?

Log in

No account? Create an account
parrot_knight [userpic]

Doctor Who XXXI.2: The Beast Below

April 10th, 2010 (11:20 pm)

Newspaper columnists clutching their preview discs have interpreted this story as a timely political satire about a public who choose to forget everything they learn and repeat the same mistakes. That's definitely one element of The Beast Below, but it isn't the point of the story as such. It contributes towards the background, of a Britain which has packaged itself up so it can sail through space as a dark mass of urbanized space barnacles, finding as many opportunities to bring out the red, white and blue bunting. In the thirty-first century, everyone can relive coronation year, or possibly the Silver Jubilee; synthesized national or folk memory is injected into the gap left by the excision of knowledge of complicity in a morally questionable act which is in all important ways the foundation of this society.

Amy's first journey in time and space seemed to echo an episode from the 2005 series, but while I had been expecting The End of the World - of which more later - there were more parallels with that underrated episode The Long Game. A society maintained by a monster; a companion being tested and being judged a failure by the Doctor; elite humans semi-mechanized. However, the beast below is exploited rather than exploiter; the smiler-humans are gothic wardens of the mysterious rather than drudges; and the companion judged a failure overturns the Doctor's pessimism by a show of insight and action before the Doctor has a chance to take her home.

Too often under Russell T Davies the Doctor was cruel. Dramatically this character development was presented a legacy of the Time War, and the Doctor's inability to escape his culpability for wiping out two species. This was usually justified within the assumptions of the series; the universe was a terrible place in which the Doctor had to make terrible moral choices, from allowing Cassandra to dry out in The End of the World, to the rescue of the survivors of Bowie Base One in The Waters of Mars. Now those assumptions have been overturned Last week I thought that the series under Steven Moffat had lost a certain joie de vivre - I was wrong, because what it has lost is the forced jollity which masked a pessimism about human nature which became more marked as the series progressed. Tonight the Doctor thought his only choice was a middle way which would have saved lives but left the star whale little more than the organic engine the British used it as, which was no middle course at all really; instead it was Amy who gambled on intuition and deductive reasoning, and saved the Doctor from not being the Doctor any more.

The only reservation about the episode came with the Doctor's sudden decision that there was nothing he could do; I felt as if I had lost a few minutes myself, rather like Amy in the voting booth. Otherwise Karen Gillan continues to shine as Amy, convincing in every facet so far displayed of this complex character. Never has a nightie said so much about dreams and about being on the run; Amy complains that she is not dressed, but really she is still weighing up what putting on something which is not her wedding dress might mean. She makes the Doctor live up to her expectations. Matt Smith's Doctor often comes across as the only other real person in a dreamscape (and I do wonder, this season, if we will learn that somehow Amy has been dreaming the entire series) which is testament to his acting. David Tennant went in with all guns visibly blazing, and entertained remarkably with that tactic (at least, once he was separated from Billie Piper); Smith is a subtler Doctor, quieter but less brooding, and one to whom thinking on his feet seems more important.

The view out onto Starship UK through the viewing glass at the end was reminiscent of the Doctor and Rose looking out on to Earth from Platform One on in The End of the World. Both stories celebrated change in their ways, from End's championing of diversity to Beast's breaking of a reactionary cycle. Where End seemed to deny individuals the possibility of changing for the better, Beast allowed Liz Ten to break a cycle she had started herself centuries ago; redemption is within reach in Moffat's Who in a way which it wasn't in Davies's. The world is a lot more interesting; and look, there is a familiar crack in the star whale's shell.

There are other issues which I could elaborate, but won't now as I'm very tired: these include the legacies of two McCoy stories, Paradise Towers and The Happiness Patrol, echoed in the script and the design; and Steven Moffat's dialogue and ease he has in building relationships. Not to mention the reconciliation between the Doctor and the monarchy established in this episode: tea and scones with Liz Two, indeed, and while Victoria's banishment of the Doctor in Tooth and Claw was mentioned, there was no Paris trip with Ted Seven to be reminisced about, which would have been nice given the third Doctor seems to mention Edward VII in Inferno.

ETA The iconography was very 1960s/1970s BBC, with a test card girl and Starship UK's emblem being that of BBC Television in the early 1960s. With first Amy and now Liz Ten being Doctor Who fans, in their ways, I am increasingly expecting the denouement of this season to tease out the lines between different kinds of fiction, presentation and reality. What is the mask, and what is the true face? Not easy questions, as Liz Ten learned; and as in Amy's memory, there are gaps in our understanding of what we are seeing. Twenty minutes (this episode was twenty minutes shorter than last week, and it seems we are expected to blame the voting booth) is not necessarily enough. I didn't mention Magpie Electronics, either - more than a shout-out to Mark Gatiss and just a nod to The Idiot's Lantern's 1953 setting, I think, but another clue to this story sharing themes about identity with The Eleventh Hour. Faces and memory and all that...

And a space whale... does Pat Mills know? It's as if this season is being dreamed by a fan (I've said that...) imagining stories around the titles of unmade episodes from the past...

Another thought: Liz Ten was a shadow of the Doctor, in a sense. Unlike the Doctor, she used guns, but like him, changes her face and employs a level of theatricality; she expects children to trust her, and some of the audience must have expected her to turn out to be another Time Lord. The programme also implicitly acknowledges that Doctor Who's 'adventures in the human race' are adventures in Britain with the British. (Scotland has gone off in a huff because there has never been any location filming there.) We are back to the specifically BBC-dominated iconography, too.

Liz Ten's duality is that of the British crown, as well. Hawthorne (surely an indication that this is a permanent secretary with an answer for everything) represents the continuity of the institutions of government, allowing Liz Ten the person to symbolize the institution, be the emotional heart of the nation and propagate the myth. The crown consents to ask the people for advice every five years; the plebiscite has presumably replaced the deliberations of Commons and Lords.

Comments

Posted by: Raven (loneraven)
Posted at: April 10th, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)

Amy complains that she is not dressed, but really she is still weighing up what putting on something which is not her wedding dress might mean.

This is a lovely insight. Would you mind terribly if I stole it to write a fic with?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 10th, 2010 10:52 pm (UTC)
Tom

I'd be honoured! I liked Amy's explanation of 'stuff' being interrupted by the cliffhanger out into the next story; obvious, yes, but very Doctor Who. I was reminded of the Brigadier's space-time telegraph message to the Doctor at the end of Revenge of the Cybermen, not so much of its rendering at the end of the television version, but of the action moving to the console room at the end of the novelization and the asterisked footnote referring the reader to Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster. The shadow of the Dalek was that footnote! (Shadow of the Daleks - there's a title...)

Posted by: El Staplador (el_staplador)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 10th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
SarahJaneSmith

This is entirely understandable...

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 09:55 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 10:02 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 10:07 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 10:22 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 11:12 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 09:56 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 10:03 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 10:07 am (UTC)

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 06:26 am (UTC)

Thank you for those insights. For me the last ten minutes were such an emotional experience - and this from characters in which I do not have an investment - that I haven't really thought about the rest of the episode.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 10:53 am (UTC)
Marmite

Thanks!

The problem with a series which has played 'guess the reference' a lot is that there will always be references which aren't necessarily there in the mind of the writer. Television's so collaborative anyway.

I did like the reconciliation between the Doctor and Amy at the end; there was a mutual confirmation of faith between them, I think, though this relationship has a long way to travel.

Posted by: meirion (meirion)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 10:23 am (UTC)

I agree that there is a distinct possibility of it all turning out to be a dream series.

Also strikes me as satirising the BBC and the British entertainment industry — even more than it has in the past.

Unsure about the political commentary (well, it's there, obviously, but haven't quite thought through the full implications of "protest" vs "forget" when applied to horrors more distant then five years ago.)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
UK_politics

It's very conscious of its origins and its longevity in one form or another, Doctor Who, but usually manages to wear it lightly...

The UK's military adventures don't have as much of a profile in this election as in the last. Protest and forget, indeed.

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 10:33 am (UTC)

And next week, apparently, Power Of The Daleks transplanted to WWII. Says Ponder. Which could be rather good, just so long as the temptation to have the Doctor suggesting all of Churchill's most famous quotes is vigorously resisted. Says Ponder.

Edited at 2010-04-11 10:34 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 11:10 am (UTC)
Troughton

I hope the Doctor-as-quotation-factory isn't as much of a factor as next week's, too... and given that it's unlikely anyone will see The Power of the Daleks in its original form, the WW2 remake (and broadly that's what it seems to be) is welcome!

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 12:34 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 09:56 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 10:05 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 10:06 am (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 12:29 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

I plan to record my own thoughts on my own blog later, but to pick up on a minor point you made about Paradise Towers and The Happiness Patrol, this is by no means the first time those oft-criticised (quite wrongly, IMHO) stories have appeared to be key sources for a new Who story - twenty years after the event, aspects of the Cartmel era seem oddly prescient and one wonders how the programme would have fared in 1988 had it had a decent budget and a saner time-slot.

some of the audience must have expected her to turn out to be another Time Lord

Well, yes, but as we both know there are a load of fans out there who hope/expect every female character to be the Rani...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
Sylvester

Not just a decent budget, but people working on the programme who were actually sympathetic to the script rather than (for the most part) uncomprehending BBC staffers in a decaying studio system.

I will be very surprised if the Rani ever returns to Doctor Who...

Posted by: sensiblecat (sensiblecat)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)

Terrific review - I love it when a historian does Who meta. The London set was created with incredible attention to detail (see the Confidential) and I felt they were playing with a lot of stereotypes of Englishness, particularly the 1940s ones. Hence the much-criticised teasing link to Churchill at the end.

Nobody else has picked it up but - Liz Ten/Listen (itself an aural pun) and The Great Silence - any connection.

The space whale was a vague enough image to be many things to many people but I saw something of the necessary but resented dependence on the USA superpower - Britain as Airstrip One, still reliving its past glories while it is carried by something necessary, alternately benign and despicable and reaching its cultural tendrils into every nook and cranny of daily life.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 11th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
Horace Walpole

Why thank you... there was so much detail in the set, it wasn't until the Confidential that I spotted that the pub in front of which the Doctor and Amy sat was a replica of the Queen Vic.

I'd not thought of the Liz Ten/listen/Great Silence pun. I am sure that you are right; and likewise the 1984 parallel.

Posted by: homesteadlights (homesteadlights)
Posted at: April 12th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 12th, 2010 10:02 am (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)

Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 12:16 pm (UTC)

That's a fascinating review (as usual) and I agree with almost all of it (as usual). I'm still not convinced that RTD is as misanthropic as you imagine - and I certainly don't think his writing has a 'forced jollity' to it. There is a depressing burden of an inevitable moral ambivalence in Davies's series, but this is often (paradoxically) a genuine source of great optimism as well. Hence his love of the Stephen King quotation that he gives Elton in 'Love and Monsters'. I need to think this through a bit more though!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 13th, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
DavidIcon

It could be that I've been picking up on the more depressive part of RTD's scripts and mapping them to my own moods... I think he became bleaker as he went along, though this might just be my awareness of the demands of running the series exhausting him.

I was surprised that I wrote about 'forced jollity', but I think many of his characters had to steel themselves to look on the bright side, particularly the Doctor. Nevertheless RTD's stream-of-experience style won an audience, and I was always keen in my reviews to explain why it worked rather than pick at the absence of plot structures (and I've never been good at those anyway).

Where was the Stephen King quote in Love & Monsters? I've forgotten...

Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: April 14th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 14th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: April 15th, 2010 09:34 am (UTC)