Arc Word: Story. The Doctor tells the viewer a story in the pre-title sequence to explain the bootstrap paradox, and declares to the Fisher King "This is where your story ends!" in the climax.
  • Ascended Fangirl: O'Donnell, who showed she was a fangirl last episode, has a little Squee! moment after actually riding in the TARDIS. And she also gets a chance to rather smugly name-drop several of the Doctor's recent companions.
  • As You Know: At the end, the Doctor explains what a Stable Time Loop is to a mind-blown Clara, despite her having been at the center of one or two already (in "The Name of the Doctor" and "Time Heist").
  • Big Dam Plot: The Doctor is in a fake town beneath a dam that he knows is going to break and flood the valley.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Yes, the Doctor was able to save Earth from an alien invasion, but due to the laws of time he couldn't stop the deaths of four innocent people, including O'Donnell — who is explicitly a sacrificial lamb for saving Clara.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: Rare human example: when Cass touches the floor and feels the vibrations from the axe Moran's ghost is dragging towards her, her tactile impression of her surroundings is depicted as bright outlines tracing out the shapes of the floor, walls and axe-head. This "seismic sense" allows her to escape a stalking ghost at the exact moment it strikes.
  • Bookends: The episode begins and ends with the Doctor describing the Bootstrap Paradox and posing the question, "Who composed Beethoven's Fifth?"
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: As well as removing the memory of the writing, the Doctor says he cannot guarantee he has left other memories intact, such as people you went to school with, previous addresses, or how to drink liquids.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The episode opens with the Doctor explaining the Bootstrap Paradox to the viewer, even at one point telling them to Google it. Although there have been some fourth-wall leaning and even the occasional apparent break, this is the first major case of the wall being demolished since the first Doctor wished his viewers a Happy Christmas in "The Feast of Steven".
  • Brick Joke:
    • At the end of the previous episode, Clara was telling everyone that the Doctor would save them all, then come back and they'd have to hear him explain how he did it. At the end of this episode, he comes back, quickly saves everyone, then explains how he did it.
    • In the previous episode, the Doctor asks Clara why the TARDIS doesn't have a radio, to which she retorts that he disassembled it in order to build a clockwork squirrel. It's sitting on the amp in the opening to this episode.
    • A subtle one. In the previous episode the Doctor encourages Clara to find a new relationship instead of focusing so much on the adventure. Her Freak Out! when he says he has to die pretty much confirms that, from her perspective, she is in one.
  • ...But He Sounds Handsome: When the Doctor asks to speak to his own ghost, he starts by saying what an honor it is to have someone worth talking to.
  • The Cameo: Corey Taylor from Slipknot is the "Roar of the Fisher King."
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The ability of the sonic sunglasses to project a hologram.
    • The ghosts' tendency to drag weapons along the floor rather than carry them.
    • Averted in a minor way with the clockwork squirrel. You'd think it would be significant, but it just sits on top of a speaker and does nothing.
    • A dialogue version; in the previous episode the gun is cocked by Clara assuring the Doctor that, given the recent loss of a man she loved, she was fine. In this episode, the gun is fired when Clara has her Freak Out! at the possibility of losing another man she loves so soon after the first.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Credits Gag: The scene before the opening credits ends with the Doctor playing the first notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with an electric guitar. The Doctor's guitar-playing continues throughout the credits, comping along with the Doctor Who theme tune. And it was actually performed by Peter Capaldi himself.
  • Death by Irony: The Fisher King boasts that his species will drain the oceans and enslave the humans. The Doctor kills him by blowing up the dam and flooding the town.
  • Defiant to the End: When the Fisher King sees the incoming flood, he stands and roars at it until it crushes him.
  • Dirty Coward: Prentis, as is standard for all Tivolians. Even though he's essentially a hearse driver, he's got a variety of tools and weapons should anyone he meets wish to enslave him.
  • Disability Superpower: A realistic variant — although Cass can't hear the ghost with the axe sneaking up behind her, she is able to feel the vibrations of the axe being dragged along the floor, giving her enough warning to flee.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Prentis saying he's got items in the ship the Doctor could use to oppress him. It's that eager tone he uses when asking that does it.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: O'Donnell partially makes one to Bennett, saying she came to keep an eye on him and telling him not to die.
  • Evil Is Bigger: The Fisher King is a hulking, armoured monster that enslaves the souls of his victims as transmitters so the rest of his race can invade. He towers over the Doctor during their scene together.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: The Fisher King spends half of his conversation with the Doctor wandering around him in the shadows.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • The Fisher King has apparently died and is being transported to Earth in accordance with Arcateenian custom. However he plans to send a signal to his people to recover him.
    • The Doctor isn't dead at all; it's a hologram he created to fake his death. Though he doesn't know this when Clara tells him about it.
  • Face Palm: Clara does this after trying to get Cass' attention by whispering.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When O'Donnell talks about the Doctor's past companions, she neglects to mention Clara and Donna Noble, the two companions impacted by memory wipes, though in the latter case the Doctor loses his memory of her.
    • The Doctor's "damn the rules" attitude towards saving Clara directly anticipates events later in the season. Indeed, there are so many plot beats and even dialogue in this episode that directly anticipate "Hell Bent" that "Under the Lake"/"Before the Flood" could almost be considered a prologue to the trilogy that ends the season.
    • The first of the historical events involving the Doctor that O'Donnell brings up is "Mr. Saxon", the alias used by the incarnation of the Master played by John Simm, who would return in Series 10 to team up with his successor Missy.
  • Freak Out!: Clara's unexpectedly emotional reaction to the Doctor resigning himself to death forces him to try and talk her down — while at the same time inspiring him to Take a Third Option to avoid his death.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Prentis' business cards say "May the remorse be with you."
    • The Doctor's amp is made by Magpie Electricals. It's also a Continuity Nod.
    • The clockwork squirrel mentioned last episode is sitting on top of the amp.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: The Fisher King never gets any more characterisation than "nasty dude that has invaded one planet and now wants to invade Earth".
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Prentis asks the Doctor if he wants to "oppress" him, and says that he has "a number of instruments useful in my oppression". The Doctor's facial expression says it all.
  • Guile Hero: The Fisher King becomes the latest villain to learn rule number one; the Doctor lies.
  • Have We Met Yet?: In a second-hand example, O'Donnell's list of the Doctor's key moments in history between 1980 and 2119 includes "the Minister of War", whom the Doctor hasn't encountered yet.
  • He Will Come for Me: Invoked by Clara re the Doctor, though she quickly modifies it to "us" when she remembers there are two other people trapped with her.
  • Heroic BSoD: Clara is snapped out of one by Lunn's pep talk; the Doctor begins to go into one when he learns he has to die, only to snap out of it by looking on the bright side (thereby nearly causing Clara to go into another one herself).
  • Hope Spot: Clara treats the Doctor's admission that there might be something he can do to avoid getting killed as one, despite him not being convinced it's possible.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: Clara throws this trope at the Doctor when he tells her he has to die.
  • Idiot Ball: One of these briefly lands in Clara's lap when she's video-calling the Doctor when suddenly all hell breaks loose as his ghost enters the chamber, but instead of simplifying matters by simply aiming the camera phone at the thing so the Doctor can see, Clara wastes valuable seconds describing the action. Fortunately the Doctor's ghost isn't programmed to harm her or anyone else in the room.
  • The "I Love You" Stigma: Zig-zagged: Clara becomes one of only a very few companions to directly use the word "love" when referring to her relationship with the Doctor, and she does so in order to guilt-trip the Doctor into not resigning himself to death. Further zigzagged when, after Clara says "If you love me in any way, you'll come back", the Doctor later promises that he will come back, and he does.
  • Insignificant Blue Planet: Bennett has come to bury the Fisher King on a "barren, savage outpost". Not the abandoned military base, but Earth.
  • Internal Homage:
  • iPhony: Averted. Not only does Clara use a mobile phone that is recognizably an iPhone (the phone's distinctive call screen is visible several times), but the Facetime application is employed when she and the Doctor communicate.
  • Jaw Drop: Clara has a subdued one when she starts to understand the paradox:
    The Doctor: I was reverse-engineering the narrative.
    Clara: Okay, that's still pretty smart.
    The Doctor: You do not understand! When did I first have those ideas, Clara?
    Clara: Well, it must've been—
    [Beat. The Doctor shakes his head.]
    Clara: Wow.
    The Doctor: Exactly! Who composed Beethoven's Fifth?
  • Kirk Summation: The Doctor to the Fisher King.
    The Doctor: You robbed those people of their deaths. Made them nothing more than a message in a bottle. You violated something more important than time. You bent the rules of life and death. So I am putting things straight. Here. Now. This is where your story ends.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": O'Donnell, after having had an understated fangirl moment with the Doctor in the preceding episode, gets in a full-out squee after having travelled in the TARDIS for the first time.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Played with. The Doctor is able to erase the memory of the writing that causes the ghost effect, but says he cannot guarantee that is the only memory he removed.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang:
    • When the Doctor, Bennett, and O'Donnell are trying to avoid the Fisher King, O'Donnell decides they should split up. She winds up dead.
    • When Clara and Cass are travelling through the ghost-infested base, they accidentally split up when each goes a direction at an intersection expecting the other to follow. Despite one of the ghosts exploiting Cass's inability to hear it sneaking up behind her, they both survive long enough to rejoin forces.
  • Lured into a Trap: The Ghosts are again lured into the Faraday Cage by a hologram.
  • Mauve Shirt: O'Donnell is a fan girl of the Doctor, so naturally she dies.
  • Narrating the Obvious: Clara gives the Doctor a play by play of what his "ghost" is doing, which we also see at the same time. All while holding onto a phone with video conferencing active but not thinking to simply aim the camera at the thing.
  • Not So Different: After Cass and Clara have disagreed completely on whether to go and help Lunn.
    Clara: I know that look. I do that look!... Okay, but we stick together.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor talks about how he can't see anyone who's going to stop him saving Clara in the future. Cue the Cloister Bell.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Clara's reaction to the Doctor becoming resigned to his fate is unprecedented for the character and catches the Doctor off-guard, ultimately pushing him to seek a way to prevent his own death.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: They're electromagnetic projections of people's souls intended to transmit a signal once there are enough of them. The Doctor, notably, acts as though they are really the souls of the dead, and lambasts the Fisher King for enslaving them. While it's theoretically possible for there to be a more mundane explanation (the Doctor fakes a ghost with a simple hologram, for example), there's no reason for the Fisher King to fake ghosts in such a way. The plot only makes sense if he really is enslaving their souls for his message.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: The Cliffhanger of "Under the Lake" revealed that the Doctor, in the process of fighting the Fisher King's Evil Plan, became another one of the ghosts haunting the mining base in the future. How can he fulfill this trope and not actually die without causing a massive paradox?
  • Ping-Pong Naïveté: Clara acts as if she's never encountered the Bootstrap Paradox before, despite being part of two major ones in "The Name of the Doctor", and in "Listen", the latter being one she created herself.
  • Planet Looters: The Fisher King plans to do this to Earth, specifically its oceans and people.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Clara invokes one of the variants of this when telling the Doctor it's "not fair" for him to die on her.
  • Red Herring: Prentis' ghost being the first one present in the arc implies that he's important somehow, maybe even being Patient Zero. Turns out he's just another victim (from the distant past, that is).
  • Relationship Upgrade:
    • Cass and Lunn, by the end of the episode, become a couple — with some prodding.
    • While a form of one already appeared to be subtly established between the Doctor and Clara, it's crystallized here with Clara outright using the phrase "if you love me" in a conversation with him. This is unprecedented in Doctor Who.
  • Rewatch Bonus: During the conversation with Prentis, there is the sound of a metallic clanging in the distance that briefly draws O'Donnell's attention. It's so subtle as to go unnoticed, but we later learn the sound is caused by the Doctor on his second loop.
  • Rule of Drama: Cass escaping from Moran has slowness to built anticipation and the visual of her "hearing" the axe through the vibrations on the floor. Just looking behind her and running wouldn't have been as dramatically effective.
  • San Dimas Time: Even though O'Donnell is killed in the distant past, her ghost only shows up in the present after the same relative amount of time has passed from the Doctor's last call to Clara. What makes this particularly bizarre is that Prentis was killed during said phone call, yet was the first ghost along with Moran.
  • Screw Destiny: The Doctor tells the Fisher King he has removed the writing to prevent more people becoming ghosts, even though this will change history. Then the trope is averted; it was a way to lure the Fisher King into the open.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The deadlock-sealed suspended animation casket which apparently contains the Fisher King turns out to contain the Doctor.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The Doctor is determined to change events before the flood in order to save Clara in the present, even though he has every reason to believe he'll fail.
  • Shipper on Deck: At the end of the episode, Bennett asks Lunn to sign a message to Cass for him: "Tell her you're in love with her and you always have been."
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: After Lunn admits that he is in love with Cass, she stands shocked for a few seconds. He starts to apologise but she grabs him by the collar and upgrades their relationship.
  • Signature Roar: The Fisher King roars when the flood kills him. The Doctor ends up using the same roar to lure the ghosts into the Faraday Cage.
  • The Slow Path: While Bennett gets back to the base in the TARDIS, the Doctor gets there by waiting in the suspended animation chamber for 139 years.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The Fisher King's armour is very spiky.
  • Stable Time Loop:
    • The Doctor gives a primer to the audience about the Bootstrap Paradox at the beginning of the episode. At the end of the episode he turns back to the audience and shrugs, as if he will now do the same for Clara, hinting that it may be the exact same speech.
    • The Doctor sends a hologram of himself as a ghost to give himself a message that will inspire the ideas he needs to get in order to save the day. This is Deconstructed in the conversation between the Doctor and Clara at the end of the episode — who originated these ideas in the first place?
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The Doctor tries to get O'Donnell to stay in the TARDIS while he and Bennett investigate the Fisher King, but she adamantly refuses and tags along. She ends up getting killed, and Bennett realises that the Doctor knew she'd be killed and was trying to prevent it (though not very hard as Bennett bitterly accuses him).
  • Sword Drag: Moran's ghost stalks Cass while dragging an axe along the floor. Cass cannot hear him approaching because she is deaf.
  • Take a Third Option: The Doctor is content to accept the inevitability of his death until Clara freaks out at him about it. This, combined with clues indicating that Clara is likely to be the next person turned into a "ghost" after O'Donnell, spurs the Doctor into looking for other options.
  • Temporal Paradox: An ontological paradox — who really had the idea to hide the Doctor in the suspended animation chamber, if the Doctor got it from his ghost who got it from the Doctor? It's discussed in the episode under its colloquial name, the Bootstrap Paradox.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: The Doctor believes that the Fisher King enslaving the souls of humans and converting them into transmitters, is so abhorrent that even breaking the rules of time is the lesser of two evils.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Played with. The Doctor says that UNIT will deal with the remaining ghosts trapped in the Faraday Cage by hauling it into space. Once they're separated from the Earth's magnetic field, they'll lose cohesion and be reduced to nothing.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Fisher King has knowledge of Time Lords and the Doctor, yet decides it's a good idea to mock the Doctor on the rules of Time. The Doctor has escaped fixed points where he was supposed to die before, such as at Lake Silencio and Trenzalore. At least once he did it using the same technique of preserving the chain of events in appearance, but using a duplicate, in this case a hologram, to appear dead.
  • Tricked Out Time: After worrying about creating a time paradox by changing history, the Doctor finds a way to solve things without actually changing anything.
  • Trauma Button: When the Doctor resigns himself to die, it causes Clara to have a Freak Out! and tell him he can't die on her because "I'm not ready yet. I don't want to think about that." This is due to her still recovering from the death of another man she loved, Danny Pink.
  • The Unfettered: The Doctor comes very close to becoming this as he openly considers triggering a universe-threatening paradox to save Clara. Only the TARDIS stops him.
  • Wham Line:
    • "I'm changing history to save Clara." Especially when taken in context with the fact that at the end of the previous season he had all but condemned Clara for wanting to do the same for Danny Pink.
    • "If you love me in any way, you'll come back." Uttered by Clara during a minor Freak Out! when the Doctor says he has to die. In any other show this would not be a wham.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • After O'Donnell is killed by the Fisher King, Bennett deduces that the Doctor figured out that his ghost self chanting their names in a certain order was a list of the order they'd die in, and O'Donnell was up next. Though the Doctor tried to keep her safe (he did suggest she stay in the TARDIS, after all), Bennett believes he didn't press the issue because he wanted to test the hypothesis.
    • Cass signs something that Lunn insists isn't important but Clara insists on knowing what it meant. It was a question about whether travelling with the Doctor changes people, or whether Clara was always happy to risk other people's lives.
  • You Will Be Beethoven: The Trope Namer is discussed in length at the beginning — and at the end — of the episode. According to the Doctor, the "bootstrap paradox" anecdote that begins this episode "didn't actually happen" — Beethoven did exist and the Doctor's met him. A nice bloke who liked to arm-wrestle, albeit "a bit intense".

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