Monday, 12 April 2010

Doctor Who: The Beast Below

Doctor: 'Right then. This isn't going to be big on dignity.'

Aaron Asadi, writing for SciFiNow, made an interesting comment earlier in the week. He stopped short of saying that Doctor Who had become Americanised, but did proffer the opinion that Russell T. Davies always wrote with one eye firmly on the USA. According to Asadi, this manifested itself in 'a tendency to map Who’s journey about classic American TV tropes: will-they-won’t-they romance; high-octane action; handsome heroes' and 'humourless sacrifice'. Now, whether you agree with him or not (and I sympathise to some degree), since its resurrection, Doctor Who has been a different show. A better show, some would argue—having a broader appeal, almost certainly—but at what cost? Has Doctor Who lost some of its Britishness?

If it has, then Steven Moffat went out of his way tonight to remedy that situation. There was the aptly named Liz 10 (the ass-kicking monarch of Britain), the UK cruising through space on the back of a giant star whale (its sectors and blocks named after British counties), and they even gifted us a couple of well aimed digs at the Scots. In fact, both of this season's episodes have had that distinctive Classic Who feel. They've felt smaller, familiar, more intimate, and most importantly, it somehow feels like the same show I used to watch as a kid. I'm not sure what's been missing—but it's definitely back!

Tonight's episode was Amy's chance to impress, and she did so in cracking style by saving everyone with her quick thinking and instinctive reactions. In the Doctor's case, it wasn't actual death she saved him from, but it was a death of sorts. He almost crossed a line. For all his superior alien intellect, he almost ended up killing a star whale. True, it was the lesser of two evils, but in the end it was Amy's intuition, and her greater understanding of the Doctor, which saved the day. She was able to guess the whale's past intentions by (a) observing how it reacted to the children, and (b) recognising that its circumstances almost exactly mirrored the Doctor's. Both were alone in the world, both were the last of their kind, and both had been spurred on to do great things, despite terrible adversity and personal loss. Amy knew how the whale would act because she knew how the Doctor would act.

Unfortunately, Liz 10—the trashy, gun toting, cape wearing, cockney Queen of Britain—showed considerably less insight. The poor star whale never stood a chance—it was captured and subdued before being able to make its intentions known. Terrified for her people, Liz 10 saw the star whale as their only hope—a miracle—and grabbed it with both hands. To be fair, imprisoning the whale was a measure born of desperation, but to her credit, she did include a method of setting it free. Unfortunately, the cost of pressing the 'protest' button was simply too great—so understandably, hardly anyone ever did.

Liz 10 felt like a pleasing mix of Little Red Riding Hood, Lara Croft and a 19th century Highwayman (or woman), but it was hard to sympathize with some of her decisions—particularly her agreeing to feed the 'beast' protesters and people of limited value. The idea of the populace being able to free the whale did (as the Doctor suggested) give the impression of democracy in action, but only if the number of protesters topped one percent—otherwise, they were presumably fed to the beast. Which, suddenly, didn't feel quite so democratic. And surely poor Timmy didn't deserve to die? Just for being academically below par? Thankfully, the whale showed more compassion than the Queen—though not quite enough to stop it scoffing down the adults. I guess a whale's gotta eat.

I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting the emotional punch at the end. I'll be the first to admit, Amy's explanation that the whale couldn't bear to see children cry was a touch on the cheesy side, but it was a sound piece of reasoning (if a tad simplistic). And when she hugged the Doctor, and said 'Gotcha' I found myself falling in love with them all over again. I don't know what it is about this pair, but I adore them. Seriously, I had a tear in my eye at the end of this episode. That's pretty impressive for two characters I only met eight days ago.

And at least Amy's earned herself a last minute reprieve. The Doctor, angry at her for pressing the 'forget' button (despite her doing so to save him from an impossible decision), was ready to take her home, but by the end of the episode was instead forced to contemplate his own near blunder, and Amy's part in preventing it. I though Matt was perfect in those scenes. His initial reaction was pensive and subdued, then came the gratitude, as he buried his face into her shoulder and the two of them hugged—disaster firmly averted. There were some tender moments, too, towards the end—further evidence (if any were needed), that Smith and Gillan have a superb on-screen chemistry. And Smith's angry outburst was proof positive that he's more than capable of handling the angrier, more ruthless side of the Doctor's occasionally dark personality. He plays this role with such ease. Nothing about it seems forced, nothing feels contrived. I love him more with each passing episode.

Other Thoughts:

—The shop behind the tent was called Magpie Electricals—a reference to the TV shop from 'The Idiot's Lantern'.

—How did Liz turn into such a geezerette? She started out so refined, then two hundred and sixty years later, she's all 'I'm the bloody Queen, mate'.

—I enjoyed the Smilers/Winders more than the Atraxi/Prisoner Zero. Even their non-demonic faces looked hideous. And the Smilers were what? Robots?

—The crack in the side of the ship was no doubt there to remind us that there's still a fissure in the skin of the universe.

—Amy still wearing her nightie reminded me of Arthur Dent (of HHGTTG fame), who spent much of his time kitted out in a dressing gown.

—Amy still hasn't told the Doctor she's getting married. Neither has the Doctor answered her parenthood question.

—A couple of Star Wars franchise homages tonight. Firstly, there was the 'Help us Doctor, you're our only hope' dialogue. Secondly, the interior of the beast's mouth looked a little like the Star Wars trash compactor. And I'll try for a tentative third.... them being inside the whale's mouth was reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon flying inside the space slugs mouth in The Empire Strikes Back.

—I wonder why Amy's marital status came up as 'unknown'?

Quotes:

Amy: 'I've been dead for centuries!'
Doctor: 'Oh lovely! You're a cheery one.'

Doctor: 'Oh, this fell out of her pocket when I accidentally bumped into her. It took me four gos.'

Amy: 'What are you gonna do?'
Doctor: 'What I always do. Stay out of trouble. Badly.'

Mandy: 'How do you not know about this? Are you Scottish too?'
Doctor: 'Oh, I'm way worse than Scottish. I can't even see the movie. It won't play for me.'

Amy: 'You look human.'
Doctor: 'No, you look Time Lord. We came first.'

Dcotor: 'Say wheeeee!'
Amy: 'Arrrrrgh!'

Amy: 'It's a rubbish dump and it's minging!'

Doctor: 'There's nothing broken, there's no sign of concussion, and yes... you are covered in sick.'

Liz 10: 'Lovely hair, Amy. Shame about the sick.'

Liz 10: 'I'm the bloody Queen, mate. Basically – I rule.'

Doctor: 'Nobody talk to me. Nobody human has anything to say to me today!'

Amy: 'If you were really old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn't just stand there and watch children cry.'

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