I don’t mind being on my own in being dissatisfied with The Witch’s Familiar, but I really dislike writing reviews that are more negative than positive. So, hurrah for Toby Whithouse – a man who can really write ghost stories. (I can’t believe I haven’t given Being Human the Joy of Sets treatment yet – I must remedy this soon.)
[Yada-yada, spoilers below the line…]
Of course, being Doctor Who, Under the Lake is almost certainly not a ghost story at all, but it had me on the edge of my seat more than once; it has buckets of atmosphere and a proper mystery for the Doctor to get his teeth into. (And let’s be honest, ghosts would be a disappointing reveal in the Whoniverse.) Crucially, I am looking forward to next week’s episode – something I haven’t been able to say for a long time.
From the cracking pre-title sequence (a masterclass in super-speedy but effective character set-up with the bonus of solid establishing of creepy atmosphere) Under the Lake had me hooked. If I have one criticism, it’s that Pritchard is a little too on-the-nose. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see money-grubbing capitalist parasites flushed out into deep water, but I’ve seen panto villains given more subtle dialogue. (Also, I’m going to assume that by now, you know Clara has annoyed me at least once in any episode, and just stop banging on about it.)
Peter Capaldi, on the other hand, really shines here. I like the small and subtle moments that tell you about his Doctor (the little smile when told he’s itching to save a planet, the look he gives Clara when she tries for a high five) and the idea that he has prompt cards to help him out when he doesn’t know the correct response to give (especially that he still manages to get it a little wrong even then).
I’m always pleased to see sign language in a drama (I liked the jokey miscommunication of who was in charge after Moran’s death), even if I was surprised at how long it took before Cass was used to lipread the ‘ghost’s’ message. (Kudos too, for using a deaf actor to portray a deaf person.) I’m hoping for a good reason why Cass was keeping Lunn out of the spaceship too (knowing why Toby Whithouse was doing it isn’t quite enough). Even if she doesn’t have one, it’s refreshing to see someone make the sensible decision to abandon the base rather than stay and fight/protect the drilling equipment – though drama requires that option to swiftly become unfeasible, at least it’s had an airing (complete with Cabin in the Woods reference). It’s been a long time since I’ve cared about the people in peril that the Doctor meets, but for once I’m rooting for every one of Cass’s team to survive to the end credits next week.
See you next week then – I’ll bring the gin, you bring the crisps…
Jo the Hat