Steven Moffat has a knack for knowing what scares children, or our inner child.
The opening sequence of “The Beast Below” brings back every nasty memory you ever had of doing poorly on a test in school: the shame, the embarrassment, the chewing out from the teacher, but because this is “Doctor Who” the fear is real, for we find that naughty little kids are sent to the beast below.
It’s the 29th Century, and the Doctor and Amy show up on the future Starship UK, a colony spaceship where the remaining British citizens (except for the Scots) took refuge after the Earth became unable to sustain life. The Starship UK is a Steampunk-type vision. Everything looks old; semi-Victorian, and includes lots of mechanical fortuneteller booth baddies called Smilers that spy on everyone. We get a vigilante Queen, Liz the Tenth (Sophie Okonedo), who has been waiting for the Doctor. Oh, and of course there is the infamous the Beast Below.
This is primarily an episode about getting to know Companion Amy (Karen Gillan) who is sent off by the Doctor to follow the little girl whose silent tears go unacknowledged by others because, as the Doctor surmises, they already know what is wrong. The nightgown-wearing Amy (seriously, what 20-something actually wears such a granny gown?) finds a hole in the road with a monster, a strange voting booth where you can either Protest or Forget the reason why the Starship UK survives on its journey.
The script cleverly plays on the suspicion of faceless shadow government with a private agenda that even the Queen knows nothing of. Liz 10 has set herself up to investigate a "conspiracy" that she herself has created and then has to forget in order to save her own people. There is something quire disturbing about the idea of an entire nation voting every year to forget the horrific thing they’re doing; democracy in action, but at what cost? Clever stuff from Master Moffat.
It’s a good story, if a little odd, but there were a lot of weird touches that seemed a bit random and could have done with some explaining. What was the deal with the Smilers? We spend a lot of time introducing them as the baddies, but they really didn’t do all that much in the end other than look scary/creepy. Why even bother feeding children to the whale, if they were just going to get coughed up? Part of the problem here comes because of the giant info-dump in the big scene near the end which leaves the audience having to take up a lot in a big rush after what had been quite a slow build up of story. This is very much Amy’s episode, and in the end it is the human Amy in her nightgown (very Author Dent!) who saves the last of Britain on the Starship UK. The Doctor gets a bit of a humbling moment because it is Amy’s human insight that sees the obvious truth, about both the star-whale and the Doctor, and it is with that realization that the bond begins to form between them making for a quite nice and very thoughtful ending.
Best Parts: This was Amy Pond’s chance to shine; after a bit of a bumpy start. Loved the little Star Wars homage. The slow bonding of the Amy/Doctor friendship. Moffat’s multi-dimensional writing. It’s not just a story about a spaceship and a whale; it’s about moral choices we must all face.
Best Quote: Amy: ‘What are you going to do?”
The Doctor: What I always do, stay out of trouble. Badly.”
Worst Parts: Why didn’t the Doctor know about star-whales? I am a stickler about the little threads in science fiction writing that get answered so that you don’t ask too many whys? Maybe it’s just me, or perhaps I need a closer investigation of the final info-dump scene, but it’s really not likely that the Doctor would allow Starship UK to crash if he released the star-whale. Why couldn’t the Doctor release the star-whale and just tow (as in “Journey’s End”) the Starship UK? Why didn’t the TARDIS translate the star-whale language as it does everything else?
My Rating: Solid, but a few too many little threads for me. I give it a 4 out 5.
Raine Gendron blogs about Doctor and other Science Fiction phenomenon at The Singularity Point: