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'Doctor Who' - 'The Beast Below' Recap

by Brad Trechak, posted Apr 24th 2010 10:00PM
(S05E02) As a long-time 'Doctor Who' fan, let me begin by saying that while this week's episode wasn't quite as good as last week's, it was still pretty darn good. Matt Smith is very quickly adjusting to his role as the Doctor and Amy Pond is proving herself to be a good match for him and every bit as capable, particularly given her role at the end of the episode.

Doctor WhoAll this being said, I felt as if the writing of the episode (by 'Doctor Who' showrunner Steven Moffat) wasn't up to his usual standard of excellence. Also, Moffat suffers from the burden of creating too many great villains, as the latest ones weren't quite as scary as the previous ones. More detailed and spoiler-ific criticism after the jump.

Let me start the criticism with the Smilers. I didn't understand exactly what exactly they were supposed to be. Were they robots or cyborgs? Did they represent the police of an authoritative state? Where did the third face (the "mean" one) come from? While 'Doctor Who' is supposed to be geared towards children, it's usually fairly intelligent children that are the target audience. Moffat's previous two monster creations (the Weeping Angels and the Vashta Narada) were incredibly scary and had enough elements of realism to even make me use the nightlight when going to bed. The Smilers just seemed silly.

Then we have the Star Whale, which was the "beast" of the title. While the basic story of the episode was a good concept, there were unexplained details. What was the purpose of the scorpion tail protrusions out of the Star Whale's skin? Were they to sweep bits of meteor rock off the skin? They seemed a convenient plot device without explanation of their function. Also, what did the residents of Starship UK eat? Whale blubber? There were cafes and eateries on the ship, but where do they keep the farms for the cows and vegetables and whatnot? And what about a water supply? If anybody has answers for these questions, please leave them in the comments.

It seemed odd that everybody that voted "protest" would be fed to the Star Whale. Social satire has a long tradition in 'Doctor Who' and I simply accept it as Moffat's euphemism for the things people ignore as the cost of maintaining a society.

Despite all this, there were many enjoyable elements of the episode. The Doctor and Amy were fun to watch, both individually and interactively. I liked the revelation of Liz 10's identity. For those who follow all incarnations of 'Doctor Who', the solar flares making the Earth uninhabitable in the 29th century was a plot point of the classic episode 'The Ark in Space,' so Moffat and company are still trying to follow 'Doctor Who' continuity, such as it is.

This episode was still better thought out science-wise than your average Russell T. Davies episode. We also have the continuing mystery of the cracks in the universe, which seem to be following Amy around.

Next week, the Daleks return. The true initiation of any new Doctor is to face the Daleks. And this time, they're working for Winston Churchill.

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I have been watching Dr. Who for the last few seasons and I must say I am intrigued with the new doctor. Matt and Amy seem to be doing a good job so far. I have gone back and watched dr-who-and-the-daleks, but everybody claims the movies don't count. Where can I get my hands on some of the older TV seasons? In my weekly Who surfing I came across this guy Tim


and though you Who fans would love his enthusiasm for the show

April 30 2010 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My darned DVR only recorded the last 30 min of the show so I'm hoping to view it from the beginning tonight with a rerun. And although I was rather confused by the show starting while they were in the beasts belly, I was very surprised by the amount of anger this current Dr showed towards his companion.

Perhaps I'll understand it a bit more once I actually see the beginning of the show...lol

I DO like the fact that this Doctor seems to be more techie inclined which was evident from the first episode and his use of the internet... Although I guess it's easy to update a characters knowledge base when they get to reboot with a new incarnation.

And please please please, can we eliminate and discussion of future episodes prior to them showing in the US? I know they are available in the UK and online but for those of us that are waiting patiently for them on BBCA it would be nice to NOT be teased any further by little tid bits..

April 27 2010 at 12:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

wasn't up to his usual standard of excellence

Agreed! Bored. Writing & look were dull, flat. Not taking to either of the leads. Maybe Daleks next week will light the fire but really bringing in the big WC??
Odd thing is this thin episode did make the first one seem better in memory bank. Came up some notches for me now.
Seemed to have more human essence.
Show is right on my edge of good bye at this point.
Began watching some other shows I'd missed using Youtube and I never did that with the prior Doctor (s).

April 25 2010 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I liked this episode when I caught it two weeks ago, but if you think about it, I felt like there were a lot of plot holes. I could've missed something but I felt the beginning didn't really match up to the end. Why was the kid sent down the chute at the beginning? Why set up a whole voting system if people who protest are just fed to the beast, but then it won't eat children, so why send them down there? How how do they live down there? And if they came out the beast's mouth, shouldn't they be in space? And no one is supposed to look at the Smilers or talk about what's going on, but the kids have a song about it?

I felt like it could've been a two parter and connected a little more. It needed a sinister something controlling the Smilers. The concept of the voting and everything was cool but I felt it needed a little tweaking and refining. Or they tried to do too much and they left too much unexplained. I think that's more of the issue - there wasn't a ton of room for character development with everything "going on" which shocks me to say because I usually don't care about character development, but I want to see more of 11 & Amy relate. We've had the Doctor in love, we've had the companion in love, we've had them as really really good friends, so I'm hoping we see something new and different there.

And they're really laying on this "cracks in the universe" thing way too heavily. I miss the days of, after six or seven episodes of a series, thinking something like, "
"Wait, haven't we seen Bad Wolf before?" as opposed to the "ZOOM IN ON THE CRACK WITH THE CLOSING CREDITS STARTING MEANS ITS BAD GLAVEN!" Half the fun is in figuring it out as opposed to having it bashed over your head.

I'm past episode 4 (bad choice, BBC America - show it on the Sunday it follows the UK) and while it's good, the problem is it's got big shoes to fill and high expectations.

Oh, and no report on the fact that Fox has killed the US Torchwood spinoff? I read it somewhere, so it could be fake or I misread, but I was glad to see it.

April 25 2010 at 5:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John's comment

I hadn't heard that, but found confirmation when I looked.


Very sad to hear. :( Do we know if this is the end of Torchwood, or will BBC still be making something for its station? I've read a fourth season will be filming, but I really cannot find anything recent about it..

April 25 2010 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Go to the BBC Doctor Who website and read the original "Blink" short story. It caused me to go from sputtering mad about the childish writing of this series to believing that things are not what they seem, and looking for clues in each episode. I think Moffat is weaving a "Lost" like dense tapestry using bits of children's stories and pieces of Doctor Who history.

For example, who, other than Jonah, was famously swallowed by a whale and later regurgitated?

Moffat has said repeatedly in interviews that he regards Doctor Who as more fairy tale than science fiction. Methinks he misdirects, and that his Doctor will be more sciencey-wiencey-fictiony-wictiony than any of the previous 10.

Of course, I could be wrong...

April 25 2010 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


"...other mentioning Alex Kingston's name..."

Darn it, now you've spoiled THAT for me. PLEASE!

April 25 2010 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Alex99's comment

How did I spoil that for you if it was mentioned in the original post you complained about? And, as I said, it doesn't spoil anything about the episode.

April 25 2010 at 4:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Joseph said: "Care to comment on episode 4"?

Ok, just seen it. Finally, something watchable. While it was much better then the previous three cringeworthy eps, I'm unable to assess it fully as much of the dialogue was unintelligible due to overly loud music and/or overly quickly delivered lines. This is a longstanding issue. Perhaps they crank up the background music volume to disguise particularly bad dialogue/exposition?

The script was guilty of recycling previous material and it certainly had holes, but at least they weren't of the same magnitude as in previous eps. I have a lot of time for Alex Kingston, so it was good to see her again, but Smith is decidedly ordinary and Gillan hot and cold.

April 25 2010 at 9:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to DrWho's comment

I really liked the episode but I do think they could have explained Liz 10 a bit more. And nice to see a doctor that is not so in love with his companion like DT's doctor was with Rose. I have nothing against Rose. I just don't like when they make the dr. who more into a love story when its not one. Nice to see the Doctor get angry with his companion.

April 25 2010 at 9:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Professor Zed

A surprisingly predictable episode. It was obvious what the "beast below" was from the past few months of trailers. The Doctor giving a lesson in seeing everything and recognizing everything for what it is was strong, but then when he himself neglected to do either of those things, well that simply created disappointment in the character. Smith is good as the Doctor and Karen Gillan is wonderful as Amy. The Smilers were very creepy to begin with, but then amounted to absolutely nothing. We weren't even made to care very much for the little boy who "just showed up" at the end after seemingly falling to his death at the top of the show.

April 25 2010 at 2:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I cannot disagree with you more. Moffat is a writers-writer and there are specific reasons for the things you mention. By the way there is one of those pesky typos that spell check can't find.

First of all, I think the beast below is actually speaking to the larger theme of this whole episode, which you seem to have missed. I think it is about the beast with in that we don't know. How we are all two-faced. There were many more nods to the theme.

This episode was about establishing the new Doctor. We learned his weaknesses. We learned that he won't hesitate to get rid of Amy at any notice. He's more emotional than he was before. He has a shit ton of inner turmoil over what happened to the rest of the Timelords, and more stuff like that.

As for the whale scorpion-things, it is obvious to any writer that it was explained and chucked out for time. What is more important? As for how this world works, the show isn't an effin encyclopedia. How does the Tardis work? The show is ABOUT the Doctor. There would be no room for story at all if you wanted all the settings explained in that kind of detail.

Also, how can anyone thing Amy is working out? Matt is a brilliant character-actor, and she plays to camera! Her ego is unjustified and she has no charisma. I truly don't understand how anyone can think she is a complement.

The show has to transition from the JTD years to the Moffat years or else they are going to lose audience. Believe me, after you see episode 4, you'll get the Moffat we all know exists. They are just getting the other 98% of the audience adjusted to a more serious series. Hopefuly, you'll see by then that Amy is a vanilla character and green actor. I kind of can't believe I saw episode 4 off the silver screen.

Sorry I seem bitter, but you are way off mark.

April 25 2010 at 1:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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