Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Review of Doctor Who's 5x02: "The Beast Below"

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Andrew Gunn

Poem Girl: “Though the man above might say hello. Expect no love from the beast below.”

As if an episode by Steven Moffat didn’t need to be creepy enough, he had to go and have some random little girl spouting spooky stuff about a not so nice beast as well. I could’ve done without that being added into the atmosphere.

First trips in the TARDIS are fun because it’s either going to be the past or the future. Martha got to meet Shakespeare and Donna experienced the destruction of Pompeii in the worst way possible. Rose on the other hand got to see the end of the Earth five billion years in the future and that’s sort of what Amy gets with her first TARDIS trip as well.

Earth no longer existed by the time the Doctor and Amy had reached a certain location and the UK itself was hovering on a spaceship for its own survival. Nice to see that Britain still lives on but you don’t even have to have the Doctor’s deduction skills to know that something was wrong here.

The Doctor didn’t even try to conceal the danger elements to Amy either, which would’ve been dumb on his part if he had done so. Instead he asked her to look around and spot what was wrong with the Starship UK and even sent her to pursue a young girl named Mandy in order to get some answers about the not so friendly Smilers running the joint.

This is certainly a Doctor who won’t molly coddle his travelling companions but while Amy seemed amused by his double standards, she did exactly as she asked him as well. Heck, Amy even acted a little Doctor-esque when grilling Mandy about a blocked road and the girl’s reluctance to talk about something rather scary.

The scary thing being a beast seemed like a competent enough reason to keep the locals quiet. The episode had opened up with a young boy being sent down below because he achieved a zero, so Amy snooping around and asking questions was also going to be a trigger for the Smilers. When she got gassed by Peter and his robed mates, I was surprised with what happened to her next.

Presented with a choice to know everything and then to choose to either forget or protest was a hell of a conundrum for anyone. By knowing what was happening with the Starship UK, Amy could either forget and let things continued the way they were going (which wasn’t a good thing) or protest and get severely punished for it.

It didn’t even seem like she chose really to forget but automatically hit the button as soon as the Doctor walked in on her. She didn’t want to forget. She even questioned the Doctor about it but he wasn’t a happy bunny and it would take him of everyone to actually protest and suffer the consequences for it.

Except the consequences didn’t feel that drastic. Yes, both the Doctor and Amy got swallowed by the star whale (the beast being used to run the ship) but managed to get themselves out of the creature by getting it to throw up. Not the most dignified means of escaping but it’s not like they had no other choice.

Then there was Liz Ten. I have to admit that when I was trawling through spoilers all those months ago, I did assume that she was going to be the villain of the piece. She certainly was more hit woman than monarch in this episode in spite of a rather earthy performance from Sophie Okonedo. The scenes where Liz and the Doctor interacted however were some of the best of this episode.

Most authority/regal figures take exception to the Doctor but Liz knew of the legends surrounding him and pursued him for his help whilst wearing a mask. She even made sure that he found Amy in the process and well, let’s be honest; there was a nice bit of banter between the two of them if I’m being really honest.

Liz Ten wanted so badly to know what was going on with her government and the mystery of the ship being moved through space without a working engine but it seemed obvious that she would end up being the one responsible for the very thing she was trying to bring down. Probably from the second that the Doctor seemed to pay particular attention to her porcelain mask.

So, Liz was 250 years older than she thought she was (despite not looking it) and she kept constantly forgetting that it was her who had gotten the star whale and virtually torturing it so that they could keep moving throughout space. The dilemma the Doctor faced her might not have been Pompeii levels of bigness but there was certainly some powerful moments.

The moments where he turned on both Amy and Liz Ten seemed to emphasise that this Doctor isn’t as tolerant to human failings as previous incarnations might have been. He even threatened to send Amy back home because she had hit the forget button. Matt Smith can certainly pull of the more angrier side of the Doctor with suitable ease.

But while Amy had made a mistake, the Doctor was about to make a bigger one by choosing to kill the star whale to save the people on board the ship. Amy spotting the obvious parallels between the Doctor and the star whale was the very thing that effectively saved everyone on board. I know the thing with both the Doctor and the star whale being unable to bear seeing a child cry was a bit tacked on but damn it, it bloody worked for the emotional impact of the scene.
The producers of the show have been suggesting that Amy apparently understands this version of the Doctor more than he understands himself and I’m inclined to believe in. The way they said they had got each other at the end was lovely but there’s still some stuff they’re concealing from the other.

Amy was able to tell Mandy that she was getting married but found herself unable to tell the Doctor and even seemed have reservations about tying the knot. Even the Doctor was evasive a bit when Amy pried him about the Time Lords but I suppose that he’ll eventually give her more to go on as she’ll tell him that she’s going to be a married woman when they head back to Leadworth. And as for the call from a certain Winston Churchill at the end, let’s just say that next week cannot come soon enough.

Also in “The Beast Below”

Last season he let Donna drive the TARDIS and this year, the Doctor allowed Amy to float in space while holding onto her leg.

Amy: “My name is Amy Pond. When I was seven, I had an imaginary friend. Last night was the night before my wedding.”
The Doctor: “Come on, Pond.”
Amy: “And my imaginary friend came back.”

Amelia Jessica Pond is our new girl’s full name thanks to the electorate files but they seemed unsure of her marital status. I’m guessing this is to tease things out or to highlight Amy’s feelings of conflict.

Amy: “I’m in the future. Like hundreds of years in the future. I’ve been dead for centuries.”
The Doctor: “Oh lovely, you’re a cheery one.”

Mandy: “You sound Scottish.”
Amy: “I am Scottish. What’s wrong with that?”

Mandy told Amy that Scotland had a ship of it’s own, which seemed to impress Amy all the more.

The Doctor: “You know me?”
Liz Ten: “Keep your voice down, they’re everywhere. Tell me what you see in the glass.”

Amy: “You look human.”
The Doctor: “No, you look Time Lord. We came first.”

In the three episodes that Matt Smith has appeared in so far, “Geronimo” has been said once in all of them.

The Doctor (to Amy): “Right then, this isn’t going to be big on dignity. Geronimo!”

Liz Ten (to the Doctor/Amy/Mandy): “I’m the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule.”

There were some flashbacks to the Doctor and Amy’s first meeting during the moment where Amy saw the connection between the Doctor and the star whale.

Amy: "I voted for this. Why would I do that?"
The Doctor: "Because you knew if we stayed here, I'd be faced with an impossible choice - humanity or the alien. You took it upon yourself to save me from that. That was wrong. You don't ever decide what I need to know."
Amy: "I don't even remember doing it."
The Doctor: "You did it. That's what counts."
Amy: “I'm ... I’m sorry.”
The Doctor: “Oh, I don’t care. When I'm done here, you’re going home.”

The Doctor (to Liz Ten/Amy): “Nobody talk to me. Nobody human has anything to say to me today.”

The star whale was the last of it’s kind, like the Doctor (except we know he’s not but he doesn’t).

Amy (re the Doctor/star whale): “What if you were really old and really kind and alone? Your whole race dead, no future, what couldn't you do then? If you were that old and that kind and the very last of your kind, you couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.”

The Doctor: “Amy, you could’ve killed everyone on this ship.”
Amy: “You could’ve killed a star whale.”
The Doctor: “And you saved it. I know, I know.”

Chronology: Over 1300 years since Amy’s time and notice how during the Churchill scene we got to see a shadow of a Dalek as well. And there's more cracks in time as well.

Although I preferred the previous episode, “The Beast Below” certainly kept us on our toes though technically the Smilers were the only real villains of the piece, even though the Doctor came dangerously close to at one point as well. As for Amy, the girl is brilliant.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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