Doctor Who “Under the Lake” Review (Season 9 Episode 3)

“The Doctor explores the mystery of a derelict/isolated facility” is a story set-up about as old as the series itself, and one that Doctor Who has relied on fairly heavily since the revival began. As such, “Under the Lake” started off in pretty mundane fashion, failing to offer more than the usual paranoia and tight corridors one might expect. Of course, this is a two-part story, and the cliffhanger ending suggests a more exciting, creative second half next week.

Still, it was a fairly dull first twenty minutes or so, with all of the standard story beats getting hit. The episode introduced facility and let us meet the crew and the monster haunting them, then had the Doctor arrive and encounter that spooky creature before teaming up with the crew to solve the mystery. It’s something we’ve seen countless times, and nothing in this first hour suggest it would meet the mind-bending dreaminess of the recent “Last Christmas” or the top-notch horror of Tenth Doctor classic “The Waters of Mars.”

What the episode did give us was ghosts and, perhaps more importantly, a likable cast of crew members for the Doctor to bounce off of. Too often, the supporting cast can fade into the background, but the research team made enough of an impression early on while also proving their dedication to science before the hour was up. The ghosts, meanwhile, were fairly creepy, if not the most horrific creatures the Doctor has ever faced, and the mystery of where exactly they’ve come from is intriguing enough.

Again, though, it’s hard to judge the success of a story on its first part, especially when we get so little answer in this episode. The most exciting part of the hour was the end, with the Doctor being turned into a ghost promising a chance for Clara and the supporting cast to carry a bit more of the next episode.

The one scene worth calling out was when the Doctor more or less manipulated the entire crew into sticking around. It’s another example of how Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is a colder, more calculating figure, one that’ll tell you he has your best interest at heart while he actually lures you to the more dangerous, self-serving option. It’s a subtle detail, but one that does a great job informing this version of the character.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments!