The Beast Below
Amy Pond: What are you gonna do?
The Doctor: What I always do: stay out of trouble… badly.
Production Code: 1.2.
Story Number: 204.
A story ultimately unlike any of the previous 203 – however, also very much a continuation of the RTD era…
One of the central concepts of Nu-Who (crafted by RTD at the start of his era), was the “Last of the Time Lords” and this “twist” in the continuing decades of DW mythos was at the centre of his second story of that era – and so it is for this Moffat story.
It seems that Moffat is also thinking “if it ain’t broke” when it comes to story structure for his Nu-Who seasons: “present” story to start, then “future” / “past” / two-parter (like 2005, a structure which the other Nu-Who seasons also have, at least a starting trio showcasing time-travel then a two-parter soon after).
So, this is Moffat’s The End of the World – however, unlike that “future” story with its “year 5 billion” end-of-the-Earth setting well away from any Classic DW continuity – this is the 33rd Century which fits into the larger narrative of “the future Earth”, and adds another occurrence of “solar flares” to the future-history of the Earth of Doctor Who, as the UK leaves the Earth, now in the form of a starship. (Another link to Classic DW is that a “Space Whale”, originally suggested by Pat Mills and John Wagner in the ’80s, makes it to onscreen Doctor Who.)
The other main televisual reference point (apart from previous stories of DW) seems to be The West Wing – all the quirky “thing” dialogue ( “There’s this thing” / “Has he done the thing?” ) is hugely reminiscent of that show. Maybe Moffat was rewatching that American show to get a feel for a “political” TV drama, as this episode could certainly be described fitting into this genre (as well as being satisfying Sci-Fi and, yes, a “fairytale”.) The dialogue for the Doctor is great, and Matt Smith expands upon his characterisation of the previous ep wonderfully. The Doctor and companion dynamic is interesting, as at times he seems to guide Amy into what is expected (by DW history, by the audience) of a companion, nudging her into the story.
At the core of the story is the metaphor of “The Beast Below” this Starship UK and its Government – the people “vote” every 5 years on this political issue. Halfway through the story the meaning of the metaphor of this Beast is open to interpretation, though one interpretation could be the dark underbelly of the world which the populace prefers to forget and let the government deal with. The Beast as metaphor – the metaphor changes as the story goes on though.
Liz 10 is on the case, trying to figure out what is going on with the Below. She has some great dialogue, some of it laugh-out-loud audacious – and some of it great but obscure: a couple of her predecessors feature, with Vicky and “Liz 1” (though she doesn’t refer to her as such) couple of shout-outs to two more RTD stories (Tooth and Claw and an anecdote told to an Ood in The End of Time.)
RTD brought an “emotional life” for the Doctor to the fore of the stories, and while Moffat continues this tradition, the way that he does it is what, ultimately, makes this a story like no other is the emotional uplift at the end is provided by the strange and outlandish imagery, the Beast paralleling the Doctor rather than darkness.
Karen Gillan as Amy really gets a chance to shine (as does the character as she saves the day), and like The End of The World, this is a story which the relationship between Doc and companion is at the forefront – a magical story that continues the brilliance of the introductory story of this era.