Doctor Who 5.02: The Beast Below

I may have committed major book buying today. Oops. In my defence, they are all award nominees and I’ll be able to form an opinion on what should win now. Er.

Anyway. It’s so good to have Doctor Who to squee about. I’m hiding the rest of this behind a cut because I discuss major spoilers for the entire episode. You have been warned!

This was a less madcap, slightly more thoughtful episode than last week and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Moffat must have known that he’d be airing it around election time so it feels particularly apt coming in the week that the election has been called.

There’s something quite disturbing about the idea of an entire nation voting every year to forget the horrific thing they are doing. Democracy in action, but what a terrible choice to give people.

The Smilers creepy more than scary. They reminded me of the laughing policemen you used to see in booths at fairgrounds – I’d imagine that’s where Moffat got his inspiration. I always found those things quite creepy. The episode had a feel of harking back to old times despite the setting on a spaceship. It was a nice dichotomy: the old London market of forty years ago set on a vessel from the future. Seeing all those vintage outfits fit perfectly, much nicer than the jumpsuit type costumes that you usually see on space ships.

I think children are always going to be a theme of Moffat scripts. Perhaps that’s why people are commenting on the demographic that he’s aiming at? The thing is that although there are children and no doubt kids watching are going to identify with the children on it, the horror of the voting is something that will reverberate for the adults far more. The multi-layered nature of Moffat’s scripts is one of the things that I love.

In some ways, I was expecting the true nature of the beast below to be quite different. I’m not sure of the specifics of what I was imagining, but the star whale is nothing like it. Somewhere in my brain I was vaguely expecting something more hellish.

There were elements that reminded me of Star Wars. Mostly it was the scene in the mouth – that could have come straight from A New Hope. But there was also the “Help us, your own only hope” and the side-scroll scene change at the end. I wonder whether that was a concious choice from the director? I sort of hope that it was.

Liz Ten was a fantastic character. I love the idea of a gun-toting Queen moving hell and earth to save her subjects. The choices she made work for me because it’s what monarchy is bred for: the pain and loneliness of their duty, making decisions that nobody else can make. When she described the last days on Earth I could almost see it in my mind.

I can only imagine what she’ll feel now that she knows they didn’t have to do it.

The star whale is a brilliant idea. When the Doctor started to set up the equipment to kill it, I knew that he wouldn’t do it because it’s so fundamentally opposite to everything he stands for. The thing that I hadn’t predicted was what Amy would do and what she would see. Amy is growing on me more and more, I’m starting to get some idea of how she works. It’s lovely to have a companion who can think and sometimes be the one that saves the day.

That hug between Amy and the Doctor at the end was just perfect. I’m sure there are going to be dozens of readings of it, but I saw it as a beautifully innocent moment. Any seemed to be filled with joy because her imaginary friend is real and she could finally do something for him. The Doctor’s faith in the little girl he first met had been rewarded and she’s going to be wonderful.

This episode was very much Amy’s episode, her chance to show the Doctor (and us) what she can do and how valuable she can be. She’s gutsy and fierce and intelligent, all the things that a companion to the Doctor needs to be, but she’s also running away from something that she’s not ready for. I think that Amy, at her heart, is still the child in the garden and she’s not ready to grow up yet. For her, the wedding represents an adulthood that she doesn’t want. Not yet, anyway.

Although this episode was Amy’s, I think we also got to learn a lot more about the Doctor. There were moments when he really did look like a teenage boy playing dress-up in a geography teacher’s suit, but in that scene at the end where he’s looking out at Starship UK he seemed ancient. Moffat kept telling us that Matt Smith had an old head, but when he’s madcap and crazy it’s hard to see. Those quiet moments are when you can see the time in his eyes and really believe that he’s an ancient Time Lord who has seen far too much in his life.

This was another of Moffat’s dark fairy tales that didn’t go where I expected and will definitely bear repeat watching to get everything out.

Next week’s episode looks fascinating. I am really looking forward to seeing Moffat’s (well, Mark Gatiss) idea of a Dalek episode.

Obviously I can’t discuss a Doctor Who episode without a tiny bit of speculation on the season arc. That final shot of Starship UK with the crack appearing on the side is quite ominous and obviously intended to be noticed. The Magpie Electricals sign when Amy was investigating the hole (how much do I love Amy being able to pick locks?) is much more intriguing. We last saw that a couple of years ago in a Mark Gatiss episode – The Idiot’s Lantern, I think. Now why would it be there, in an episode set a thousand years after that one?

This is shaping up to be a wonderful season of Doctor Who. What did you lot think?

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Feb
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 19:58:13

    It was brilliant. Actually fairly frustrating and unsatisfying, if you sit and pick it apart — wait, they went through all of that, and from the beginning they could have just asked the whale nicely? Humanity are bastards! — but there’s too much fun to be had and too much satisfying goodness. I’m pretty high on how much I like this NEW new version of the show. Moffatt is brilliant, Matt Smith is disturbingly new and yet totally at home, and they managed to add a sassy, intelligent Scottish redhead. Whatever they say about kids, I’m the target audience for this show.


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