Doctor Who: The Overused Fake-Out Death Cliffhanger

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Dr. Moo addresses his first major issue so far with series nine.

Series nine of Doctor Who is in full swing, already the third episode has been and gone. Under The Lake was an excellent piece of television with ghosts, a base under siege, chills, creeps, essentially everything you could possibly want from a top quality episode of Doctor Who. It all came to a head in a brilliant twist for the cliffhanger, when another completely new ghost appears belonging to… the Doctor! I must admit, I did not see that coming.

There’s only one problem with this cliffhanger and that’s the fact that this is now the fourth time this season – count for yourself – where the cliffhanger has been a fake-out death. That’s twice as many fake-out deaths as there have been cliffhangers this season!

The problem, you see, is that a good cliffhanger needs to put our protagonists into what looks like a helpless situation and leave us waiting all week to see how they can get out unharmed. The Magician’s Apprentice and Under The Lake both turned the tables on that and made it look as though the characters had literally been killed before the credits rolled. To do that once is pushing it, but to do it twice in a row is just plain lazy.

I want to make it very clear now that this is in no way a criticism of Moffat or Whithouse. I’m not saying they should go back and tear up their script and write it differently. What I am saying is that suspension of disbelief has its limitations and when we know the cliffhanger is presenting us with a situation that we know is not real those limits are broken. We didn’t believe for a second that Clara or Missy were really exterminated, that the Doctor would kill Davros as a child or that the Doctor is really dead. For a cliffhanger to truly work we need to have at least one of the characters in mortal peril, no doubt about that, but that’s not the same as a fake-out death.

Compare these fake-outs to a similar example from series five in The Pandorica Opens: Amy Pond has been shot dead. See why that episode can get away with it? It was because we can watch it and think that she really could have just died on us there. By contrast nobody for even a microsecond can believe that the Doctor is going to die in Before The Flood.

I don’t want to be overly negative here so let me point out that both The Magician's Apprentice and Under The Lake provided us with incredible cliffhangers with these characters apparently dying. It’s just a shame that it’s not something we can believe.

When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.

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