TV REVIEW Doctor Who 5.02 “The Beast Below”
TV REVIEW: Doctor Who 5.02 – We hope you enjoyed your stay on Starship UK
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Andrew Gunn
THE ONE WHERE The Doctor takes Amy to the 33rd century where they land on Starship UK, a huge spaceship that appears to be speeding through the universe despite having no engine.
VERDICT An immensely satisfying episode that manages to marry several traditional Who elements with Moffat’s fresh, child-centric take. Ingenious ideas are teased out of the many mysteries (loved the glass of water bits), which are pleasingly free of heavy brooding – the reveals don’t uncover stereotypical baddie behaviour, quite the opposite. The lighter, less angsty tone than of late is like a breath of fresh air and well suited to this story (I love the way Amy’s only slightly perturbed when she’s left hanging onto the TARDIS). The final solution ties in with what is looking like one of this season’s key themes, that of the behaviour and influence of children. (Also, little Mandy in her red coat instantly reminds you of young Amelia Pond.) But Amy redeeming herself is due to her insight into human nature that the Doctor has helped give her, so he’s indirectly to thank for the happy resolution.
And a word here about the two leads’ performances – they are just beautiful, so subtle, so intelligent, so strong. The pair somehow feel like they’ve been around for years while at the same time being as fresh as a daisy. Amy’s character must be the least irritating of any Doctor Who companion ever – she exquisitely treads that pencil-thin line between not being too awestruck and inquisitive and not being annoyingly strident and aggressive. Matt Smith’s Doctor is similarly stunning; talk about an old man in a young man’s body or a young man in an old man’s body, this is the Time Lord incarnation that’s the one to beat now. For a 27-year-old actor to exert such authority so soon is nothing short of remarkable. His line delivery is a joy, so different yet making so much sense at the same time: the pick has to be his “I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets”, which to fans straight away becomes the funniest line Moffat’s ever written. Plot-wise Moffat also takes and subverts another Who convention – the Doctor and his companion being split up before coming together again for plot purposes. Here it couldn’t be more deliberate, more blatant, but he’s saying “I don’t care! Just enjoy – this is post-modern fantasy!” We’ve come a long way from “The Monster Of Peladon”.
There were so many good things in “The Beast Below” it’d be easy to not mention them, but high on my list would be the monsters that look like rundown fairground attractions, the Smilers, perfect Moffat meanies of the same ilk as the Clockwork Droids and the Vashta Nerada, and by that I mean organic to the story – they didn’t feel like a forced “This is Doctor Who so we have to stick a monster in” type monster, they felt part of the story, and they also would have thrilled young viewers who will later remember them as having a much bigger part than they did. Besides this, the episode’s “Doctor Who dialogue” was again terrific, brimming with lines you guess Moffat has been waiting to set down in his favourite show for years and years: “You look human”; “No, you look Time Lord” and “People phone you?”; “Well it is a phone box!” and so on.
The design of Starship UK was terrific: loved the idea of all those buildings with the names of counties written on them, especially Surrey and its blinking second “R”.
What also fitted into the show perfectly – and was utterly tantalising – was the kind of new (but also very old!) idea of having the end of the episode being the start of the next one. Suppose we’ll have to chalk up the Dalek’s shadow on the wall as another “cameo” appearance for the pepper pots.
WHO TRIVIA The Doctor refers to the solar flares of the 29th century that caused the human race to migrate out to the stars, as he does in “The Ark In Space”. Interestingly, that was Tom Baker’s second Doctor Who story, just as this is Matt Smith’s second.
WHO TRIVIA 2 In 1983 Pat Mills and John Wagner wrote the story “Space-Whale”, intended to introduce the character of Turlough. It would have seen the Doctor and co landing in the stomach of the titular creature, but was dropped for various reasons and replaced by “Mawdryn Undead”. Space Whales have cropped up in sci-fi several times throughout the years.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE Liz 10’s “I’m the bloody queen!” is the fifth instance of swearing seen in Doctor Who, the others being in “The Christmas Invasion”, “Smith And Jones”, “The Fires Of Pompeii” and “The End Of Time, Part 1”. And a Slitheen almost said bollocks in “World War Three”. Eeh, this wouldn’t have happened under Hartnell.
BAD DREAMS FOR THE KIDS Not doing very well in your schoolwork meaning that you’re sent to a hellish destination in a lift with a terrifying looking Smiler in it? Blimey. Climb into Mum’s bed. (But then comfort comes when the Star Whale bonds with the little girl at the end.) The fact that Moffat is a father couldn’t come across more loud and clear in his stories.
GETTING FAMILIAR The Doctor and Amy landing in the gunk of course makes you think of the first Star Wars. The “Forget” button’s implications are a little reminiscent of soma in Brave New World. The story also has “Four To Doomsday” and “Vengeance On Varos” vibes, being set on a ship that has a small community and the button-pushing decision-making respectively (but is of course lots better than either of those tales). “The End Of Time, Part 1” is surprisingly referenced with the Virgin Queen remark, Moffat calling a spade a spade where Davies only half said it.
OCH AYE! Is Scottish the new gay on Doctor Who? This week’s exchange, about Scotland wanting their own ship, was another winner. “Good for them, nothing changes” according to Amy.
THE WRONG THOUGHTS Amy came into the TARDIS straight from her bed in her nightie. So when the Doctor was holding her outside the TARDIS could he see, um…? If you know what I’m saying, you’re as lascivious as I am.
BEST LINES The Doctor: “Big day tomorrow.”
Amy: “Sorry what?”
The Doctor: “Well it’s always a big day tomorrow. We’ve got a time machine. I skip the little ones.”