Published at: April 10, 2010, 4:35 p.m. CST by hercules
I am – Hercules!!
BBC America doesn't launch the new "Doctor Who" season till next Saturday, but the second episode of the post-Davies era just hit the real BBC over in the United Kingdom. What say the Britons?
“Doctor Dan” calls it “very decent”:
DOCTOR WHO 5.2 – "The Beast Below"
WRITER: Steven Moffat
DIRECTOR: Andrew Gunn
GUEST CAST: Sophie Okonedo, Terrence Hardiman, Alfie Field, Christopher Good, David Ajala, Jonathan Battersby, Hannah Sharp & Catrin Richards
[SPOILERS] Quite possibly Steven Moffat's worst episode, but his quality level is so high that "The Beast Below" still resulted in being a very decent episode of Doctor Who; albeit one that felt like a familiar hybrid of "The Long Game" and something Terry Pratchett would come up with.
This week, The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) arrived aboard the Starship UK, a giant spacecraft that's become the post-apocalyptic vehicle for the entire British nation after the planet suffered a catastrophic solar flare. The Doctor immediately sense a police state, becoming suspicious of gargoyle-like "Smilers" that sit inside booths keeping an eye on the population, while Amy discovers a strange tentacle inside a cordoned off area and a peculiar "voting booth" where the horrific secret behind Starship UK is made known to its citizens every five years, before giving you a choice to "protest" (and risk the wrath of the Smilers, it transpires) or "forget" and have the burden of knowledge erased from your memory.
"The Beast Below" was a mixed success, helped by the simple fact we have two new lead characters, so half the entertainment was just seeing The Doctor and Amy's rapport together. The Doctor still has the manic energy of his previous incarnation, but it's tempered by a certain scatterbrained tinge that means The Doctor's still undoubted a genius, but it's not a foregone conclusion he'll manage to find the answers and save the day in the nick of time. In fact, this episode's biggest breath of fresh air was in having his companion work everything out before he did; something I can't remember happening so unequivocally since the show returned in 2005.
Amy certainly seems to be a more interesting companion, partly because it would be tiresome to have her ask so many questions that sat on the lips of Rose, Martha and Donna at this stage in the show's comeback. Here she learns that The Doctor's not human and he's the last of his kind, and that knowledge was imparted in a way that wasn't tedious for the audience watching at home. Above all, Amy's mix of realism, independence, determination and belief in her own abilities means she's less of a hanger-on than you'd expect at this stage. It's only episode 2 and she's the one outfoxing The Doctor!
Where the episode fell down was the overall direction of the story, and how quite a few of the "twists" weren't hard to predict, although with the show aimed at children I'm sure there were plenty of confused faces. Or kids tugging at their parent's arms to ask what "abdicate" means, at the very least. But despite all that, it was still an engaging mix of action and humour -– with the disquieting "Smilers" (the show loves monsters with fixed expressions), a fun guest performance from Sophie Okonedo as the common-as-muck royal "Liz Ten", a trip inside a monster's tongue, some quips about democracy for adults, and the current joy of seeing how Matt Smith's approaches the material.
Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. Already a great double-act and I like their dynamic together. Plus, it's just great fun to see Matt Smith put his own spin on The Doctor -– making him a bit angrier ("you don't ever decide what I need to know!") and befuddled. But it's arguably Amy Pond who's making the biggest impression right now, saving the day in her nightie!
The Smilers. They weren't really scary, just effectively creepy.
Sophie Okonedo. A thin character, overall, but she played it as well as could be expected.
A storyline that felt a little well-worn and the mystery predictable. In fact, this felt like a typical piece of Russell T. Davies moralizing at times, but Moffat's a surer hand at least.
The unnecessary decision to have a little girl called Mandy accompany The Doctor, Amy and Liz Ten, for no apparent reason.
Magpie Electricals make a reappearance, having first appeared in series 3's "The Idiot's Lantern".
Nobody dies in this episode, which is something of a rarity in Doctor Who, although Steven Moffat's previous two-parter "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" also had no on-screen deaths.
Moffatism: Amy getting a message from herself in the future, which reminded me of "Blink".
This is director Andrew Gunn's debut on the series.
Liz Ten references past Queens The Doctor has met: Queen Victoria ("Tooth & Claw") and Elizabeth I ("The Chase", "Silver Nemesis", "The Shakespeare Code"). She also alludes to the fact The Doctor took Elizabeth I's virginity!
This episode featured a denouement that sets up the next episode, which I don't believe has been done outside of the series finale's that tease the Christmas special at the end of the year.
“Gabba UK” says he “loved it all with one caveat”:
Well, after the excitement of last week, the relief that Matt Smith is the real deal and the usual problems of a post-regeneration story, we come to the Grand Moff's difficult second album. The Beast Below.
This is traditionally the episode where a new actor as the Doctor firmly plants his flag on how he is going to build on the character. From this evidence Smith is basing his take on Troughton with a lot of Pertwee, some Baker and a dash of Davidson. All good so far, basically The Doctor in his televisual prime.
"What are going to do?"
"What I always do, stay out of trouble........ badly"
So we open with typical Doctor Who. A seemingly normal scene with a creepy twist. Pupils lining up to see how they did in a test except the teacher is a weird dummy in a cubical. Think Zoltar from BIg but no as cuddly. And a fiery pit for Timmy, who got a zero. Bit harsh perhaps but those league tables are what matters I guess.
After the new credit sequence, which I like by the way, Amy is floating in space. Not a good position to be in usually but she is being held on to by her ankle by the good doctor from the open door of the TARDIS. Here, they find Starship UK. The whole county, now on a massive ship floating through the stars. A bit of digging around, showing off very well the logical and deductive way the mind of the Doctor works, brings the discovery that Starship UK is a police state. One that is tacitly approved of by the population. Children are crying with adults not doing anything about it. This is very galling for the Doctor and shows previous experience of parenting. And the ship is moving in space but with no obvious source of power, another mystery to solve.
I've learned from my writing these reviews for Who is that I don't actually like to give much of the plot away. I used to but I've found that the talkbacks on Who very active and plot-lines are very quickly discussed. What I prefer to talk about are my general impressions of the story. And the impression continues to be good.
Matt Smith has stepped into the role like he was born to it. I've already forgotten David Tennent and are more interested in this version of the Doctor. What he thinks, what he does and how he goes about it. He has an aged quality to his portrayal that make you believe that this really is a 900 year old man in the body of a 26 year old. Smith is adding layers to this Who with hints and implications to his past far more effectively that Tennent managed. This is in no way a slur on David Tennet but Smith is being better served by the quality in the writing. Steven Moffett has written these first two episodes and he's outdone himself. The stories haven't been the most original but they've been perfect vehicles to introduce us to his take on Who. Dark fairy-tails is how he has put it in the companion series Doctor Who Confidential on BBC Three.
I've praised Smith heavily, it's nothing compared Karen Gillian. Amy Pond has the very real potential to be the best companion for the Timelord ever. She is going to be huge. Gillian has a quality that is very natural, she acts and sounds like anyone would caught up in an adventure such as this but not as heavy handed as Billy Piper and is light years beyond Catherine Tate, who I hated before Donna Noble, hated during and still have to change channels now whenever she is on. I'm actually on the same side as those in the talkbacks that think she has something to do with River Song. My money is on Mother/Daughter but just Who is the father?
The best bits? Pretty much all of it frankly. I loved it all with one caveat. It was at times a bit manic and hard to keep up with but the denouement was very satisfying and hinted at a growing and deeper relationship between Amy and The Doctor than that has been the case with previous companions. I also loved the fact that the space faring Police Telephone Box actually has a phone that rings with the greatest British Prime Minister on the other end of the call.
Next Week. Spitfires in space. And Dalek's in British Army colours. Cool!
“tomdolan04” says he “enjoyed it a lot”:
Hey, semi-regular reader, North Wales (we’d insist on our own separate ship too in event of the destruction of the Earth) in the UK. Thought I’d chip in my brief thoughts on episode 2 of Matt Smiths Doctor. I’m not into spelling the episode out but If you’re here reading this I don’t buy the whole ‘no spoilers’ deal so if you don’t want to see the main points look away now.
With the setup of last week established, does Episode 2 get on down to business?
Plot: The Doctor and Amy travel to a floating spaceship-country that resembles the United Kingdom in the far future. On the surface everything is fine, but underneath lies a sinister underbelly of something not quite right. On the surface I felt a little similarity between this series’ episodes one and two of both Ecclestons and Tenants initial series’, where they contrast their first episode finding their feet on present day Earth and their second taking their companions to the far future-yet Earth related locales where everything on the surface is fine but underne…nevermind.
After looking into a sad child’s tears Amy goes and finds a discovery about the nature of the Spaceship and what powers it’s flight (I can see the Talkback now covered in ‘OMG teh Discworld rip-offs but really guys, try harder). Ultimately the future-humans are portrayed as the self-serving sods they have been depicted like as in the last four years of Who, and are abusing an alien creature that really just wants to help. The public are given the ‘truth’ every five years (Oh Mr Moffat you tease, anyone would think there’s a General Election here in less than a month) and are presented with two options – to protest and effective destroy the way the country is lead to believe it needs to survive, or to forget the truth and live in ignorance. Parables to current affairs aren’t new to Who, but it’s handled quite effectively and didn’t beat you over the head with a Queer As Folk DVD boxset (or indeed a red or blue pill)
To wheel the plot along the Doctor and Amy get stuck in a monsters mouth (more Empire Strikes Back than Moby Dick) and they have help from a lady called Liz 10 – a coloured descendant (PC reference contractually fulfilled for the week) of the Royal Family. I liked the character but felt the references to the Doctors alleged relationship with the old Queen quite forced and not necessary. Liz 10 could have existed just as the ruler of the country, the monarchy tie-in was not needed.
To many extents structurally this Episode extends the belief that Moffat does indeed not want to rock the boat too much from RTD’s tenure as a series. Nor should he, no matter what the detractors say (and I’m not the greatest of RTD fans). However whilst tonally and in terms of the ‘beats’ it is the not that different, there were nuances from the actors and story that give me great hope for a fairly solid series throughout (whereas all four RTD’s series were about 50% good/great and the other 50% wondering what the hell I was doing wasting my Saturday night).
THE GOOD: Matt Smith, you belter. Throughout the episode he was channelling a doped up Giraffe and (again this may be me) some of his mannerisms were quite Sylvester Mccoy (there was definitely a look near the start where he said something about looking for a fish that made me think that). His performance handled the comedy/serious investigation balance with aplomb and in particular the angst of his difficult ‘choice’ at the end was handled with far more subtlety than I imagine Tennant’s characterisation would have (and I liked Tennant a lot). Matt and Amy’s chemistry is something too, and Karen Gillan really is a gorgeous girl who gives a performance that does her proud.
Maybe this was helped by the writing, which allowed some in-jokes and again didn’t force things. I thought the Doctors deductive reasoning in explaining to Amy why something was amiss when they first landed was fantastic (“look – no dust or dirt on it, nor any footprints”) as I remember when I was young I loved little bits like that which made the world seem more….lived in? It adds detail to the surrounding by explaining little quirks which in turn give the environment a much more realistic edge than any amount of CGI landscapes could.
THE NOT SO GOOD: Quibbles really. The music guys really need to lay off the crack in terms of overpowering scenes with walls of sound but it isn’t as guilty of this as last week. The CGI of the spaceship and creature were good, but certainly internal shots were on-par with Prisoner Zero in the room with Amy last week (i.e. not so great). The resolution was a bit weak but the performances of the two leads really made up for it.
Overall I enjoyed it a lot. The main thing here is that now Moffat is running the show he has responsibilities to balance the whole thing out – something perpetual Russell T Davies detractors tend to skim over. Doctor Who should always try to inspire and hit children’s imaginations first, adults second.
I think we’re in safe hands. Now where’s my voting booth. The way we are in the UK with the three main political parties, I dearly wish we collectively hit the protest button. Seriously – their attempts at political debate in the last week makes the dialogue in the crappy ‘Love and Monsters’ episode of Who look like fecking William Shakespeare.
Tomdolan04 signing off till next weeks Dalek invasion. Lets hope they don’t get shafted like the 20’s New York one.
“Kelvington” says he “didn’t hate it”:
Last week we got a full on intro to the new Doctor and his new companion and the updated TARDIS. This week starts off a tad darker with a sad child and his apparent death, which in the end turns out not be a death so much as it is an enrollment to a life of servitude. Eerie stuff for a pre-title sequence, but the kind of stuff you would hope for in this new incarnation of “Doctor Who”.
I can honestly say, I’m not sure how I feel about this episode. There was a very clever concept here, a huge space ship filled with all of the UK through space, except for Scotland they have their own ship, and an underlying mystery about it. One that could have been solved in two seconds had the TARDIS appeared below the ship instead of high above it.
Which brings me to my only real peeve of the episode. Now a few weeks ago when I first started to see images of Amy floating above the TARDIS in space with the Doctor holding her by her foot, in some sort of homage to Superman holding Lois Lane while flying in the air, I thought. Well, this is just a cute image that they use to draw in kids and stuff. There’s no way they would actually make it part of a story. Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m not sure I like the new physics of the TARDIS where people can float above the TARDIS and still breath and not float away to their deaths. You remember the time the Doctor put the woman on the edge of an event horizon. She didn’t seem to be having nearly the fun of Amy Pond did.
Now one of the reasons I can’t say if I like this episode or not was the fact that they portrayed it as a mystery when really it was a historical episode, just placed in the future. Where we meet a future queen, who has had a very long reign. Plus we get to see the Doctor truly perplexed as to how to solve the mystery in the most human way. The Doctor is sort of all over the map here. Happy to see a future UK, sad to see Amy made a decision to forget something awful, and at times truly lost.
The script also seemed to either try and do too much, a living ship, creatures/people with turning drama masks for heads, a new alien, is it good, is it bad. Or too little, forgetting or skipping key plot points. Who were the men or devices who can turn their heads around to show their displeasure? Why did they think abdicating the thrown would kill everyone? Why did we stop talking about the turning head guys? Why were they chasing the Queen? What would they have done if they caught her? It all seemed a bit of mashup.
In the end, I’m not sure where in the filming of the series this episode was shot, or why it was used as the second episode. The characters and their development bounced around a lot like a rubber ball in a small box. Maybe I’m just getting too old to enjoy Doctor Who. Also the ending where the past can call you on your phone and bring you home to the UK… well, it’s been done. But I can honestly say, I just don’t know if I liked this one. I didn’t hate it. I know I didn’t love it. But I’ve come to expect more from “Doctor Who” than just not hating it.
Just my 2¢
“Jannerman” says it “wasn't as good as last weeks”:
A new week a new Who, so here we go again with another - hopefully fairly spoiler-light review.
Ok, last week I was all like, fucking wow, this week it was a little like - errr, did I miss an episode since last week?
The story is set 1300 or so years in the future (well, Amy Ponds future anyway) on the Starship UK, the idea being that the sun started to cause Earth to be too hot for humans to survive on so all of the countries built spaceships and took to the stars, well, all that is, apart from us brits, who had to hitch a lift. You'll find out during the episode how that works into the story. (I will refrain from bitching about our proud manufacturing history in the UK , etc, etc!)
I was excited to see this dystopian vision of a future UK based on a spaceship but old tech enough to still have streets and stop signs, bicycles etc. Kind of reminded me of a cross between Bladerunner and Neil Gaimans excellent Neverwhere universes, and the creepy "smileys" certainly added a tangible threat, epically in the second half when they unveiled their surprise.
Although the story felt a little slow, and even a little light in the first half there were several moments of foreshadow that tied the episode together, and did nothing for me but prove how the current writing team are certainly clever in what they do, you wonder if they're actually enjoying their work so much that it's showing through or perhaps the whole series is just going to be this damn good.
Yes, this weeks episode wasn't as good as last weeks, yes it did feel like character-wise things had moved on significantly since last week - if you remember that the Doctor and Amy "met" the previous day their relationship has evolved a lot in a short space of time, but all in all the episode did a lot to develop the characters and their personalities whilst at the same time providing us a decent storyline.
Matt Smith is as good as I'd hoped he was going to be, if he didn't own the part after last weeks episode the depth of feeling his Doctor gave us this week has certainly underlined his unique take on the character, you truly feel that the excellent writing paired with the equally good actors and acting will keep the show interesting.
Without giving too much away there is a definite nod to Discworld at the end, unsure if that's intentional or accidental, but the story leading up to it actually made me feel quite emotional, of course I could just be being a bit of a soppy git but it's because I'm digging the aforementioned acting/story.
So in summary a strong episode, not better than last week, but good enough to further the series/character development nicely but then they did go and do it again with another blistering "on next weeks" preview, Winston Churchill and Daleks? Already looking forward to next week with great interest.