The Beast Below welcomes The Doctor, Amy, and the audience to Starship UK, a huge chunk of flying rock that may or may not be the literal landmass of Britain, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland of course wanted its own spaceship, and did not join the others on their trip. We find out that Earth was under attack by solar flares, so everyone took to the skies.
Right from the get-go we find out that nothing is as it seems: there seems to be no power running Starship UK, and there are ominous fortune telling statues called “Smilers” watching over the population like some sort of steampunk “big brother”.
As a second episode, The Beast Below does everything it should do by playing up the relationship between the Doctor and Amy. We see playfulness as the Doctor “shows off” a bit by dangling Amy outside of the Tardis, and anger as the Doctor nearly decides that Amy’s trip is over towards the end of the episode. Because of these extremes, this episode is quite emotional, but it seems realistic. Sometimes older episodes had an “emo” or over the top feeling to them, which rubbed me the wrong way.
The cornerstone of this emotion is Matt Smith who shows he is a great actor and amazing choice for the role. When confronted with a horrible choice, we see the Doctor lashing out at those around him, which is terrifying and jarring, but not in a bad way. The Doctor is given a moral dilemma where he basically has to choose between killing and killing, and this does not make him happy.
On the technical side of things, this episode seems a bit less polished than the last. I wasn’t sure if it was the direction being a bit less well realized as The Eleventh Hour, but I feel that it was a major part of it. This is by no means a bad thing, as I still loved the way it was done. There was a bit of explanation missing however that made me feel as if a missed opportunity had occurred.
The episode has two sets of related villains called Smilers and Winders. Smilers are the clockwork fortune telling machine dummies that watch over school children to show whether they are doing good or bad, and Winders are a group of robed men that seem to be sent out by the Smilers when someone is naughty. I am making assumptions here as it is never truly explained what the Smilers were originally used for, only that they are creepy and show a person if they are doing the right thing.
The secondary cast was pretty good, although a bit one-dimensional in parts which made me think of old sci-fi characters from shows like Buck Rogers. Liz Ten is a prime example of this as she is not too far removed from a silly Flash Gordon style Space Heroine. Much like my small criticism of the direction in the episode, this is not by any means a deal breaker, and the supporting cast is still leagues better than most characters I’ve seen in many shows. I think my main problem lies in that Moffat generally writes fairly memorable side-characters in his scripts, these did not match up.
All in all, I loved The Beast Below and found it to be a nice space opera style romp, with a lot of hard-lined emotion. We get a chance to see the doctor at his wacky best, but find out that this Doctor is not all fun and games at all times.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
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