Dear Steven Moffat: Under the Lake

Doctors Prompt Card

Dear Steven,

Following your opening two-parter, a couple of episodes that really emptied the viewer, leaving them sore and staring into a toilet bowl full of khaki coloured bits of goodwill, what was required was something to line the stomach – a story that would rehydrate weary Whovians and make them well enough to eat soup and other soft food. The first part of Toby Whithouse’s sub-aquatic story did the job nicely. I mean, it upped our fluids. Sure, it wasn’t a vintage episode, and it suffered from a lot of familiar problems – one dimensional supporting characters (why IS it so difficult to create memorable alien fodder?), padding (a lot of running down corridors) and pop culture references (the Doctor’s familiarity with Peter Andre can only put weakened fans at risk), but it was fun and at least there was coherence and a mystery to solve in an unfamiliar location. The classic Who template then, and very welcome after your initial assault.

If it was maddeningly derivative of the first three Alien movies, so be it – ripping off Hollywood’s obviously a directive in the series bible these days, but I did wonder if Whithouse had made as much effort as he could to disguise the building blocks of his story. The garb of the military types on the industrial lookin’ Scottish aqua base instantly brought to mind Aliens’ marines, and that was before we met Pritchard, the slimy company man fluent in money. We learned the ghosts mostly come out at night, mostly, and that they’d worked out how to use the base against their foes (I half expected someone to cry out, ‘how can they do that, they’re ghosts?!’). We saw the Doctor directing his minions using a schematic of the base, an attempt to lure the ghosts into a trap using live bait and a series of automatic doors, and to cap it all – a failing reactor. If the next episode doesn’t feature the destruction of the base and the ghosts blown out of an airlock (or at the very least covered in molten lead), I’m writing to Lord Hall.

Then, at the risk of making myself unpopular with deaf members of your brood, I was in two minds as to whether the appointment of an aurally challenged commanding officer was a plot wheeze or plan stupid. I can understand Whithouse needing a character who could lip read, having decided the ghosts would be unable to vocalise their words, but did her promotion ultimately make any sense? As the commander of a military group, might she not need to give prompt orders in emergency situations? The kind of life and death calls that sometimes had to be made in an instant? And could she really do that if the other officers had to wait for a sign translation? And what about the handicap of having to lip read your fellow crew members? What if the nature of the emergency meant they couldn’t face you, or your signer was killed in an underwater decompression incident? Then what the fuck would you do? So yes, it was great to see a deaf character in a high profile role on our favourite show, but she seemed to me an odd choice.

So “Under the Lake”, blandly titled though it was, delivered enough Doctor Who staples to return the viewer to health – this was meat and potatoes Time Lording. Yes, there were moments when Whithouse’s remit to keep it zany for the fanboys and girls made for awkward exchanges – references to clockwork squirrels, boy bands and the like (the latter wouldn’t have meant much to a group of early 22nd century characters), but the story sustained interest, Capaldi was well and truly in command, with Clara asking questions, as it should be, and the creepy cliffhanger was excellent. In short, cursed though he was with an acute case of genre movie influences, and obliged by you to insert lines like ‘you’re itching to save a planet’, which confuses the result of the Doctor’s actions with his motive for getting involved, Toby Whithouse showed he understood what bread and butter Who was made of…you know, apart from bread and butter. Makes you think that maybe the fucker should be doing your job and you should be contributing the occasional two-parter.

Yours in time and cyberspace,


P.S: The Doctor, with all knowledge of time and the universe, can’t sign? You’d think he would have insisted Donna Noble use it as a substitute for speech, so would have taken it up so he could occasionally answer.

P.P.S: The Doctor, we learn, once met Shirley Bassey. I’m not alone in wanting the rest of that story, am I?

P.P.P.S: Though I think it’s stupid that after 2,000 years of visiting Earth, the Doctor all of a sudden has no social skills or powers of empathy, I did enjoy his set of prompt cards. It’s a pity he didn’t have one last week that read, “come in Davros, let me teach you about human virtues”.

P.P.P.P.S: Clara told the Doctor she was fine on her own. Given her last boyfriend was the void that is Danny Pink, that struck me as a very healthy response and progress. Good for you, Clara. Good for you.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time: