Doctor Who Recap: “Before The Flood”

The last time we saw the Doctor, he was a hollow-eyed ghost haunting the bottom of a lake and freaking out Clara and the crew of an underwater oil extraction station in some near-future version of Scotland.


This week’s episode picks up there—but not before a brief interlude in which the Doctor explains the complexities of time travel and the mucking-up of history using Beethoven as an example (electric guitar 5th Symphony serenade included). As Doctor Who fans headed to their favourite search engine (Time Lords prefer Google—wonder what they paid for that endorsement) to look up “Bootstrap Paradox”, the Doctor embarked on an adventure that would better illustrate his anecdote—or at least try to.


If the whole chicken or egg dilemma freaks you out, grab your security blanket because this is an episode that will shake up your ideas about how the universe might work—imagine the Doctor as a chicken and the Fisher King’s stasis pod as an egg. Of course, it’s far more convoluted than that, but that’s what makes “Under The Lake/”Before The Flood” one of the best two-part episodes in Who history.

With crew members Bennett and O’Donnell in tow, the Non-ghost Doctor travels back to 1980 in an effort to find out who occupies the alien stasis pod and what the being wants. Unsurprisingly, it wants to conquer the Earth, drain it of its water supply, and turn its inhabitants into ghosts. Serious bummer.


When the Doctor gets a call from Clara and is informed of the existence of Ghost Doctor, he demands to see him and has Cass, the base’s deaf crew member read his ghost’s lips to decipher the message he’s broadcasting. Unlike the other ghosts, the Ghost Doctor is reciting a list of names, not coordinates. Clever boy that he is, the Doctor realizes that the order the names are in indicates the order in which the crew will die—this is confirmed when O’Donnell is killed by the Fisher King (but only after she mentions “the Minister of War”, a hint about the Doctor’s future).


O’Donnell’s death puts the Doctor’s oft joked about insensitivity in stark relief and he’s rightly accused of using her to test out his theory that Clara is in imminent danger when he makes only a half-hearted attempt to save her. Locked in his own time stream with the base’s ghosts closing in on Clara, Cass, and Lunn (the only crew member who didn’t have his brain rewritten by the writing on the wall of the alien ship) the Doctor has to come up with a plan to foil the Fisher King before the ghosts get Clara. Here, viewers reach peak panic as we watch Cass, unable to hear, walk trepidatiously through the base in search of Lunn while a ghost noisily drags the axe he plans to kill her with behind him.


Deciding that the Fisher King’s breaking of the rules of life and death is a far worse offense than bending those that guide time and space, the Doctor edits history so that the alien doesn’t make it to his stasis pod before the flood hits. Taking his place, the Doctor emerges from the pod, revealing that the Ghost Doctor was a hologram that he programmed to say that list of names… though he only programmed the ghost to say that because that’s what the ghost said. Chicken. Egg. Beethoven. Etc.