The Doctor takes Amy to the 29th Century, where they find all of the UK’s citizens (apart from the Scottish) onboard Starship UK, searching for a new home after the Earth has been roasted by solar flares.
However, they find something amiss. The citizens are ignoring crying children and are afraid of sinister Smilers. As the Doctor and Amy investigate, it becomes increasingly clear that the Doctor will have to make an impossible decision. No matter what he chooses, death is the only outcome.
The Beast Below has a tough act to follow as it falls immediately after one of the strongest and most confident new Doctor debut episodes in the show’s history. It mostly manages to deliver a strong episode, however, does fall down when it comes to a rushed and anti-climactic conclusion, but has plenty of strong dialogue, creepy villains and great performances from Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Sophie Okonedo. And despite the chameleon circuit having been broken for who knows how long, the TARDIS gets some scenery it doesn’t look out of place in!
Speaking of the central performances, I want to focus in on Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor. Here we see the differentiation between Smith and his predecessor, as Smith shows us a much more alien portrayal of the Doctor, as evidenced by a more evident disdain for elements of humanity, closer to Eccleston:
Nobody HUMAN has anything to say to me today!The Eleventh Doctor
His sudden outburst here really crosses a line from fury into something terrifying, and the way he goes back to almost speaking normally to He also demonstrates perfectly the enthusiasm of the Doctor when they first spot Starship UK, when he forgets about Amy dangling outside the TARDIS. Karen Gillan is very good here too, performing her role as a fish out of water well and her chemistry with Smith is great, and Sophie Okonedo as Liz 10 is great, aided by a script that features some great lines.
I’m the bloody Queen, mate, and basically I rule.Liz 10
The episode hinges on the central conceit of people choosing to forget the secret behind Starship UK: that the occupants of Starship UK are complicit in the torture of an innocent creature for their own gain, with anyone who chooses to protest fed to the Star Whale. The Doctor takes great pleasure in stating that the system is essentially “democracy in action”. What we see here is essentially democratic dystopia, with the Queen’s government keeping the truth from the reigning monarch. I’d imagine this would be much easier to do currently than with the gun-toting Liz 10 we see here – perhaps losing Scotland drove her over the edge?
The Smilers are also quite creepy, although never really explained what their function is, except sending people down to the Beast for protesting. They don’t really ascend to the level of Weeping Angels or Vashta Nerada, despite how visually striking they look. The origin of them is not really explained, but their resurrection moment after Liz 10 shoots them is the spookiest thing they do. We are told that the populace of Starship UK are afraid of them, hence why their booths are so clean, however, we’re never really shown enough of them to convince us as to why.
Additionally, the story does suffer towards the climax as the story doesn’t really have any consequences. The fact that the Star Whale doesn’t leave and the human race doesn’t suffer any ill effect from their mistreatment of the generous creature robs a story with interesting ideas of a meaningful conclusion and damages the episode as a whole. In addition, despite people being fed to the Beast, no one has died at the end of the story.
Verdict: A good story with intriguing ideas and strong central performances, however, the lack of a meaningful conclusion lets it down. 7/10
Cast: Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Sophie Okonedo (Liz 10), Terence Hardiman (Hawthorne), Hannah Sharp (Mandy), Alfie Field (Timmy), Christopher Good (Morgan), David Ajala (Peter), Catrin Richards (Poem Girl), Jonathan Battersby (Winder), Chris Porter (Voice of Smilers/Winder), Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill)
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Andrew Gunn
Behind the Scenes
- Like Series 3, this story picks up immediately (via the minisode Meanwhile in the TARDIS 1) from The Eleventh Hour and leads straight into the following story, Victory of the Daleks.
- Liz X refers to the Doctor’s previous encounters with the British Royal Family, including his marriage to Elizabeth I as seen in The Day of the Doctor and meeting Queen Victoria in Scotland in Tooth and Claw.
- This episode marks the first time that the promise the Doctor made when choosing his name is mentioned in the show itself. It is based on a passage written in The Making of Doctor Who by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke:
He is impulsive, idealistic, ready to risk his life for a worthy cause. He hates tyranny and oppression and anything that is anti-life. He never gives in and never gives up, however overwhelming the odds against him.
The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly.
In fact, to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero.Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, The Making of Doctor Who, published 1972
- Sophie Okonedo previously played Alison Cheney, a companion to the ‘Shalka’ Doctor who featured in the 2003 webisode Scream of the Shalka. The Doctor was voiced by Richard E Grant.
- Terrence Hardiman has also played various characters for Big Finish, including an incarnation of Rassilon in the Gallifrey range. He has also had roles in The Book of Kells and The English Way of Death.
- Chris Porter has also voiced various characters for Big Finish, in stories such as The Architects of History, The Acheron Pulse and Planet of the Rani.
The part where the Doctor and Amy are talking in the TARDIS, then we realise the Doctor’s left to comfort the crying child, whilst Amy thinks she’s still talking to him.
What if you were really old, and really kind and lonely, your whole race gone. What couldn’t you do then? If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.Amy Pond
Previous Eleventh Doctor review: The Eleventh Hour
Next Eleventh Doctor review: Victory of the Daleks
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