?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
The Beast Below - a considered view.
hug
lil_shepherd
Watching The Beast Below, this time without the tears, it becomes more susceptible to reasoned analysis, though I will leave the deep Dr Who meta to people like parrot_knight, louisedennis and calapine. saxonb has not ventured an opinion yet, but I will be interested to see what he thinks of it. The themes of hard choices made with courage, self sacrifice and deep insight are among the things that push my buttons, so my emotional involvement in the end of the episode is not perhaps surprising.

Also, for the first time since the series was rebooted, there is a Doctor/Companion combination that I can like, admire and sympathise with. (For the record my reactions were; Nine - indifferent, Rose - hated, Jack - loved the early version, Ten - hated, Martha - loved but felt was treated very badly, Donna - hated but that muted to mild dislike.) This liking, combined with plots that pose problems that are (so far) resolved by intelligence and that, given the odd plot hole, are internally logical, plus a lack of Total Bollocks Overdrive combined with what, compared with what has gone before, feels low-key, has come close to making me a convert.

Smith's Doctor is the first of the reboot Doctors that I can believe is basically the same person as the Doctors of classic Who. I never felt I knew much about Nine, while Nine and Ten, far from being "the angry God" and "the on-coming storm", came over as petulant, self-absorbed, and, in Ten's case, wildly illogical. (If these Doctors were any sort of god it was the kind of minor Greek demi-gods that Aristophanes might have guyed.) This Doctor works by observation and logic - at least, he does in these first two episodes, and particularly this one.

It is the "very old and very kind" qualities that Amy recognises here that I also recognise in this Doctor. Smith somehow manages to convey being an old mind in a young body, with his compassion and curiosity still intact, and the pain now put at a distance. It's not the only thing he puts at a distance, either, with no attempt at comfort on a personal level for anyone. However, he was very kind to Amy as a child (Smith, as my brother points out, is far more at ease in acting with children than any other actor playing the Doctor who readily springs to mind) and this is what is in her mind too.

Indeed, here is Amy, who carries a lockpick in her nightdress, and can't resist a Keep Out notice, who doesn't believe what anyone says (and why should she believe the Doctor who she already knows can be untrustworth) and who out-thinks the said Doctor himself, taking immediate and decisive action. Amy is the nearest thing to an equal the Doctor has had in a companion for some time. It is noticeable that he makes no move to protect her - indeed, sends her off to investigate on her own in what he has deduced is a police state (and that in itself is a great scene.) But what else would he do when his introduction to her as an adult was her swiping him with a cricket bat?

We have both a Doctor and a Companion who think and think deductively. Amy's reasoning in seeing the similarities between the Doctor and the star-whale is done by visual flashback, which works well for me because it makes it clear that all the clues were there. (As an aside - some people have expressed doubts that Amy could have known how old the Doctor was. Well, I've already commented on the way Smith plays eleven, but she has also had enough hints, and two years to think about them.) What's more, as we have opinions that range from "I didn't get it" to "It hammered the point home too heavily" my suspicion is that Moffat got it about right. I doubt there were many children who didn't follow it all.

The world building, on the other hand, was weak in a lot of areas, though no better or worse than most Who, new or classic. There are all sorts of questions to be asked: who grows the food, how and where? - where does the power come from and how is it generated? - how come a star-whale which lives in deep space has a mouth full of breathable atmosphere and a digestive system that can cope with Earth biology? - what does it normally eat and why does it need those peg teeth? - how does it move through space? - where does the gravity come from? - why is the everything stuck in a mockney 1950s? - if Scotland went its own way centuries ago, how come the girl recognises Amy's accent? (While we're at it, why should early astronauts need piloting through the asteroid belt? It's not like the one in The Empire Strikes Back)

That's before you start on they whys of the political set-up or on the capture of the star-whale.

If this was science fiction, this would matter a lot more. However, this isn't SF, though there is a superficial resemblance. Moffat has called it "fairy tale" (which ties in rather well with the references to Peter Pan and the Star Wars original trilogy, which is simply a fairy-tale with SF trappings.) This is why we have a queen (and I might become a monarchist for Liz 10) hidden behind a mask as she walks among her people, and a dungeon, and a monster, and why the episode is topped and tailed by verse. References to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are also relevant, because of the elements of political satire that run through both.

I'd characterise it as "dark fantasy" myself, with added "political satire/allegory." As for the political satire - well, Moffat knew that there would be a general election close to this episode, either before or after, and the "five years" between choices is no accident. ("Democracy in action," the Doctor jibes.) That we vote for our own betterment, and the choice and the consequences are then forgotten is one of the texts here. (And, incidentally, think how this would have been received if the spaceship had been any country but Britain. What the US fans would have said if the country had been the US I really do shudder to think.) It's a police state disguised as a democratic monarchy - and the choice in the voting booth is no choice at all. Are we that far away from that?

In the light of both these aspects, the background and world building work well enough, and the bits that need to make sense make sense. Furthermore, because all the actions and words of the Doctor and Amy are grounded in observation and reason and even, occasionally, science and engineering, it almost gives the impression of being SF.

So I loved it for its characterisation and its wit (which I haven't even mentioned) but its the satire that makes you think. Hey, a Who episode that makes you think! That's new...

  • 1
I love this [thing-where-you-take-stuff-apart-and-put-it-back-together]. I am also on glass #3 of wine, which is why I can't find the appropriate word. Also, I agree that actually it's not obligatory to be Only Sci Fi And No Random Other Stuff in order to make a good program.

Having been watching The Seeds Of Death, the Ice Warriors therein (or at any rate the main one) is scarily similar to Darth Vader, and a LONG time before, which suggests that if Dr Who has Star Wars elements, actually Star Wars had Dr Who elements first...

The trouble with world building is that if you give the amount of detail necessary to explain how things work, you lose half your watchers/readers from boredom: they don't want to know that, they're happy to accept that X happens. So I can't entirely criticise Moffat for leaving it out - for all I know, he might've had detail and had his editors go "no, FFS, you're taking away from the story!"

And yes, I loved the satire.

I suspect Moffat plain does not care about world building per se, though it is the one of the main reasons I read SF - and hard SF at that. You can get away with a lot in drama (as Shakepeare knew) that you can't get away with in the printed word because with the printed word people have more time to think, and to look at the detail and see if it fits together.

In this case, the bits of the world that need to work for the satire and the characterisation and the ending do work. As far as the background goes, I suspect the Moff can't be bothered. Spaceship Britain and the star-whale are what they are because of the points Moffat is making. And, in a fairy tale, they work. In SF they don't.

OK, that's interesting, and persuasive on some points which I found unconvincing (the character of Amy, for example).

My reaction to the episode was that I very much enjoyed watching it (much more than last week's, for example) but found the ending sentimental.

So I'm interested that you think of the Doctor as "kind" - that struck a very false note for me, but I suspect my knowledge of the character is much less than yours. The assertion that kindness = inability to bear the tears of children is sickly and just wrong; and I'm not sure what to infer from the whale's willingness to eat anyone who votes not to 'forget' what is being done to it, while saving the weeping children. Also, if zapping the whale causes it such unbearable agony a) does the Doctor's solution make it all right (it's OK to torture unintelligent beasts?) and b) why does it take so long to stop the shocks while they argue about it?

You can't have much world-building with a new world every week, and I don't personally expect much in the way of deep thought. I'm happy to go along for the entertainment value, but I don't like this emotional exploitation.

And next week we have the Daleks to look forward to - oh, joy! Despite which, I'll be there!


I'm no expert on Dr Who though I have seen most of classic Who and rather too much of the reboot.

Of course, I would have to define what I mean by kindness and so would Moffat! In my memories, One could be immensely kind - though he covered it with harsh words. Most of Two is now lost and so I have only lingering memories to go on. I don't remember much kindness from Three and Four, but Five and Seven certainly were kind (and mild, when they needed to be.) Interestingly, the kindness from Nine and Ten seems to have come mainly in the Moffat episodes, and, of course, he also undermined their relationship with Rose (introducing Jack and Reinette and River.)

Emotional exploitation is a hallmark of nuWho. Personally, I thought it was almost unnoticeable here compared with what had gone before! (All that boo-hooing on the beach and the poor-little-lonely-Timelord thang.)

Well, when you're being tortured and fed waste down a tube, I guess the odd bit of fresh meat would hardly come amiss! No-one said it was very bright, just that it was kind.

  • 1