“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.”
Another Sunday, another episode of Doctor Who to distract me from my plight (A-Levels, starting on Tuesday, requiring immediate attention, but who cares)! And what an episode it was — creepy, disgusting, with many funny but far more lump-in-your-throat moments, with a discernible shift in mood in contrast to The Eleventh Hour. Where the first episode of the new series was light and revelling in its all-new glory, this one touched a few of the never-ending dilemmas and conflicts of heart, interest and thinking the Doctor encounters everywhere on his travels, never forgetting anything no matter how much he may want to (Time War again); with his companions always landing smack-bang in the middle of it without some extra time to wrap their minds around it. As usual, the companion in question, Amy Pond, recovers quickly and proves to be made of awesome.
This is Amy’s first “real” adventure with the Doctor, recognized and treated as his “significant other”, so to speak; the Doctor himself seems to be a bit more certain of who he is, which, of course, doesn’t save him from getting into trouble. The Alien/Villain of the Week scenario is drawn to the foreground in this episode — last week, it merely (but rightfully) provided the background of a global alien threat as exposition to the new Doctor’s abilities and, more importantly, gave room to introduce Amy and the Doctor’s relationship — , redirecting us towards what Doctor Who has always been about: Science Fiction and, erm, ‘not getting involved in the affairs of other people or planets’. Right. By the way, erm… parent? His cute deflection towards the topic at hand suggests that’s a sore spot: he does, after all, have a daughter.
The atmosphere is additionally darkened by the fact that Starship UK makes the setting a dystopian world, a police state, with Smilers dishing out zeros to poor school kids (note to self: Zero? Prisoner Zero, grade: zero, Floor Zero… Should we keep watching out for that one?), the FORGET button, and “Democracy in action.” Everything is metal, dark, tarnished, “battered”, the ‘streets’ are damp although it never rains. So, the fluffy and happy feeling that Amy had when the Doctor let her float in outer space, only holding her by her ankle and grinning like a loon, wanders off with a slow, but steady gait.
Speaking of damp floors and “did he do the thing”: Nice to see the Doctor still has that quirk of delivering wild explanations at break-neck speed, doing something completely random that turns out to be completely ingenious, while trying to actually catch up with himself.
(Amy) “Why did you do that?” — (The Doctor) “I don’t know, I think a lot, it’s hard to keep track.”
The Beast Below is big on the old “stupid ape” problem. It starts out as fun when Amy and the Doctor have a moment similar to Rose and Nine’s at The End of the World,
Rose: “My mum’s dead!” — Doctor: “Bundle of laughs, you are.”
Amy: “I’ve been dead for centuries!” — Doctor: “Ooh, lovely, you’re a cheery one!”
Again, the companion points out that they/their families are gonna be dead by now (whenever now is, exactly), and again, the Doctor points out that they are, in short, a buzzkill.
It turns into a real “stupid ape” thing (and really stops being funny) when the Doctor learns that Amy pressed the FORGET button, “taking it upon herself to save him” from making the worst decision of this incarnation yet, to which he reacts with such explicit coldness, it felt like having a bucket of ice water emptied over myself. (Matt Smith is fantastic in that scene!) Again, the companion has gone and done something wrong — ‘wrong’ here meaning ‘human’; surprising how often these two traits coincide, innit? — and the Time Lord is disappointed and utterly pissed at them for it. He mocks her for being “only human”, and goes off on a rant as old as time itself. And, I’ll have you know, Doctor, that it is completely and utterly human to press the FORGET button. Remember when you let Donna hear the Ood’s Song of Captivity? She couldn’t take it. You might hear it all the time, you might be able to cope with all those images of torture in your head, Amy can’t. Not yet, anyway.
“Nobody HUMAN has anything to say to me TODAY!”
Oh, dear. I mean, we can see the hurt underneath all of that, the despair at having to get another name (remember the Master taunting him about that? The man who gets people better, failing to be a Healer… interesting to note the implicite attitude towards euthanasia/medicide), but, boy, this is pure Time Lord I’m-carrying-a-burden-you-could-never-even-imagine-and-it’s-your-fault arrogance. Donna said it once, the Doctor sometimes needs someone to stop him (The Runaway Bride), and he’s two times more likely to get himself killed when he’s on his own (Midnight, Turn Left). Here, again, he is on his own, cuts himself off from his human stop sign — “When I’m done here, you’re going home!” — , and he’s so upset he fails to “notice everything.” Good thing that Amy eventually did and ‘redeemed herself’. (On a cinematic note: That presentation sequence with the pictures rushing into Amy’s head, reflecting in her eyes, smells a lot like The Fifth Element, doesn’t it?)
Another point made by portraying human stupidity: the Star Whale volunteered, for crying out loud! Enough said. Here, Amy has several great moments in a row (which Karen Gillan really uses to get under the viewer’s — and the Doctor’s — skin) in which she makes the Doctor see how easy such an assessment of emotional impulses can be, and how well she has understood that part of him, that great kindness. She doesn’t rub his nose in his own blindness (he can do that himself, thanks for asking), merely countering his reproval with a reminder:
“Amy, you could have killed everyone on this ship.” — “You could’ve killed a Star Whale.” — “And you saved it. I know, I know…”
It’s a different kind of morality — Nine had to teach that lesson to Rose (The Unquiet Dead), now Amy reminds Eleven. However logically thinking, sure, and ultimately correct Amy was, the implication is there: She was willing to risk Starship UK’s fate on that one. That’s a great scene and, mind the handholding porn, probably the longest on-screen Doctor/companion hug ever.
Speaking of their relationship: Oi, it promises to be a complex and somewhat fiery one, doesn’t it? Not only because of Amy’s overbearing fear of being dumped by him so early on, but also because of her marriage secret. And this time, she does remember pressing the HIDE button. Considering that it is brought up so early tells us two things: One, Amy is a very honest person and will probably wreck herself with guilt over this one, two, this will most likely morph into some sort of “running gag”: she’ll try to tell him again and again, or perhaps he’ll bring it up in a calm moment because he remembers her guilt-stricken face. Also: why exactly did she run away? She gives some reasons at the end of the confrontation with the Doctor — “because you’re scared, or not ready, or.. just because you could” — , I wonder which one of those was hers, if any.
Now, on to something completely different: Liz Ten! Dear, you don’t look one day over three hundred.
“So much for the Virgin Queen, you bad, bad boy!”
Oh my, such a blatant reference to the Doctor’s… dancing abilities! The closest we’ve come to pointedly mentioning certain bits of his anatomy and what he can do with them was Cassandra’s joy when she possessed his body in New Earth (“[…] so many parts! And hardly used…” Hardly — doesn’t mean not ever — makes fangirls happy. Yum!). Well, now we know that we didn’t misunderstand Ten’s hint towards that one in End of Time, right? (And why Bessy was so infuriated at seeing him in Shakespearean London.) I liked Her Majesty’s echo of the Doctor’s statement from The Eleventh Hour, “Basically… I rule.” *shows off guns* Also, the Doctor as the royal family’s bedtime story? Fascinating.
Funny moments on the, ah, tongue:
The Doctor: “If this is the mouth, I’d love to see the stomach!” *Whale groans* “Though not right now!”
And, no, that really wasn’t big on dignity. But nothing ever is when you’re covered in sick. I would’ve liked if they had managed to pull a stick of still recognizable celery from the food refuse 🙂 Speaking of tongues: nice comeback at the Smilers, dear Doctor — it’s not your fault they had the ability to get out of their booths and attack you…
Crack watch: Noticed that crack in the outer wall of Starship UK? Just like last week on the radio/whatever transmitter in the TARDIS (the Doctor noticed it, but turned it off, so he either didn’t want to deal with it yet or simply didn’t realize what he was looking at). Oh, dear.
Another reason to “Oh, dear”: Winston Churchill aka “Oh, hello, dear!” — and the Daleks. What?… What? … WHAT?!
Next episode: Victory of the Daleks.