Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Beast Below

I'm a bit late with my review of the most recent DW episode. Reasons being: 1. It takes me a while to garner my thoughts 2. I usually require more than one viewing to take in everything that's worth writing about 3. Bloody blogger went and buggered up yesterday (how's that for alliteration) and all that I wrote didn't save! (Anyone else experience the same problems??)

Anyhow, I'm happy to report that The Beast Below was (in my oh-so-humble view) every bit as good as the previous week's offering, and the future of DW under Mr Steven Moffat continues to look very rosy indeed.

The good

Liked the whole central conceit: the entire population of the future UK, in order to escape the crippling of planet Earth by solar flares, have fled to the stars aboard a giant spaceship.

However, unbeknown to them, the "motor" for this vast collosus is a star whale, which mankind has enslaved in order to guarantee their survival and a permanent passage through space. Actually, this concept isn't particularly original. Anyone read Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels - about a whole world which is carried on the back of a giant space turtle? Was Steven M innocent or guilty of pilfering here?

The "Forget" or "Protest" voting plotline. Rather neatly tying in with the General Election, eh?? Good timing on the part of the Beeb and the Who team. The whole episode was about people making choices - the citizens of the UK are allowed to know the truth about what’s basically kept them safe, and are given the instant opportunity to either protest or forget once they know the full horror of it. Society as a whole chooses to forget, having their minds wiped, and then going about their everyday lives, freed from knowing what keeps them alive. Except for Amy at the end, going for the unthinkable option and freeing the whale, thus saving the Dr from making an agonising decision himself - I liked her instinct and recognition that the whale was basically a benevolent creature that has voluntarily been carrying the humans - clever girl.

Also liked the bit where Amy sits in the "Forget" or "Protest" chamber with all of the images flickering across her eyes - freaky - I wish we could have seen what she did, though.

Liz 10. Although a bit self-conciously cockney laddette at times, Sophie Okonedo (an actress I like - once a young soul rebel) put in a spirited and entertaining performance as the below-the-decks-Monarch of Starship UK (I wasn't exactly sure WHY she had to stay hidden though?)

Loved the scene where she told the Doc and co to duck, shot down two of the "smilers" and promptly stated: "I'm the bloody Queen, mate. Basically I rule" (making appropriate gun-toting gestures whilst she delivered the last bit). But the bolshy Queen also had a lot of heart - witness her pre-recorded speech in which the truth about the star whale and Starship UK was revealed - delivered very sensitively and sadly by Sophie O, even if her accent inexplicably "went posh" at this point. Still, a great character of whom I would have liked to have seen more, but the 45 minute 1 episode format precludes this sometimes.

The Dr-Amy dynamic. It's warming up nicely now and the tension between the two, brought on as a result of Amy pressing the "Forget" button, was well realised. Karen Gillan really is proving to be a good actress and was a little less "up herself" this week than the last, for instance in her exchanges with the schoolgirl Mandy (another example of a decent child actress, hallelujah!) and her ultimately altruistic gesture at the end of the episode. Matt Smith remains delightfully quirky and we got to witness some genuine Time Lord anger at the end when he opted to turn the star whale into a vegetable, a decision which obviously sat very badly with him...

More fun dialogue, e.g. the Dr, in the scene when he picks up a glass of water from a couple's table, and then places it on the floor, to their consternation: "We're checking all the water in the area - there's an escaped fish."

And between the Doc and Amy, when they first arrive on Starship UK:

Amy: What you gonna do?
Dr: What I always do - stay out out of trouble. Badly.

The segue into the next episode was a nice touch - ringing TARDIS telephone, Amy takes a call from Winston Churchill, aforementioned PM speaks to the Doc and we see the silhouette of something all-too-familiar gliding behind him - tantalising stuff to whet our appetites for next time. Some DW stories have utilised this tactic and back in the days of William Hartnell it was a regular motif. Having wrapped up one particular adventure, the TARDIS travellers barely had time to draw a collective breath before being launched straight into their next escapade - made you wonder when they had time to eat, sleep or answer the call of nature, really. Still I'd quite like to see this method used a bit more!

The not so good

Fortunately, there isn't much to put here. A solid story with solid performances and ideas from all concerned.

Okay, I thought the Smilers, after being hyped up quite a bit, weren't quite as scarey and intimidating as they could have been.

One other point of note which I've already mentioned - and I thank Dan for this as I'm in agreement with him (hope you don't mind me duplicating your ideas a bit, Dan!) - for the one episode stories, 45 minutes is a very short time to cram everything in, and this can be problematic sometimes. The Beast Below had lots of interesting ideas - mankind escaping the solar flares, the arrival of the whale, the type of society that existed aboard Starship UK - all of which could have easily been fleshed out across two episodes rather than watered down into a constraining one. We've come a long way since the Dr Who of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and granted, the style and format used then probably wouldn't work now - things had to change. But that isn't to say that the 25 minute episode format of yore didn't have its merits - there was time for the viewer to digest ideas and plotlines, characters could be (reasonably) developed, you were kept on the edge of your seat until the next episode, and most stories ran to at least 4 episodes which made for 1 hour 40 minutes screen time. It's kind of symptomatic of today's generation I reckon - lower patience thresholds, the desire to have "everything at once" - okay I'm not putting this into words very well, but you know what I mean, don't you? In fact old DW and new DW and the subsequent differences have engendered some very interesting debates ... but that's for another time, before this rant gets even more elongated than it already is ...

All of this notwithstanding, The Beast Below made a pretty solid 4 out of 5 for me. Keep it up, chaps!


  1. It was a fantastically full storyline and script - another nugget from Moffat. On the whole I enjoyed it but... felt that Smith's performance was a little weak. Especially the scene at the end when he lost it got angry... for me it was a little petulant rather than the rage and disgust he should have been exhibing. I have to say I felt that Tennant would have nailed that effortlessly... I don't think Smith has the dynamic range as an actor (yet). But I do think he'll get there. He's only a young 'un after all.

  2. Oh dear, now I've read this and I shall have to forget! Dr Who hasn't started here yet, just been getting trailers so far....sounds good tho'. The Whovian in our house isn't too keen on watching the new hoping to turn her around. Afterall, she thought Christopher E was good and didn't want to watch DT either to start with!

  3. Steve - Glad you enjoyed it. I do know what you mean about Matt Smith - on the whole he gets the thumbs up from me but some of his inadequacies as an ac-torrr are starting to come through a bit. But yes, let's give him a chance.

    Amanda - Well you shouldn't have bloody well read it then, ha ha ha!! I do hope your daughter warms to Matt S - will be interested to hear her thoughts. I think there's always a "resistance" period when a new Dr comes to the fore - it's natural - a period of adjustment! And yes, if she felt like that about DT to begin with, there's hope...