“The Beast Below” – Review: Redux

Liz Ten “I am the bloody queen, mate. Basically, I rule.”

The Beast Below

So, “The Beast Below” could be seen as The Moff’s difficult second album. We appear superficially at any rate to be following a familiar formula in terms of series structure, with  “The Eleventh Hour” as the contemporary companion introduction, this one as the trip in to the far future, and next week’s “Victory of the Daleks” as the trip in to the past. On the principles that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery coupled with the fact that if ain’t broke don’t fix it, I think it’s a perfectly fine path to tread. However, other than a gentle nod to the penultimate scene in “The End of the World”, the similarities between this tale and RTD’s second story soon end. Visually, I was more reminded of The Long Game than anything else as our time travellers find themselves aboard a space ship cluttered with contemporary paraphernalia: lollypop ladies, cafe’s, school kids with satchels, and old fashioned red phone boxes. Although, as it’s Doctor Who, all is not quite right or as it appears.

I think it’s true to say that in recent interviews Steven Moffat has said that this is the episode about which he is least happy this series, but is he doing himself a disservice? The story, though, is an exceptionally simple one. The unpalatable truth behind the escaping British spaceship is kept from the majority of its resident’s who wander about in blissful ignorance. The secret is gradually uncovered and there is a dilemma as to how to resolve it. However, a clever “third way” is discovered and everyone lives happily ever after. This is after all, a fairy-tale as Steven Moffat & Co. are readily on hand to remind us whenever a camera goes anywhere near the production team. However, the Beast Below as a stand alone story, is not so easily dismissed. It has layers and depth and magic and as memorable a one-off character in Liz 10 as we’ve seen for a while. I adored Sophie Okenedo’s turn as the gun-toting, down-to-earth, Eliza Doolittle style monarch. Her pre-knowledge of the Doctor was also a nice touch, revisiting some of Ten’s on and off screen encounters with her regal predecessors. The episode also serves as a relationship defining moment between Amy and the Doctor.

Amy is given almost no time to adapt to her new life, not even enough time to change from her night-clothes before being thrust into the wacky world of Starship UK. The Doctor deliberately leaves her on her own shortly after arrival as if challenging her to demonstrate her worthiness. From there Amy moves to quickly discover some secrets of the ship with an assuredness and an admirably keen sense of discovery. Without hesitation she investigates the nature of the “hole” despite the protestations of the local girl and despite the knowledge that she is operating in, what Eleven described as a police state. Finally, after being captured by the mysterious black-hooded figures and upon awaking in a chair in a Big Brother-esque video room, she learns the truth and then immediately chooses to “forget” it, a decision that later causes the Doctor some concern. However, redemption is soon forthcoming after Amy and the Doctor are reunited along with the Liz 10 and the young girl Amy befriended. The key scene within the episode was the scene where the revelation about the nature of Spaceship UK and the Pratchett-like space whale that was being tortured beneath. The Doctor jumped through to his conclusions with a rapid, scatter gun approach as he put together the pieces of the puzzle that led Liz 10 to understand her role in what had happened. However, this is a different Doctor, he is a little more vulnerable and significantly he had missed an important element. Step up, Amy. Putting everything at risk, she forced the queen to abdicate, but her insight into being able to see the true nature of the space whale (and to then compare it the Doctor’s own situation) was masterful. Suddenly, role of Doctor and companion were temporarily reversed and it is the Doctor who is left to ponder his own shortcomings, while Amy has the satisfaction of having proved herself. Clever. And I like this awkward and imperfect Doctor – here he shows some promise of the highs we know will come.

Direction of this episode, for better or worse did not have the clever touches of Adam Smith in the preceding ep but was a more workmanlike job. However, I did like a lot of the little nuanced elements of script and the production. The Star Wars nods such as “Save us Doctor, you’re our only hope”, the garbage chute, and even the “wipe” transition effect between scenes. All of which is perhaps another nudge to the audience to widen our definition of what a fairy tale might be – Lucas’s work being arguably, one of the greatest fairy tales ever told, whether you see it as overly derivative or not. We also got to see another “crack” appear, even though it was rammed home with the close up shot a little more than was probably necessary. There was also a nice “last of the Time Lords” scene that served as an essential plot driver (allowing Amy to understand more about the Doctor’s loneliness) but instead of the angst with which it was played out by Eccleston in the aforementioned “The End Of The World” and later on frequent occasions by Tennant. Here it was dismissed with little more than “it was a bad day”. I am sure that the events of The End Of Time both literally locked the events of the Time War back away, and also served to allow the Doctor to move on from them. I think Eleven’s attitude works within the continuing narrative, rather than Moffat simply choosing to play down the Time War. Originally, I enjoyed it more than “The Eleventh Hour”, this time through it didn’t quite match up to the highs I saw the week before but I don’t think it is truly deserving of the grief this one sometime’s gets.

Highlight: The little Star Wars touches

Lowlight: The set looked cheap

Talking Point: Should Doctor Who be a fairy tale?

Demon’s Run Rating: 13 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 10th April 2010

Marathon Status: Series Five well under way

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