Doctor Who The Beast Below review – revealing our perception filter (spoilers)

Matt Smith is The Doctor in The Beast Below. Picture c. The BBC

Matt Smith is The Doctor in The Beast Below. Picture c. The BBC

IT’S funny, isn’t it – the things we choose to ignore every single day because it is easier to do that than to face up to them.

The oil is running out, our way of life is based to some degree on exploiting other people, I’ll leave the tv on standby although I’m wasting power. And so on – they all just fade away.

Even in the current General Election campaign, political parties are steering clear of saying they will have to hack into spending because of the Government’s massive borrowing to stave off the economic crisis, because if they do, their poll rating falls.

We consistently show we don’t want to hear it.

Talk about a perception filter.

That wilful ignorance and its consequences were at the heart of Steven Moffat‘s second Doctor Who episode, The Beast Below.

It focused on the Spaceship UK, the entire British nation (minus the Scots) who flew into space to escape destruction as the sun kicked off and threatened to wipe out life on planet Earth.

But the Doctor recognised that something was wrong as soon as he and Amy materialised, revealing again what is rapidly becoming a theme of this fledgling series – that you have to look closely to see what is really happening.

But more than that, you have to want to look.

It was a perfectly still glass of water that was the key to the truth – that the ship had no vibration from its engines, meaning something else was making it fly.

In this case, it was a mythical giant space whale – the last of its kind and the titular beast – that had appeared when all seemed lost to carry the Spaceship UK on its back to safety. That whale was now being tortured to ensure it stayed where it was, on orders of the Queen, Liz 10 (nicely played by Sophie Okonedo).

Along with her subjects on the ship, she was told the truth in special voting booths every five years (perfectly timed, that) and could then protest – meaning everyone could die as the whale is released – or forget and live in ignorance.

That’s why the water was still – no one was making any waves.

Of course if there is one thing the Doctor is good at it is stirring things up but he was faced with a choice that no-one had been willing to make – save the whale (heh) or save humanity. Even he could only come up with a massively unsatisfactory alternative to his obvious frustration – rendering the whale brain dead to save it further suffering.

The Doctor and Amy Pond in The Beast Below. Picture c. The BBC

The Doctor and Amy Pond in The Beast Below. Picture c. The BBC

In the end it was Amy who found the way forward, showing the Doctor is always at his best with a strong companion.

Although she had chosen to ignore the truth earlier when she pressed forget in a voting booth – earning a furious rebuke from the Doctor in the process – she broke the cycle by freeing the whale.

Amy put her trust in the whale’s kindness and good nature to stay even if it was released, because she had seen the same qualities in the Doctor, also immortal, lonely and the last of his kind.

She still believed in the raggedy Doctor and showed him his long-held faith in the people of Earth to take responsibility for themselves and do the right thing was not misplaced.

Phew – that is an enormous amount to pack in to a 45-minute episode but true to form, Steven Moffat’s writing was a delight.

The script composed an elegant and obviously deeply felt case for people to engage more in every area of their lives.

You could also even read the episode as Moffat’s plea to save another ancient and benevolent entity – the BBC – from a life of endless torture caused by the wrong decision by the people of Britain in a voting booth – in this case voting Tory in the General Election with their pledge to cut it back. No doubt the Who scriptwriters who seeded their scripts in the 1980s with anti-Thatcher metaphors applauded that.

And it did all that while throwing in a giant vomiting mouth, a gun-toting queen, scary smiley things and several Star Wars references as well that had my nine-year-old son wide-eyed and cheering with delight. Brilliant.

Matt Smith and Karen Gillan continued their sterling work from the series opener by adding more depth and friction to the Doctor and Amy’s relationship, and clearly relish their roles.

There was even a crack in the universe and a reference to Magpie Electricals from series two episode The Idiot’s Lantern for fans to spot. I wonder too if the word Zero will have some significance in future weeks as after Prisoner Zero last week, a young boy was sent down to the Beast for getting a Zero in class. Food for thought.

If I was to nit pick, I felt the only real weakness was the space whale itself, which was the one element that fell down if you looked at it too closely.

And it was ironic that it’s tendrils which burst through the ship and couldn’t hurt the children were obviously the 456 aliens from Torchwood, who cared for children too but in a very different way.

They were only minor flaws in a fantastic episode which – like The Eleventh Hour – you can watch again and again while picking out new features of what is a multi-layered viewing experience.

Bring on next Saturday and The Victory of the Daleks!

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