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Thoughts on DW: "The Beast Below"

Saw the second episode of Matt Smith's first season as the Doctor on Doctor Who, "The Beast Below", on Saturday night. Finally.



What can I say about this particular episode of the new Moffat-y Doctor Who?

The basic plot of this story is pretty simple. The Doctor takes new companion Amy Pond aboard Starship UK, to see how the British are living on a habitat in space in the 29th Century, but discovers that something is odd, and they face the menace of the Smilers.

To be honest, I didn't like "The Beast Below" on first viewing, but after the second viewing, I think this one is a deceptive little story with a lot going on in some ways. The revelation at the end of the story, where it is revealed through Amy's memories of what she was told about the truth of Starship UK, and she puts together the fact that the Star Whale heard the children screaming and came to help of its own free will... this is the core, the heart, of the story - and mankind did what it usually does. The fact that it takes Amy's humanity to see what the Doctor couldn't see is what makes this story special, and illustrates that Amy Pond is a "special" companion in some fashion. Much of the rest of the story is pretty much surreal window dressing, but the story has its moments.

The opening sequence, with Amy Pond floating outside the TARDIS just annoyed me, but it did show something else: the child-like elements that Amy and Matt Smith's Doctor seem to have this series, and the sheer exuberance at times of the two characters. The arrival on Starship UK and the whole business with the two children was interesting, but the Doctor's swearing not to interfere was something that came out of the blue, although it is certainly in keeping with the Hartnell and Troughton Doctors' personality as well. The best laid intentions, as they say, however. I find it interesting that Moffat seems to have this fixation for children in the series, what with young Amy Pond and the two kids here, and his previous writing on New Who also has this element to it. Hmm...

The less said about the Doctor and Amy's trip into the whale, the whole tongue business, the gastric fluids and other aspects of these scenes the better. The Smilers appeared to have promise as villains here, but were pretty lame in that department, although the reveal of the half-human, half-Smiler ones were rather creepy. They were very reminiscent of several other similar types in Classic Who serials, but had much more polished looks to them. I rather liked Liz 10, and found her to be a very nicely competent character over the course of the story, Sophie Okonedo doing a really good job of portraying a character who has to balance wanting to find out the truth of what's going on and the secrets being concealed from her against the well-being of her people and subjects. I loved the conversation with the Doctor early on, where she tells him what she knows about his relationships with various Queens of England, and the reveal that she was much older than she looked was a nice surprise.

The role that Amy played, in terms of learning the truth about Starship UK, and then realizing that she couldn't let the Doctor find out the truth because of the situation that it would put him in, was handled well, although I don't understand when Amy was able to leave the message for herself, given that after being exposed to the data in question she immediately hit the Forget button. So when did she have the time to leave herself the message, or is there something else implied here?

One of the things that irked me in the episode is that writer Steven Moffat started to stray into the angsty Doctor period here, but I thought that Matt Smith couldn't pull it off as effectively as David Tennant did (and I'm not saying this in a positive way about either Doctor's angsty nature). Since Matt Smith couldn't pull it off, this means we might see less of it as his run as the Doctor goes on. I really hope this angsty nature is not a basic part of this incarnation of the Doctor's personality. I guess I'll have to wait and see more.

I found the sequence with the Star Whale and the "crack in the wall" on its skin to be rather heavy-handed this early on of keeping the story arc for the series in focus. I was even less pleased with the ringing of the telephone in the TARDIS being heard outside the ship, even with the doors closed, but was intrigued about what Winston Churchill wants, and the fact that there appear to be Daleks involved. I suppose that some people may have felt cheated and annoyed by this cliffhanger, but to be honest, it reminded me of some of the Classic Who serials and their continuation into the next serial, so this was a good thing.

I also rather liked the Magpie Electricals business, since that company/business has been referenced in earlier episodes. Given that we saw the "origins" of the company in "The Idiot's Lantern" (iirc), and that they have shown up in DW Seasons 3 and 4 and the Sarah Jane tv series, I have to wonder if it's more like a generic company a la Acme Electronics, rather than a sinister plot element. Or perhaps Moffat is engaging in some misdirection and all. I guess only time will tell.

That said, overall this was not one of my favourite stories, despite some of the good things it had going on in it. The story itself was weak, and in the end the Doctor really didn't have anything to do so. Some of the humour in the episode and the weakness of the Smilers as villains detracted from the story, so it just didn't work for me. The weakest story that Moffat has written for the series in his time on it so far.

I give it 6.5 out of 10.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
jkahane
Apr. 26th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
I don't know about that. There's a possibility that the message was left by a future Amy, it could be that something else happened that allowed her to leave the message, and it's even possible that she was born on Starship UK and that there's other stuff going on here.

And how exacty does that mindwipe work, anyway? (Sorry, just being facetious.)
(Deleted comment)
jkahane
Apr. 27th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
I think every theory's that out there now about all sorts of things is as valid as any other until we get some proof. Like you said, just have to wait and see what Moffat has up his sleeve.
spross
Apr. 30th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
I noticed no one asked the obvious question? How did the voting booth recognize Amy even though she was 380+ years old, but looked twenty something. I mean, she would have been 200 something when Starship UK launched, why would they even have her ID on record?

Perhaps, she's immortal and recorded the message shortly after launch?
jkahane
May. 1st, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
That question did occur to me, but I suspect that it's tied in somehow with the origins of Amy and the secrets that she's got (since it's pretty obvious to all that Amy's not just a small girl from a little village with nothing to hide and all that).
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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John Kahane

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