Before the Flood (TV story)

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Before the Flood was the fourth episode of series 9 of Doctor Who.

Unique to this episode, as well as the BBC Wales Doctor Who series since it first aired in 2005, the entire first scene of Before the Flood extensively broke the fourth wall by cutting over to the Twelfth Doctor on board the TARDIS explaining the mechanics of a bootstrap paradox, a point integral to the story.

It also featured the Doctor personally play the theme for Doctor Who for the first time on-screen, using an electric guitar, which actor Peter Capaldi himself knew how to play and had personally selected from a guitar shop previously for a scene in The Magician's Apprentice. His musical pitches blended with that of the normal theme tune arrangement used in the title sequence.

A notable aspect of the production was that part of the audio used to create the Fisher King's guttural roar and the voice of the Twelfth Doctor's hologram ghost were supplied by Corey Taylor, the lead singer of the heavy metal band Slipknot, and a fan of the show.


A twisted and vile survival plan is pieced together by an alien warlord called the Fisher King. The universe will feel the consequence. Can these events be stopped? Can the Doctor ensure the future's coming and do the impossible?


At an unspecified point in time, the TARDIS flies through space. The Doctor addresses the audience directly, telling a story about a time traveller who has had many misadventures zipping around the history of the cosmos. At one point, he decided what was the point of time travel unless you get to meet your heroes. And so, the time traveller decides to meet his favourite musician, Ludwig van Beethoven. However, once he arrives in 18th century Germany, there is no sign of the composer whatsoever; not even the Beethoven family has any idea who Ludwig is. Beethoven literally does not exist.

The Doctor stops his story briefly, grabbing a bust of Beethoven and explains that this never really happened; he's met Beethoven, who was a nice guy but very intense and loved arm-wrestling. The Doctor says he's trying to explain the Bootstrap paradox with this hypothetical scenario, going to put the bust down; however, he turns around and tells the audience to "Google it" if they want specifics.

Placing the bust near an amp and clockwork squirrel, the Doctor explains that the time traveller panicked at the idea of a world without Beethoven's music. That's when the traveller remembered he brought sheet music for Beethoven to autograph. Copying out the music, the time traveller gets it published, effectively becoming Ludwig van Beethoven himself. And history manages to continue on with barely a feather ruffled. However, one little thing about this whole situation is still confusing.

The Doctor uses his guitar.

Grabbing his electric guitar, the Doctor turns on the amp attached to it. Tuning his guitar, the Doctor poses the question about how the music of Beethoven first originated. Did the time traveller create it, or did it simply exist without creation? "Who really composed Beethoven's Fifth?" With that question, the Doctor plays the opening bars on his electric guitar.

In 1980, the TARDIS materialises. The Doctor and O'Donnell exit the TARDIS, noting that Bennett is still throwing up. When the Doctor notes that it usually happens with first-timers to time travel, O'Donnell points out it's unlikely that companions such as Rose, Amy or Martha ever did that on their first trips (likely because they had stronger stomachs). He notes that she knows a lot about him; O'Donnell explains that she used to be in army intelligence until she hung a coworker out a window for angering her.

Bennett joins them, thinking his lunch made him ill; he had shrimp. The Doctor explains that they've arrived at the same location, only before the flood, on the day that the spaceship landed. O'Donnell excuses herself to get a rock out of her boot, with the Doctor going ahead; once the Doctor is out of sight, O'Donnell giddily states the absurdity of the TARDIS interior to Bennett before regaining her composure. They quickly catch up to the Doctor, who has already found the spaceship; he explains that it's basically a hearse. A body-bag is inside, but the strange writing isn't present. They are surprised by a very much alive Albar Prentis, whose sense of smell identifies their species. The Doctor notes that he's met a Tivolian before, and is not a fan of the species. Prentis laughs, noting his species have a tendency to antagonise others.

The Doctor meets another Tivolian.

They ask about the body in the ship, to which Prentis explains is the body of the Fisher King, who ruled Tivoli for a decade before the Arcateenians liberated them. However, the upset Tivolians ended up annoying them so much, that the benevolent species ended up enslaving them next. Bennett flatly states "My first proper alien, and he's an idiot"; he thinks Tivolians are morons for favouring enslavement. Prentis continues his explanation; in accordance with Arcateenian law, the body of the Fisher King is to be buried at a "savage, barren outpost." The Doctor explains that it's the Earth, not the site that is considered such. He then explains the future message, wondering if a special pen is what causes it; Prentis tells him that Tivolians do not have such technology. Even the ship was given to him by the Arcateenians.

Back in the future at the underwater base, Clara, Cass and Lunn see the Doctor's ghost is not hostile, just standing in place and muttering. Cass sees that the Doctor is utter something different from the other Ghosts; "Moran, Prichard, Prentis, O'Donnell, Clara, Bennett, Doctor, Cass." It's a list of who dies in the order in which they are killed; however, only the Doctor and Clara have realised this. Oddly, Lunn is missing from the list.

When the Doctor contacts Clara and is informed about his ghost, he is badly shaken by this certain knowledge of his future. Clara forcefully encourages him to try to change events, but the Doctor argues that he cannot and ultimately accepts the eventuality that he must die to keep events in motion. He tries to get information from his ghost, but instead, it unlocks the Faraday cage, releasing the other ghosts. The Doctor instructs them to go into the cage for their own protection, but to leave the phone outside so he can contact them just in case the situation with the Ghosts changes. They comply, managing to evade the Ghosts.

O'Donnell hides from the Fisher King.

In the meantime, Prentis returns to his ship to find the Fisher King missing and the strange symbols have appeared. As soon as the writing has finished altering his mind, Prentis is surprised by the Fisher King and shot dead. The Doctor, O'Donnell and Bennett rush back the hearse to stop the chain of events, but find they have been too slow to figure out the Fisher King's plans; he faked his death to get away from the Arcateenians. Hearing a roar from the mighty monarch, the trio run into the buildings, hoping to avoid becoming Ghosts.

Hearing the stomping, mechanical footsteps of the Fisher King pass by, O'Donnell breathes a sigh of relief. However, when she moves to hide elsewhere, she is surprised by the Fisher King; she screams in horror as the monster shoots her. The Doctor and Bennett rush to find O'Donnell dying, and the Fisher King nowhere to be seen. As O'Donnell dies, Bennett finally realises the list is the order in which they die. When asked who's next, the Doctor says Clara is. Bennett laughs, snidely asking the Doctor if getting closer to his name makes him scared. However, the Doctor says he is attempting to save Clara, not himself.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor attempts to return to the future. The TARDIS rocks violently briefly before refusing to move. They exit, finding themselves behind the building that the TARDIS originally landed at; hearing himself asking O'Donnell where Bennett is, the Doctor realises they've moved 30 minutes back in time. The TARDIS won't let him leave; he's locked in his own time-stream. They find Prentis alive, and the Doctor stops Bennett from trying to prevent his and O'Donnell's deaths; "If you save them, then somebody that was supposed to be dead is alive. Then you really are seeing ghosts." It's obvious as Bennett looks at O'Donnell that he loved her, leaving him saddened. Until past Doctor and Bennett attempt to leave, they have to remain hidden to avoid causing any more complications via a paradox.

O'Donnell returns to the Drum as a ghost.

Back in the future, O'Donnell's ghost appears and steals Clara's phone; having known about it before dying, she had an advantage that the others ghosts did not. Clara is furious, yelling for O'Donnell to put her phone back; however, she then realises that the ghosts did not attempt to kill Lunn when they were being lured to the Faraday cage. Lunn explains that Cass didn't let him in the ship. Clara tells him that means he didn't see the writing and does not have the coordinates in his brain. The ghosts won't kill him since he won't turn into another ghost; this frees him to get the phone back.

Cass is confused, prompting Lunn to translate; she gives a horrified "no". She frantically signs, confusing Clara. She asks what Cass is saying; Lunn says Cass is wondering if travelling with the Doctor has changed her as a person. Clara tells them that her travels with the Doctor have taught her to do what needs to be done, regardless if it might be dangerous. They open the door and Lunn creeps out silently. Clara tells Cass that she doesn't need to worry, Lunn will be fine. However, an upset Cass signs something offensive to Clara to voice her anger before going back inside the Faraday cage. "OK, did not need help to understand that one."

Meanwhile, Lunn finds the phone inside the canteen; however, this was a trap by the Ghosts to use him as bait to lure in the last two potential victims. When Lunn fails to return, Clara agrees to accompany Cass to search for him. However, they get separated; Clara wastes a few moments calling for Cass before remembering that Cass is deaf and cannot hear her.

Leaving Bennett in the TARDIS, the Doctor decides to go confront the vile Fisher King about the abominations that he's created and the deaths he's violated. Finding the stasis chamber, the Doctor explains the future that the Fisher King engineered. He then comes face-to-face with the monstrous King, who knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord; he knows that the Time Lords battled so greatly, that the entire universe felt the effects. Hearing the coordinates tick away in the Doctor's head, the Fisher King sees that he can make a strong transmitter out of the Doctor; once enough Ghosts are created, the signal will reach the Fisher King's people, who will bring an armada to conquer Earth.

The Fisher King watches the flood envelop Краснодар before his death.

The Doctor notes that plan could work, if only he hadn't erased the words on the ship. The Fisher King thinks he's bluffing; however, the Doctor points out that any change to the future by preventing the Fisher King from conquering the Earth is better. Angered, the Fisher King decides to hold off on killing the Doctor until he can rewrite the words. Racing back to his ship, the Fisher King discovers that the writing still there. He realises that the Doctor tricked him into moving away from the safety of the stasis chamber and has used one of the power cells (shown as missing in the previous episode) to destroy the dam wall, flooding the town and killing the Fisher King.

Due to the imminent threat of the flood, TARDIS Security Protocol 712 activates with Bennett still inside, but the Doctor's whereabouts remain unknown as the town floods.

After narrowly avoiding being killed by Moran's ghost, Clara and Cass regroup with Lunn in the hangar. The Ghosts converge in the room, but suddenly the chamber opens up and the Doctor springs out. "Don't kiss me; morning breath." The Doctor turns on his sonic sunglasses, causing the Fisher King's roar to come over the speakers. Clara asks what's happening, to which the Doctor explains it's the call of the Ghosts master, which is calling them to the source. It turns out to be coming from the Doctor's ghost, which vanishes once the Ghosts are all lured into the Faraday Cage. The Doctor's ghost was in actuality a holographic projection that the Doctor was controlling the entire time through his sonic sunglasses.

Later, the Doctor has put the sonic sunglasses on Clara to erase the coordinates from her memory; even though the threat has passed, if she dies and becomes a ghost, that will cause trouble. He then does the same for Cass. The Doctor then mentions that the erase might have affected some of her other memories (such as addresses and how to eat); he then wonders where Bennett got to as he needs a memory wipe as well.

Cass and Lunn finally confess their love for each other

It turns out Bennett is staring at O'Donnell's ghost in the Faraday cage; he wonders what will happen to them. The Doctor informs Bennett that UNIT will cut the cage out and toss into space, where the lack of a magnetic field will cause the ghosts to die. Bennett asks Lunn to translate that both Cass and Lunn should admit their love to each other. Lunn complies, surprising Cass, who kisses him full on the lips with passion.

The Doctor and Clara leave in the TARDIS. The Doctor tells Clara that the order the people would die in was entirely fictional after O'Donnell, but he placed Clara's name second to motivate himself to action. Keeping Lunn off the list was a hint about his immunity to being targeted by the ghosts. Clara asks the Doctor how he knew what to make his ghost's hologram say. He informs her that he only knew what he had to do because he found out through future knowledge of what had been done. He begins to explain to her the idea of the bootstrap paradox......



General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.

Uncredited crew[[edit]]


  • Upon learning that they had time travelled back to 1980, O'Donnell notes that they were in a period before Harold Saxon and the Moon exploding and what O'Donnell refers to as "a big bat coming out of it, both of which the Doctor is aware. She also mentioned the Minister of War. The Doctor, however, does not understand this reference and tells her not to elaborate.
  • The name of the building where the TARDIS arrives is Краснодар, which is Russian. The entire town, before the flood, had a Russian theme due to being at the height of the Cold War. The Doctor claims that the military was being trained for offensives on Soviet soil.

Theories and concepts[[edit]]


Food and beverages[[edit]]

  • Bennett said he had eaten a prawn sandwich.



  • The Doctor had a collection of vinyl records in his TARDIS featuring the works of a number of great composers: one from Franz Liszt, Heather Harper singing Richard Strauss's "Four Last Songs" and "Songs With Orchestra", two Haydn records (one is "Haydn symphonies"), and Beethoven's 5th.
    • The vinyl albums shown in Doctor's collection are real-world releases, not props.


  • The Doctor says that the Faraday cage will be extracted and taken by UNIT into space, where the ghosts will eventually disappear without the electromagnetic field of the Earth to sustain them.
  • UNIT has spaceflight capability. By the 2000s, UNIT is known to have had an operational moonbase. (TV: Death of the Doctor)

Popular culture[[edit]]

  • The Doctor's joke "Don't kiss me, morning breath" refers to a long-running series of television commercials for Scope mouthwash that popularised the catchphrase "Morning breath: the worst breath of the day."

Story notes[[edit]]

The one-off theme used in this episode.
  • This episode adds an electric guitar counter-melody to the title theme, played by Capaldi himself, segueing from the Doctor playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on his electric guitar at the end of the cold opening. This is a one-off variant that is not repeated in the succeeding episodes. Though it has become popular with fans, who enjoyed it.
  • Although the Doctor has momentarily broken the fourth wall in the past, the prologue marks the first time in a regular episode that the character has directly addressed the audience for an extended period of time. As with the mini-episode She Said, He Said, it is difficult to place the prologue within the continuity of the overall series.
  • Early sign of the ghost Doctor not being the same as the others: the Doctor isn't dead, but the ghost is there. O'Donnell dies and her ghost is there.
  • The Radio Times programme listing was accompanied by a small colour head-and-shoulders shot of the Doctor meeting Prentis, with the accompanying caption "Doctor Who / 8.25 p.m. / Raising the dead: the Doctor comes face-to-face with a reanimated Prentis (Paul Kaye)".
  • The working title of the story (and the prior episode) was Ghost in the Machine. (DWM 492) This working title is present on the scripts published on the BBC Writers Room website.
  • According to an interview she gave on the US chat show Conan in September 2015, the clockwork squirrel glimpsed sitting on top of the Magpie speaker in the pre-credits sequence is now in the possession of Jenna Coleman. She showed the squirrel during an interview with BBC Radio 1 (video from which was uploaded to YouTube) in December 2020.


Filming locations[[edit]]

Caerwent Training Area

Production errors[[edit]]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • The "Next Time" trailer for The Girl Who Died features an unfinished effects shot of Clara floating in space.
  • The Fisher King's gun is missing when he sees the dam break up, but is back in his hand when he roars in defiance of the oncoming flood.
  • On several occasions during the Doctor's conversation with Prentis, the shot is flipped because his head garment drapes on the other side of his neck.
  • When Clara is talking to the Doctor over the phone in private, she backs against a wall in long shots, but in close-ups, she is behind the glass of the cafeteria. This is noticeable because the ghost-Doctor is visible through the window.
  • When Prentis discovers the bandages inside the spaceship, they rearrange themselves between shots.
  • During when Clara is speaking to the Doctor, on several occasions we can see her phone screen. It shows a phone keypad and the red call button, showing that she hasn't actually called anyone and is merely speaking to the phone prop.


Home video releases[[edit]]

DVD & Blu-ray releases[[edit]]

  • Before the Floor was released as part of the Series 9, Part One DVD and Blu-ray boxsets in region 1/A on 3 November 2015, in region 2/B on 2 November 2015 and in region 4/B on 4 November 2015.
  • It was later released as part of the Complete Ninth Series DVD and Blu-ray boxsets in region 1/A on 5 April 2016, in region 2/B on 7 March 2016 and in region 4/B on 9 March 2016.

Digital releases[[edit]]

  • In the United Kingdom, this story is available on BBC iPlayer.

External links[[edit]]