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Doctor Who S9.04 "Before The Flood" review

It's not too often that the Doctor speaks to the camera – the first time was William Hartnell saying “Merry Christmas to all of you at home” in the festive episode of “The Daleks' Master Plan” 50 years ago – but that's how we get underway this week. It's a rug-pull, and it grabs the attention – and of course foreshadows the episode's tricksy resolution.

The Doctor barks at us: “the bootstrap paradox – google it” (bettering Hartnell, we feel). So we did, and the definition reads: “The bootstrap paradox is a time travel paradox in which an object or information can exist without ever being created.” The name comes from a 1941 story by Robert Heinlein called "By His Bootstraps". It's a bold move, a cheeky one, because Doctor Who, particularly in recent years, has made use of this paradox. Remember how Matt Smith's Doctor somehow got out of the Pandorica? But does deliberately highlighting it in this way make it an acceptable plot device? Mmmm, maybe…

The concluding part of Toby Whithouse's clever, creepy story is perhaps a cut above the first one. It makes use of an unusual and spooky location, an abandoned simulation of Soviet Russia in 1980 Scotland; it has a touch of the Back To The Future 2s about it, as the Doctor and co try to hide themselves from their half-hour-in-the-future selves; and it showcases Peter Capaldi's growing confidence in the part and his Doctor's more assured and smart approach. Thankfully he's reasserting himself as the dominant figure in the TARDIS, which makes complete sense considering he's the thousand-year-old Time Lord. Also welcome is the fact that he's a little more easy-going and a tad more light-hearted (but let's have more humour and more fun, please!).

Time Lord Trivia

The Doctor previously met a member of the Tivoli race in Whithouse's 2011 story “The God Complex”, as played by David Walliams.

Once again the spook-ometer is turned up to 11. The gradual reveal of the monster is effective, but the pick of the scares surely has to be the sequence where Cass is stalked by Moran's ghost, and with the camera on Cass's face we hear what she is hearing – which is, of course, nothing. It's very well done. That the character's deafness is properly utilised, in this scene and in her lip-reading of the ghosts, is something.

Less well used is Paul Kaye as Prentis – what a waste to bring in such an ebullient actor and give him so few lines. Also, can we not have slightly less murky visuals? Yes, we understand later on in the evening/darker stories yada yada, but it's like watching a television show whose cameras have been dragged through the swamps of Dagobah.

And after all the deaths, all the twisting of time (we're NOT going to use the “T-W” phrase), all the doom and gloom, and the drowning of the Fisher King, it turns out to be a love story! Or, more pointedly, a call to seize the day – carpe diem and all that. Fair enough, that's a positive message. And, also positively, this story managed to open up after its first instalment, so we didn't just get a retread of the first one, as was pretty much the case with 2011's “The Rebel Flesh”/”The Almost People”. The nagging feeling remains that Doctor Who still isn't doing enough to snag those all-important casual viewers, the ones that made our programme the most talked about one in the country at times, but “Before The Flood” is a decent addition to this series.

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HUGE TALENT

The Fisher King is played by Britain's, nay, Europe's biggest man Neil Fingleton (he's 7.56ft); he's also been in X-Men: First Class, Game Of Thrones and Jupiter Ascending. The beast was voiced by Peter Serafinowicz, and, brilliantly, his roar was provided by Corey Taylor of thrash metal band Slipknot.

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SCOTSMAN WITH A GRIEVANCE

As if Peter Capaldi's Doctor wasn't scary enough, his “ghost” is on hand to be even more unsettling.

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OUT OF THIS WORLD

We heartily recommend a visit to Tivoli. The amusement park and pleasure garden in Copenhagen, that is.

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BEFORE: THE BAND

Before The Flood is the title of a splendid 1974 live album by Bob Dylan and The Band; songs on it perhaps apposite to current Who are “Knockin' On Heaven's Door” and “Ballad Of A Thin Man”.

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MORE NAME-DROPPING

The Doctor: “I've met Beethoven. Nice chap. Very intense. Enjoyed an arm wrestle.”

Doctor Who airs on Saturday evenings on BBC One in the UK and BBC America in the US.

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WriterToby Whithouse
DirectorDaniel O'Hara
The One WhereThe Doctor travels back to 1980 to save the future from the terrifying Fisher King.

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Available platformsTV