Doctor Who episode 774: The Beast Below (10/4/2010)
‘Once every five years, everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.’ At the time, I watched this one, with friends, in polite silence, then we all went to the pub and talked about anything else. Coming off the back of The Eleventh Hour, and with Moffat’s reputation for clever and intricate plotting, this looked shoddy and lacked his trademark wit. No-one was expecting a 21st Century Paradise Towers (with its own slang, ‘vators’ for elevators) made to look like it was set in the post-war age of austerity.
12 years later, it still has problems. If the Smilers are there to protect the state’s secret and gather unproductive citizens to feed the whale, there’s no reason (except it helps Amy reach the answer) for them to keep going after children that the whale spits out. The scorpion tails are hard to square with the views of the whale we get – are they supposed to be growing out of its brain? The Beast Below nursery rhyme is meant to be creepy, but it isn’t because it’s hard to understand the delivery and it’s not repeated, as it would have been in a 1970s kids’ TV show. In a reverse from the weaker stories of the RTD era, this falls down in the details.
But the overall thrust of the story, and the scenes directly concerned with the central mystery, are very good. Amy was almost incidental to The Eleventh Hour, and this necessarily refocuses on her, giving Karen Gillan a chance to do more than be furious or baffled. Although it’s set up for a joke, I really enjoy her contemplating whether she’ll be able to stay detached when there are children in danger – planting the seed for her ultimate realisation of the space whale’s own feelings. Moffat very cleverly seeds a trail through the story, as the Doctor is shown to be unable to practice what he preaches, and will always help a crying child, and later admits to Amy he’s the last of the Time Lords – points we’re later reminded of as Amy reviews her Mind Palace: the Sherlock approach applied to Doctor Who.
So this, and the mysteries of the water glasses and “Liz 10”, are nicely done. The satirical elements (the Scots ‘wanted their own ship’, the people prefer to forget than stare at the shabby trade-offs their leaders must make) are hardly subtle, but they are funny. Importantly, the ending is excellent, telling us something about Amy and the Doctor, and working as well as the equivalent scenes between the ninth Doctor and Rose in the similarly-positioned The End of the World. Its problems are largely aesthetic. I should have watched more generously.
Next Time: Victory of the Daleks