So, here we are. Week two of the new series of Doctor Who, and The Beast Below (Sat, BBC1) was… odd. Goes without saying of course, here be spoilers.
A very low-key follow up to the frenetic knees-bent-running-around-advancing-behaviour of last week, this came as a total change of pace, and was… well, surprisingly gentle. Yes, that’s the best way to describe it, I think. Gentle.
We’ve been this way before since Who came back.. My initial impressions were that we were up for another yarn in the vein of “The Long Game”, but Steven Moffat had other plans. No monster-of-the-week episode, this one. Instead, a lovely little piece that went from A to B to C, which tied up nicely at the end, and was really rather moving in places.
The parallels between the Star Whale and Eleven were rather ladled on (I’d managed to work it out before Amy delivered her little homily at the end – and I bet you had too). But my word, what an intriguing concept – a government which trusts the populace to keep them flying by actually presenting them with the truth and offering them the option to forget it all rather than face brutal reality. Sling in the idea that Eleven’s been so used to looking after himself for so long that Amy’s simple compassion for him is enough to throw him for a loop, and we get him behaving exactly like Nine used to. We stopped just short of a “stupid ape” moment as Eleven threatens to take Amy home. “You don’t ever get to decide what I need to know”. Ouch. But then… it’s Amy’s simple compassion that saves the day, stops The Doctor making the worst mistake of his life, and ensures the continued survival of the colony. Perhaps, given the nature of what they did to The Star Whale, we don’t deserve to survive. It’s the classic nasty-underbelly-of-society metaphor writ large. So long as you can’t see the suffering, it isn’t there. The thing that leapt out at me from all this was… given the number of times The Doctor steps in to save societies simply because he cares, and can’t bear to see suffering… how lucky is it that he’s lasted this long without someone harnessing him the way the colonists have harnessed a poor innocent creature?
How wonderful, too – that “The Doctor” is more than just a name to him. When it looks like he’s going to have to commit worse-than-murder, he immediately contemplates changing his name. “Doctor” isn’t who he is. It’s what he is. And that’s why I’ve loved this character my whole life. A man who will step in and save the world, just because he can’t bear to see a child cry. Who could fail to love a man like that? Oh, and while we’re at it, three cheers for “What I always dooooo. Stay out of trouble. Badly.” There’s our Doctor. Right there.
Meanwhile, Amy sees exactly what sort of man Eleven is, and points it out in no uncertain terms – “All that pain and misery and loneliness and it just made it kind”. She knows what she’s talking about, and so do we. Be it a giant Star Creature, or a single Time Lord survivor, you can come through the worst experiences tempered, and better for it. I love that. I really love that.
A lovely little episode, then – full of great moments, from Sophie Okenedo’s gun-toting Liz Ten (“I’m the bloody Queen, mate” – I almost saluted her) to the elegant simplicity of Eleven noting something’s up because there’s a child in distress with nobody stopping to help.
The Smilers were oddly ineffectual, but a great image. The BBC obviously had a lot of Bakelite set-dressing left over from The Idiot’s Lantern (hello, Magpie Electricals), but it all made for a pleasingly fifties feel. If the British do make it out into the universe, I’d like to think they’ll do it with Dan Dare tech rather than with sleek, gleaming control panels and flashing lights.
All told, a palpable hit. Quiet, emotional, with a beautiful final shot. And then… well, if you saw it, you know what’s coming from the “Next Time” trailer. That shadow on the wall should be all you need to know. “I Am Your Soldier”. Hooray! They’re back. And they’re scheming. Well, given Eleven’s propensity for Troughton stories, makes sense that when the bad boys return, they’ll be Whitaker-esque rather than Nation-esque. Great. Can’t wait…