Doctor Who Review: Under the Lake

The TARDIS arrives in an underwater base in the early 22nd century. Viewers are advised to bring a sofa to hide behind as the modern series shows it can still do scary.

Cast and Crew

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor
Jenna Coleman as Clara
Colin McFarlane as Moran
Sophie Stone as Cass
Zaqi Ismail as Lunn
Morven Christie as O’Donnell
Arsher Ali as Bennett
Steven Robertson as Pritchard
Paul Kaye as Prentis

Written by Toby Whithouse
Produced by Derek Ritchie
Directed by Daniel O’Hara


The TARDIS decides to take the Doctor and Clara to an underwater oil prospecting base in 2119. All is not well. One of the crew is dead and his ghost now walks the corridors…

High Points

Unusually, this episode’s guest characters already know who the Doctor is and what he does. That does save a lot of tedious suspicion and messing around.

What the Doctor did with his radio.

No longer does the Doctor just point his sonic screwdriver at everything and fix it. I hadn’t realised how much that was annoying me until it stopped.

This story is a two-parter, the second of the series already.

Several genuinely scary moments, like the Doctor Who I remember from my childhood.

Low Points

The completely and totally predictable actions of Prentis.

Why did nobody seem curious about why Lunn is still alive?

The reactor safety mechanism was clearly designed by the same folks they kept letting design things in Thunderbirds. And also, why in 2119 are they still using fission reactors?

The Scores

Originality suffers when you’re telling another trapped-in-a-base-with-some-monsters story. The motivations of these monsters appear to be different, but ultimately they’re still chasing people through corridors a lot. The plucky and determined crew, the reluctant crew and the complete idiot in the crew are also present and accounted for. 3/6.

The effects are slightly heavy-handed at times. I think the ghosts might’ve done well with a slightly subtler effect, and it seems like each new ghost introduced looks less like the first ghost and more like a hazy Skeletor. There are very few other digital effects that make themselves obvious, and the water all appears satisfyingly wet. 4/6

Expansive and interesting, the story has room to breathe in the first half of this two-parter. I hope the second half manages to conclude it in a satisfactory manner, but it certainly feels like there’s enough material for another well-paced episode. There’s a definite cutoff between the two parts where everything changes, but it didn’t feel like the story was deliberately stretched or cut to get the episode break in the most dramatic place. 5/6

The acting is excellent. Many of the cast are playing fairly one-dimensional characters, but there are little moments from each of them which shine through something a bit deeper than that. Capaldi remains excellent, and the interaction between him and Coleman after the opening credits was superb. 5/6

For emotional response I have to note that I didn’t actually hide behind the sofa, but there were a few times when I was very tempted to press pause and go and do the washing up for a bit. Except my kitchen window doesn’t have a blind and looks out onto a dark garden. This episode exhibits some excellent use of some fairly typical horror tropes to build up tension and get the audience quite anxious. Proper Doctor Who hide-behind-the-sofa moments abound. 5/6

Production falls down slightly – I’m just not entirely convinced by the corridor sets. Why do they look so artificially dirtied and worn out when the hanger bay and the control room are both pristine? I suspect the budget limitations are showing. It’s not a massive problem, but it has a big vibe of “generic futuristic underwater base” about it. 4/6

Overall I was on the edge of the sofa (not quite hiding behind it) and have been left eager to find out what happens in the next episode. 6/6

In total, Under The Lake receives 32/42

3 replies on “Doctor Who Review: Under the Lake”

  1. Why did nobody seem curious about why Lunn is still alive?

    They probably cut the part where the doctor explained it explicitly but it’s consistent with what that found out about the ship. The ghosts are killing people who have seen the coordinates in the spaceship so those people’s ghosts can then act as transmitters for those coordinates, but just like the Doctor and Clara when they first arrived Lunn hadn’t been in the ship so had never seen the coordinates. They didn’t kill him because he was useless as a transmitter.

  2. Under the lake
    Darling you’re deader
    Down where it’s wetter
    Take it from me
    Here in the base you’ll dig the most
    Running away from creepy ghosts
    Doctor’s devotin’
    Full time to floatin’
    Under the lake

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