Monday, 18 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Beast Below

“I’m the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule.”

So, Matt Smith’s first story in space and in the future. The UK, on a rock, floating in space. Devon. Surrey. There’ll be a Leicestershire somewhere. Probably infested with the bloody space BNP, knowing us.

This is a future Britain where it’s forever the 1950’s; there’s even a Magpie Electricals. And the 1950s classroom is made terrifying by the ever-reliable Steven Moffat, with just a circus-like creature in a booth and the three words “Bad boy, Timmy.” I’ll go on about this properly later on, but this is effectively The Happiness Patrol done much better, and with much more successful imagery. I mean, which is the scarier icon, Bertie Bassett or a post-Life on Mars test card girl?

I love the new theme. It’s similar, but not too similar, to the Trial of a Time Lord theme, but creepier. And the title sequence is great too. I’m liking this new era so far. I’m certainly loving our two leads. How can anyone not love the shot of Amy flying, in space, anchored to reality only be the Doctor’s hand on her ankle? Fairytale indeed.

Time to come down to Earth, though. I’m no continuity obsessive (Er, that’ll be my inner twelve year old child. Not me, guv.), but the Moff has got is facts wrong! Solar flares? In the 29th century? I think this is supposed to evoke The Ark in Space, but the Nerva Beacon was only built in the 29th century, during the time of Revenge of the Cybermen. Tsk. Stop looking at me like that. No, really.

You’ve got to love companions’ first stories, not least for the cobblers the Doctor can only get away with spouting at these times. “We are observers only,” he says. “That’s the one rule I’ve stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets.” Then he goes straight out of the TARDIS to comfort a little girl, irrevocably involving himself. And this is even integral to the resolution of the plot. Moffat, you’re brilliant.

This is a great introduction to our new Doctor and his eccentricities. The reasoning as to why this world of red phone boxes and lollipop ladies is such a repressive police state, the glass of water on the floor, the warnings about “escaped fish”- this is unmistakeably the Doctor, but just as unmistakably not the last one.

Amy, who is 1,306 and long dead, has her first thoughts about a wedding, “A long time ago, tomorrow morning”, that she’s clearly terrified by. But this doesn’t impede her sense of adventure, and neither does that Death to the Daleks-y root thing.

And the Doctor meets the mysterious, masked Liz 10 and gets some answers; this impossible vessel is travelling without an engine. If this didn’t feel 2000 AD enough (and I don’t just say that because it makes me think of Pat Mills and space whales), we have a voting booth and buttons marked “Protest” and “Forget”. “And once every five years,” says the Doctor is a wonderful bit of satire, “everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.” So he’s bringing down the government, another sign that this is basically a much-improved version of The Happiness Patrol, complete with gunge tank, but without the “camera pointed at a stage with abstract scenery” vibe. I mean, here the cameras move about a lot and everything, although it still looks a little too studio-bound. This is especially obvious in the scene where it’s revealed they’re inside a huge mouth. That asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back this ain’t. These few scenes are my only real criticism of the story, though. I mean, I even gave The Happiness Patrol a 5/5.

Liz 10’s identity is revealed as “technically not a British subject”, and someone whose family has certainly known the Doctor, in various senses (“And so much for the Virgin Queen, you bad, bad boy!”).

The big reveal is very, very clever, with the Queen simultaneously behind it all and investigating her own actions, over and over again, every ten years ago choosing between the buttons “Forget” and “Abdicate”. It’s also horrible, with the creature being horribly and constantly tortured for centuries. Amy redeems herself by working it all out, but what does it say about the Doctor that this lonely and literally tortured being is essentially a metaphor for him?

All’s well in the end, a good 5/5, and the Doctor and Amy are off to another adventure with Winston Churchill and the Daleks. But what’s that? A crack…

(Oh, and I’ve just seen that extra scene on the DVD for the first time. Fantastic!)

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