Doctor Who: The Beast Below


Rating 2¾

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Andrew Gunn

Starring Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amelia ‘Amy’ Pond), Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten), Hannah Sharp (Mandy), Alfie Field (Timmy), Terrence Hardiman (Hawthorne), Christopher Good (Mo
rgan) and David Ajala (Peter)

This is Amy’s first journey in the TARDIS. The Doctor takes her far into the future to a spacecraft that look like a skyline of skyscrapers suspended in space, each one bearing the name of a different English county. He says this is what remains of the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland after the planet Earth was destroyed by solar flares, although it does not include Scotland because the Scottish people wanted their own ship. They discover a young girl who is crying and yet being ignored by all those around her and the Doctor tells Amy to find out why the girl is upset. He also wants her to find out more about the strange painted “fairground” heads that sit motionless in glass-fronted booths. Meanwhile, he goes off to investigate why there is not even the faintest hint of vibration on the giant spacecraft and discovers it has no engine. During these investigations he encounters Liz Ten, the incumbent British monarch, who already knows who he is.


‘The Beast Below’ is the second episode of the fifth season of the revived series and the second episode to feature the new doctor and companion. As was the case with the opening episode, ‘The Eleventh Hour’, it was written by Steven Moffat, who has assumed the role of head writer and executive producer following the departure of Russell T Davies.

This is an episode that contains many of the classic elements of Doctor Who and mirrors several themes already seen in the revived series, including the underlying alien nature of the Doctor and the consequences of the burden he is constantly required to shoulder. It contains some memorable moments, but on first viewing I came away from it with a sense of déjà vu. Somehow it just felt like we’d seen all this before and the episode as a whole was slightly underwhelming. Some fans have already noted the similarity to the episode ‘The Long Game’ in the first season of the revived series. There are also clear links back to ‘The Idiot Lantern’ in season two and, in terms at least of the subtext drawing a parallel with the political landscape of Britain, perhaps even a comparison to ‘The Happiness Patrol’ from the Sylvester McCoy era of the late 1980s.

There is an amusing little joke about Scotland – the character Amelia Pond is Scottish, as is Karen Gillan, the actress who plays her, and indeed Steven Moffat. There is also a cleverly timed statement about elections and voting and the fact that the right to protest in this country has been greatly eroded in the lifetime of the current government. The Doctor tellingly comments, “Once every five years everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned – democracy in action”, and at one point directly refers to the Britain of the far future as displaying all the signs of a police state.

Centre stage is largely given over to Amy to further establish this character. The early signs are very positive and I am inclined to say that Karen Gillan may prove to be the best companion since Bille Piper. Matt Smith has also quickly settled into the role of the Doctor and entertainingly so, although it is too early to judge how he will ultimately compare to his ten predecessors. The character Liz Ten did not work at all for me and the other characters unique to the episode are too sketchy to make much impact, none of them occupying much more than a few minutes of screen time, although the 12-year-old Mandy is actually a quite effective character, being very aware of what is happening around her, unlike the adults who bury their heads in the sand and ignore her, partly because she is a child and partly because she is not yet old enough to vote.

At the moment I suspect my expectations of the fifth season is creating a sense of anti-climax. With a new Doctor, a new companion, a new head writer and new producers I was hoping for a change of direction, a new approach to the series. However, what we seem to have is a rehash of what we’ve already seen during the previous five years. Time will tell, of course, and there are still eleven episodes remaining in this new season. ‘The Beast Below’ may well be an episode that improves with repeated viewings, but my initial reaction is one of slight disappointment.

Additional: Having watched the episode for a second time my opinion about the character Liz Ten remains unchanged, but overall I thought it was much better than my initial reaction to it suggested and it certainly deserves a nod for the use of the word “minging”.

Review posted 11 April 2010


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