Before the Flood
The Doctor: So, there’s this man, he has a time machine. Up and down history he goes — zip, zip, zip, zip, zip — getting into scrapes.
Doctor Who Season: S35 (Ep4).
Story Number: 255b.
It’s the 1980s all over again…
1980 specifically, as the Doctor time-travels back to before the flood of the fake Russian village, (which is actually Scotland). Also 1989 as that was when the Doctor battled Fenric on television.
The most extraordinary fact about Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric is that the Berlin Wall fell halfway through the broadcast of that 4-episode story. That story was set in 1943 and is the other Doctor Who story (along with this one) to feature Soviet iconography so prominently.
That’s not the only parallel with that particular Seventh Doctor story though, but for now let us consider why the Cold War is foregrounded for this story. It empahasises this is part of the past, of history, though they are recent events.
The spectacle of the Doctor & friend looping back to watch their own immediate past – the dangers of which were memorably visualised by 2005’s Father’s Day – is an integral part of this story. We’ve become accustomed to Doctor Who actually regularly being a show about time-travel with the Moffat era, but this script from Toby Whithouse is actually one of the most-complicated ones, temporally speaking. It’s not simply done for showy plot knots as there is heartbreaking drama when Bennett has to watch O’Donnell alive when he knows she will be dead moments later. That scene also raises the interesting question – never quite answered – of whether the Doctor is privileging his companion’s life over those that they’re with.
The attention to detail given to crafting a supremely alien antagonist is also similar to The Curse of Fenric and the 1980s of Doctor Who generally. Often for the 21st Century programme the monsters have a “spokesperson” that’s taken the form of a human but Peter Serafinowicz for this story gives voice to an elaborately built villain that towers over the Doctor.
Clara’s ongoing “apprenticeship” sees her trying to grapple with the kind of decisions the Doctor has to make – how to marshal her “troops” back at the base. Quite rightly Cass sticks up for Lunn as Clara argues he’s the one who has to deal with the ghosts.
O’Donnell becoming a ghost – when all she wanted was to travel with the Doctor – seems like ominous foreshadowing.