Doctor Who: The Beast Below
(1 episode, s05e02, 2010)
It’s no disc on four elephants on a turtle, but it’s still home.
Behind-the scenes: Because Series Five started a franchise trend of related mini-episodes and prequels for certain stories, I’ll start including them where appropriate.
Meanwhile in the TARDIS, Part I
Shortly after departing Leadworth, Amy bombards the Doctor with a stream of non-stop questions. How does the TARDIS retain its air supply? Why did he label a time machine “police box”? Where are the other windows which are on the exterior of the TARDIS? What is a police box and is the Doctor a policeman? Has he seen his haircut? Does he ever need to change the bulb on top the TARDIS?
She also considers the bow tie to be a cry for help.
The Doctor answers most of the questions, which Amy follows with one more question: Is the Doctor an alien? He tells her that she’s the alien and that this is what he really looks like. He also opens the doors and shows her the depths of space.
When she says that they look more like a Hollywood special effects display, he throws her into the dark.
The Beast Below
On the Starship UK, children sit in class waiting to be graded by their instructor, a Smiler. A boy named Timmy doesn’t want to join, but when he does, he gets graded as a failure. Students who have a zero grade aren’t allowed to take the Vator lift with their classmates. Not wanting to take the stairs to the London deck, he sneaks onto the other elevator car, but this car takes him to Level 0 and a bottomless chasm into which the Smiler tosses him with an evil sneer.
Back at the TARDIS, Amy is floating in space with the Doctor holding her by a single ankle. He has extended the air shield so they can breathe while watching the cosmos. He spots the Starship UK, a refuge for humanity after the Earth was burned by solar flares, and sets a course.
While Amy watches the monitor, the Doctor appears on the screen and beckons her to join him. She’s surprised, but exits the TARDIS and wanders the starship in her nightgown. The Doctor takes a glass of water and sets it on the deck, proclaims that he’s looking for an escaped fish, and tells Amy to keep an eye open for secrets, shadows, and lives lived in fear.
As they wander, a cloaked figure calls a man named Hawthorne, who then relays the information about the Doctor’s presence to a woman surrounded by glasses of water. Meanwhile, the Doctor explains that they’re looking for a girl named Mandy, points out the Smilers as peculiar, and leaves Amy to pursue Mandy (Timmy’s friend) while he tries to stay out of trouble.
Amy finds Mandy, who tells her that they’re path is blocked by a hole at Magpie Electricals. Amy tries to pick the lock guarding the hole while talking to Mandy about herself. When Amy takes a peek inside, a nearby Smiler turns to the evil face as Amy finds a tentacle with a stinger on the end. When she leaves the tent, she’s surrounded by cloaked figures who gas her.
The Doctor descends into the engine room and finds the mysterious cloaked woman and a glass of water. When pressed, he explains that an engine the size of that needed to propel the ship would cause ripples in the water, but the surface is still. Additionally, there are no couplings in the electrical boxes and no engine whatsoever. The woman, Liz Ten, asks for his help before providing him with Amy’s whereabouts and vanishing.
Amy regains consciousness in a booth where her name (Amelia Jessica Pond), age (1,306), and marital status (unknown) are displayed before she’s offered the truth about the starship and two options: Protest or Forget. Should only one percent of the population protest, the project will be discontinued with consequences for all. She views the video and presses Forget, but then sees a video from herself begging her to find the Doctor and get off the ship immediately.
The Doctor opens the booth with Mandy on his heels and reveals that her recent memories were erased. They discuss the similarities between Time Lords and humans, as well as the remnants of his people. The Doctor decides to bring down the government by slamming the Protest button. The deck opens to the chasm below and he and Amy are dropped into a slimy pit full of biological refuse.
It turns out that it’s a mouth, as pipes have been surgically implanted they can use the normal path to escape, but the mouth is closed. To prevent being swallowed, the Doctor triggers the vomit reflex and the pair land in an overspill pipe. They find a Forget button, but when they refuse to press it, two Smilers approach menacingly. A maskless Liz Ten bursts in with Mandy and shoots the robots, but when they start repairing themselves, the group moves on.
Liz Ten muses about the Doctor and his history with royalty, revealing that she is Elizabeth the Tenth, the Queen. They spot more of the roots (the tentacles) behind barriers and retreat to Liz’s quarters. The Doctor muses to Amy that they shouldn’t be here. They are interrupted by the cloaked figures, Winders who are half-human and half-Smiler, and taken to the dungeons (the Tower) to meet with Hawthorne.
In the Tower, they find evidence that the starship is being propelled by a large, captive creature that is being tortured to keep them moving. Liz Ten demands that they release the creature with her authority, but Hawthorne doesn’t budge. The Doctor shows her the mask that she wears, noting that it’s an antique, and proving that her body clock has been slowed. She’s been on the throne for hundreds of years, forced over time to either Forget or Abdicate.
She watches a pre-recorded video of herself explaining that they lacked the resources to build a suitable ship, but they found the last of the star whales and decided to ride it to safety. Despite being heartbreaking, the choice saved them all. To abdicate would mean destroying the ship and killing humanity to save the creature.
This is what Amy chose to forget, a choice that makes the Doctor furious.
The Doctor is faced with three options: Leave the star whale in captivity, kill all of humanity, or turn the creature into a vegetable to save them all. The Doctor starts setting up option three while Amy sees Mandy reunited with Timmy (who doesn’t recognize her) and then caress one the tentacles like a pet.
Amy decides to force Liz to abdicate, but instead of destroying the ship, the vessel speeds up. Amy recognized that the creature had volunteered to save the children of humanity, comparing the star whale to the Doctor. Later, the Doctor gazes out at the stars as Amy arrives with Liz’s mask. There will be no more secrets on Starship UK, and the Doctor and Amy make amends to each other.
They return to the TARDIS, and Amy starts to reveal the reason that she needs to get back tomorrow morning, but they are interrupted by the console phone. On the other end is British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, asking for help as the shadow of a Dalek is cast on the wall of his office.
The Doctor sets a course, leaving the star whale and her wards to sail the stars, unaware of a glowing crack on the hull similar to the one that graced Amy’s wall at home.
We see an evolution of the Doctor in his first outing in this incarnation. Growing from the trauma of the Time War, we finally see hints of acceptance and resolve to never be cowardly or cruel, to never give up, and to never give in. In fact, when the resolution to this story seems to be the mental death of a magnificent creature to save everyone, he is ready to sacrifice the name of Doctor as a result.
In a similar story twist as The Doctor Dances, doing the thing that was supposed to end the world actually saves it. It was so good to see Amy take command of the situation based on what she’s observed. Smart companions are a winner with me. It’s also an extension of The Runaway Bride as a companion pleads with the Doctor to find another solution. In this case, the companion is successful.
Steven Moffat does take a serious shortcut here with easy entry points for the franchise: This story echoes The End of the World with a new Doctor taking a new companion to the distant future where they muse about the fall of Earth, the future of humanity, and talk about mothers while standing in front of large windows staring into space. Is it cheap? Sure, but it works.
I did love the rapid fire rush through the history of the Doctor and the monarchy, from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II and even a bit more of the story about a marriage to Queen Elizabeth I. I also got a kick out of some current events getting a nod with a discussion of Scottish independence, and I’m amused by the Doctor’s personality as he tries to be hip and modern. It’s very much “How do you do, fellow kids?”.
All of these things combined made for an exciting adventure that showcases the strength and abilities of Amy as a companion.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.