Doctor Who's Under the Lake splits Reg scribes: This Alien homage thing – good or bad?
'I've not seen tech on Earth like this before'
Alien! Homage! For the win?
Well, no, not quite. The first episode of this second two-parter in Season 9 of Doctor Who draws appropriate terror from at least one of the characters (Cass, played by Sophie Stone), who is spooked by the sight of two ghost-like figures rushing towards the crew in the opening minutes of Under the Lake.
The horror is heightened in classic Hollywood-style by the reveal that one of their own (Captain Moran, played by Colin McFarlane) has "turned" not long after a craft of "UNKNOWN ORIGIN" is stupidly brought on board The Drum – an underwater mining facility, complete with its own lead-lined Faraday cage.
But while the writing in this ep from Toby Whithouse – who, among other Doctor Who scripts, penned The Vampires of Venice and A Town Called Mercy – is agreeably strong, it's let down by the performances, as well as its inability to distinguish enough from the excellent Alien movie that it is apeing.
Under the Lake, despite its promise, also lacks enough jeopardy for me to really care about what will happen next.
Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 3 – Under the Lake. Pic credit: BBC
And I say this even as we see, in the final scene, a strange figure floating through the dark depths of the murky waters surrounding the mining facility, only to be revealed as a ghostly Doctor, his eyes seemingly removed with a melon spoon. It's worth noting that this slow dawning horror build is a homage to another great movie: Deep Blue Sea – a film that is hard to beat for pure entertainment value.
If we don't have Clara being eaten by a bad ass, super-intelligent shark by the second part of this particular story, though, then I – for one – will be bitterly disappointed.
'Put the handbrake on.'
But back to the unashamedly I Heart Alien moments peppered throughout this episode. From the evil corporation Vector Petroleum and its slimy, not-to-be-trusted-with-your-gran rep Pritchard, all the way to the dramatic computer countdown that warns of an imminent disaster on board the facility. While Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi masterpiece offers a race against the ship automatically destructing; Daniel O'Hara's Under the Lake floods the base to keep the nuclear reactor (which powers the "trillion dollars-worth" of mining equipment) cool. Obviously.
Which neatly brings me to the tech used in this episode: VR controls, Wi-Fi, sonic specs ... Ah, if only Steven Moffat had been sealed inside a Faraday cage while he developed the story arc for this series. At least then we may have been spared those truly awful sunnies. ®