Elliott Rowe keeps it contained...
Doctor Who has many tropes which it has relied on in its 50+ year history. With “Under the Lake” Airing next week, an episode that seems to be returning to one of the most famous tropes; the “base under siege”, I thought it would be good to look at exactly what it is and examine some of Doctor Who's best examples of this genre.
So, what is the “Base under siege” format? The basic idea is to take the Doctor (and companions), bring them to an enclosed location, or locations, with a small group of other characters and introduce an attacking foe. The Doctor then helps the group of characters overcome and defeat the enemy.
The thing that distinguishes this type of episode from others is the location; the base. Throughout the years the locations have ranged from the Moon to Mars, from underwater bases to the edge of a black hole. The one thing these stories all have in common is a small claustrophobic feel to them, rather than the open feeling other episodes do.
Originally devised by producer Innes Lloyd as a cost saving method, this particular trope went on to define the Second Doctor’s era with many of his episodes following this style, and over the years the show has reverted to this format on many occasions. So here are some of the episodes I feel showcase the base under siege trope at its best. (In no particular order)
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (11th Doctor 2010)
Straight from Matt Smith’s first series, this two-part story gave us the return of both River Song and the Weeping Angels. Set on the crashed cruise liner ‘The Byzantium’ we follow The Doctor, Amy, River and the band of clerics as they move through the ship, which is being attacked by the weeping angels.
This story has tones of a classic horror film, mixed with the base under siege element, as the core location is contained within the bowels of the Byzantium as the characters move towards the top of the ship.
Father’s Day (9th Doctor 2005)
Jumping back to series one of the revived Who with the critically acclaimed ‘Father’s Day’ written by Paul Cornell, a story that is mostly remembered for the emotionally charged meeting between Rose and her dead father. The main action takes place in a Church in London in 1987. Rose rips a hole in time when she saves her father from dying, which means the ‘Reapers’ appear and start to try and cauterise the wound.
Once again this episode delivers a classic BUS style story. The Doctor, Rose and a rag-tag bunch of wedding guests locked in a church fighting against the onslaught of the Reapers’ attack.
The Web of Fear (2nd Doctor 1968)
Jumping back in time to the Doctor who started the trend, the recently rediscovered Web of Fear is a classic example of the genre. The Doctor, Jamie, Victoria and the Brigadier fight against the Great Intelligence and the Yeti in London’s abandoned underground.
A story that until 2013 was thought to be lost forever, for me The Web Of Fear is the epitome of the base under siege genre. The pacing and the directing of the story gives a truly claustrophobic feel, and the black and white cleverly cover the “cheapness” of the effects. Not only is this an excellent example of the genre, but it’s a fine example of my personal favourite era of Doctor Who.
Mummy on the Orient Express (12th Doctor 2014)
‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is hailed by many as one of the highlights of Peter Capaldi’s debut series as the Doctor. Written by newcomer Jamie Mathieson, this episode gives us a slight twist on the base under siege in that it sees just one enemy attacking the ‘base’ rather than an army. The Doctor, Clara and the occupants of the train race against time to unravel the mystery of the Mummy who is killing off the passengers.
Set solely in three locations of the same train this episode truly embodies the base under siege genre and gives a real feel that the passengers are trapped with no escape to be found.
The Tenth Planet (1st Doctor 1966)
Although I mention Patrick Troughton as the pioneer of the Doctor Who base under siege story, truthfully the credit must go to the first Doctor, William Hartnell, as the first example of this genre was his last story as the Doctor.
As well as being the first BUS Who story, The Tenth Planet is famous for featuring the first regeneration and the introduction of the Cybermen. Set in a base in the Antarctic, this story sees the Doctor, Ben and Polly team up with the base crew to fight against the onslaught of Cybermen.
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (10th Doctor 2006)
Diving into the Tenth Doctor’s era for this entry, this two-part story sees the Doctor and Rose land the TARDIS on a planet orbiting a black hole. The base is attacked by the seemingly docile Ood, who are being controlled by a far deadlier and more malevolent force than the Doctor realises.
This story captures the feel of the under siege genre well, the base feels small and cramped, and gives the sense of claustrophobia that is vital to this particular style of episode.
These episodes are just some examples of the base under siege genre that we have seen in Doctor Who. There are many other examples throughout the shows history, and one more will join them this weekend.
“Under the Lake” promises to deliver a classic base under siege story with small corridors and a relentless enemy persuing the crew of an underwater base. I personally can’t see wait to see what Toby Whithouse has in store for us. Can you?