Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Review: Doctor Who 5.2: The Beast Below

The stupid, stupid "Starship UK"
Doctor Who - Season 31, Story Two - The Beast Below
Written 11/10/12. 

Moffat... isn't a normal Who writer. He's not the guy that you go to if you want a straigtforward, "lets turn up at this place, solve a mystery and go home again" kind of writer. Every one of his scripts becomes so much more complex than that and, especially in recent years, he's produced a varying style that often reuses old ideas and puts them in a new context. While The Beast Below shares a few themes with the rest of his work, it stands out as an exception to his regular stuff and is perhaps the most straightforward script he's ever produced. It also manages to take a few good ideas, one massive terrible one and fit them into an under-running episode. How does he manage? Less than stellar.
     The story's main premise is one that I fundamentally disagree with. The UK, minus a dissolved Scotland, has had to up sticks from the Earth in the future, and now travels alone on a massive ship The attitude of one of its passengers shows that while race issues may not be a problem, they are incredibly distrustful of other nationalities and apparently live in a dystopian society hiding the secret that the ship is being powered by the torture of a massive space whale. Every five years, the citizens are told the truth and then have the option to either protest and be fed to the Whale or forget and have their memory erased. This system, put in place by a traumatised Elizabeth X, has been running for over two hundred years, Liz's life being extended and her decision being re-assessed every ten years by vote.
     Firstly, the mere concept of "Starship UK" is so at odds with everything that modern Science Fiction strives for. It's closed and insular, it shows us a future where patriotism has extended to the point where a catastrophic, world-threatening disaster isn't enough to stop people's national pride - and don't start tearing up in joy, that's a fucking nightmare. It wasn't just one country that put man into space, that split the atom, that discovered the Higgs Boson, it was a collaboration of many. I mean, how is this progress? At the end of this story, the corrupt government is still in place, the people of the UK-sans-Scotland are still under the control of a near-immortal Queen and her batshit-insane group of robots. There are still people living in fear on the streets, there isn't a proper voting system any more so there's no democracy. I mean, what the fuck, Moffat? How is this a positive vision for the future; if anything, it harks back to old war propaganda. Which, as we'll see, fits perfectly with the next episode.
     Moffat also spends time firing potshots at people. The creature's mouth and resulting vomit funnel is revealed to be directly beneath the area corresponding to the North-West of England, while all of the fun and important parts are predominantly Southern. Despite being a Scotsman, Moffat managed to somehow bring the stupidity of English geographical snobbery into Doctor Who, a show that celebrates differences and doesn't abide putting people down when they don't deserve it. Worst of all though is the fact that for some reason (likely so we can have the "cool" and "street" Liz Ten), in 1200 years the UK is still ruled by what now seems to be an absolute monarchy. Again, it doesn't make any sense and serves only to allow Moffat to make jokes about the Royal Family.
Init, you get me?
     But what about the episode itself, Andrew? It's themes are surely not the entire point of it? What about how it works as an adventure? Well, the episode certainly feels like the most traditionally structured since probably The Unicorn and the Wasp, and it's totally different from any Moffat story before or since. There were a few things which were unnecesary or silly, especially Liz Ten and the Smilers. They had some nice imagery but at the end of the day they were strangely useless. This story could have been a lot more serious had this just been any old Earth ship with any governor in charge, and the link to the UK really ruins it. It's not all bad, though. Amy's character here is probably the best that she's ever been and will ever be - she's resourceful, thoughtful and intuitive. She feels like a regular human being rather than the gross caricature she would morph into.
     The Beast Below doesn't make me angry, but it does annoy me in too many ways. I have a real issue with the implications of its premise and how limited it feels when it comes to its ideas, many of which could have been really interesting had they been generalised beyond the absurd gimmick of Starship UK and Moffatt's flailing attempts at political humour. While it did give us some nice character beats for both of our leads, it also threw a lot of bullshit at the screen and expected some of it to stick. At the time we got rather downhearted about this episode, especially after that wonderful premier. Luckily the next episode is great. Right? Guys?


NEXT TIME: Damn you, Victory of the Daleks. And your silly story resolution.

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