Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE BEAST BELOW - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE BEAST BELOW

Protest or forget? Moo chooses the latter.
A horse and a man above, below,
One has a plan but two must go.
Mile after mile, above, beneath,
One has a smile one has teeth.
Though the man above might say “hello”,
Expect no love from the beast below.
The second adventure for Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor, and the second to be penned by Steven Moffat under his time as showrunner of Doctor Who, The Beast Below suffers from a common problem with many stories in so-called “New Who” - the length. Sometimes you get stories that work perfectly with the forty-five minute runtime, but then you get some that just don’t.

Having had a full hour for the season opener with The Eleventh Hour, the standard 45 minute runtime allocated for The Beast Below does it no favours. While there’s a clearly defined story being told that fits the running time, and the Starship UK concept is an interesting one (if slightly like a Discworld/Mortal Engines mash-up), there are moments when you just wish Moffat had allocated this to a two-part slot in the season because several of the concepts he throws in don’t have as much time devoted to them as they deserve.
Smilers for instance, an intriguing idea but what exactly are they supposed to be? These men going round in black cloaks – the government, I think, but I’m not sure – don’t get much screentime and are just, sort of, there to look ominous and not much else. At one point we learn one of them is a hybrid (a handwavey word Moffat liked to use in many episodes) but the reason for this is never explained, and why he is that way we’ll never know.

And then there’s the ending. Here’s the Doctor deciding the best thing to do about slavery is to give the slave a lobotomy, but then Amy notices how he’s a parallel to the Star Whale and she stops him. For which he tells her off. Right

That’s not all the negative points I have to share about The Beast Below. Queen Elizabeth the 10th is another such issue. She’s there to move the story forward but doesn’t really add much to proceedings beyond talking like some rough tough cardboard cutout cliché – I’m the bloody queen mate, basically I rule. I don't know if it's fair to blame Sophie Okonedo. I suspect she just plays the character with what she's given. At least I hope it's that way otherwise I'd have to question as to how she ever got an Oscar nomination (although I'd have no trouble accepting that she didn’t win).

Finally there’s the pacing. The Beast Below feels at times a lot like it’s going for style over substance, moving from one setpiece to the next with little thought put into it. We get some (to be fair very impressively done) moments like the opening scene of Amy floating outside the TARDIS, Liz X in her room with her mask by her side and several glasses of water lying around, Amy in the tent being attacked by tentacles, Amy’s choice to protest or forget and her warning to herself, the scenes in the mouth... you get the idea. The ending too, with a phonecall from Churchill, could also count as this. The trouble is that the script focuses too much on moving everyone from one setpiece to the next that the storytelling suffers as a result.

It goes back to my earlier statements about the length of stories in “New Who” and I think that as a “Classic Who” story with three or four parts The Beast Below could have been a masterpiece. It falls short because it’s rushed and lacking in focus. Even Steven Moffat went on to state this was his least-favourite among the episodes he wrote, describing it as "a bit of a mess," and he's not wrong.

So what should we make of The Beast Below then? Is this one of those (thankfully rare) stories that we should skip over when we go through our Doctor Who DVDs or rewatch on streaming?
No, I don’t think so. For all its faults there’s much to recommend The Beast Below. Karen Gillan is great in this episode as Amy and we get to see a much more layered version of her than before (ironic that I should write that when she spends the entire story in a nightie) showing that the fiestiness we saw in The Eleventh Hour is largely a front to hide her vulnerable side. She’s running from her responsibilities and commitments, she doesn’t feel ready to get on with life back home in Leadworth. She won’t admit it to the Doctor but as we learn later on in the season he’s been lying to her too. And when you know this the foreshadowing is clear, hidden in plain sight.

Essentially what we have with The Beast Below is a character piece exploring the darker side of the Doctor and the vulnerable side of Amy, neither of which we got to see in Moffat's season opener. This episode confirms to us the viewer that in Matt Smith and Karen Gillan we have two fantastically skilled performers who can do justice by their characters.

Looking back on it over a decade after first broadcast, how much you get out of The Beast Below depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a well-told story then this isn’t it, but if you go in looking to see some character development for the Doctor and Amy then you really can’t go wrong. Give it another watch today with that in mind and you’ll probably enjoy your return visit to Starship UK much more than you remember.

In bed above we're deep asleep,
While greater love lies further deep.
This dream must end, this world must know,
We all depend on the beast below.
...Except of course for Scotland, who "wanted their own ship".

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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