Review: The Beast Below: Doctor Who Column: Reverse The Polarity With Darren Blackburn

Posted by: Darren Blackburn, U.K. Correspondent
05/08/2010 - 10:57pm | Updated: 1 year 17 weeks Ago
Beware Spoilers Ahead!     DOCTOR WHO This week’s episode is that special moment every new companion gets to tread: their first trip in the Tardis! From the start, "The Beast Below" is a very surreal story beginning with another Tim Burton-styled scene of Amy floating outside the Tardis in interstellar space (protected by the time machine’s atmospheric envelope) which comes into contact with a very large, battered-looking spaceship, Starship UK. Starship UK is the last refuge of the British people – all of them, cast adrift after a terrible natural catastrophe that engulfed the Earth. It’s a microcosm of every aspect of the country’s proud history and culture – but as soon as the Doctor sets foot in “London Market,” it’s clear that something isn’t quite right. The people go about their business, drinking at the cafes, shopping at the market stalls – while observing every movement are sinister clockwork effigies in glass booths. However, more terrified of the “Smilers” are the children, especially if they’ve not passed their exams at school! The Doctor tests his hypothesis that “something is very wrong” by borrowing a glass of water which he places on the ground, staring at it quite intently. Asking Amy to follow a young girl who seems very isolated and alone, our feisty Scot discovers a nasty terror waiting just below the surface until she’s taken prisoner by the local police. Meanwhile, the Doctor meets a mysterious masked female figure (very Phantom of the Opera) and discovers what bothered him about the glass of water: there’s no vibration from the ship’s engines because there’s no power routed to them and yet the vessel is moving! Amy has a choice to make: Protest against capture or forget and live a happy life! As do the entire population of Starship UK, except those minorities who end up down below. Amy chooses to forget, but the Doctor sees her choice and does the opposite – and both end up somewhere very dark, wet and … wait, isn’t that breathing? Saved by the mysterious masked figure (who turns out to be the “Queen”), the Doctor discovers the secret of the ship: a vast alien creature, a star-whale, which the entire colony was built on. And furthermore it seems the Queen is responsible – even though she’s forgotten -- torturing the creature to make it go where they can find salvation over 100 years ago. Enter the moral dilemma: Save the creature but condemn the starship and its inhabitants to death, or kill the sentient alien and allow the colony to find refuge? I won’t spoil the ending – but wait! What’s that smiley-shaped crack in the side of the vessel? And who’s making that phone call to the Doctor in the Tardis? As you’ll gather, reviewing this episode is like trying to read 15 novels at once! A complete contrast to last week’s opener, "The Beast Below" is Moffat being dark and surreal, with laces of dark humour, especially picking at our country’s [England] government and the darker aspects of our society, combining them with a story concept that was first considered way back in the fifth Doctor’s era and never brought to life to – oh, wait, didn’t it pop up in Torchwood? The “Smilers” hark back to the writer’s fear of funfairs; similar to the clockwork mannequins of "Girl in the Fireplace," these Joker-like figures with their leering grin are a nasty lot. Their actual purpose soon becomes a surprise. There are a few really scary moments for the kids here with Moffat showing clips of this story to his children and they reacted like all good Who fans, jumping behind the nearest sofa! However, some viewers may consider this story a bit of a jumble; in fact I have to report that two members of my family actually fell asleep half-way through. That wasn’t a good sign! With this episode, we get confirmation that the Doctor encouraged Amy to go travelling on the day prior to her wedding (hence the dress). But it’s clear that Amy’s not quite committed to tying the knot to boyfriend Rory, even if she gets messy halfway through the episode. Karen Gillen continues to impress and likewise Matt Smith shows another aspect of his Doctor here: anger, not just because of the way this society has crumbled but also because Amy fails to do something at a critical moment. Production-wise, there’s a lot more FX in this one -- the Mill Studios have designed a very original concept for Starship UK, and there’s a distinct nod to 2000AD/Judge Dredd comics with many of the blocks either named after our country’s many counties (Devon, Cornwall, etc.) or familiar London landmarks as appropriately the prison section is named the Tower. Overall, it’ll be a while before I know whether I liked this one. Even so it shows that Who as always tries to make radically different stories each week, though I’m sure many will probably enjoy the more traditional fare we’re getting next week. Considering a central concept of this episode was "forgetting," it was quite coincidental that it was broadcasted in the week our Prime Minister announced a General Election for May. Although I’m sure a lot of us would love to simply press a “forget” button and wish everything away since things have been bad regarding the recession. Although, I hope none of you will forget the next story as we see the return of the Doctor’s greatest enemies! -DB.   « « Review: "The Eleventh Hour" | Review: "Victory Of The Daleks" » »