The Beast Below was the second episode of Doctor Who with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. After an establishing shot on Starship UK, we have a lovely opening on the Tardis, showing the developing absent-mindedness of the doctor, shutting Amy out of the tardis whilst he gets on with exposition. Also a nice touch to add the afterthought about air in space.
I wasn't happy with the central idea of Starship UK - the whole of Surrey in one skyscraper? Let's look past that, though.
Walking through the market, the Doctor continued his professorial tendancy with some socratic questioning of Amy, 'What's wrong here' - trying to eke out of Amy what he's already seen, trying to prompt her to put the pieces together. This was a great character moment for the Doctor and continued his character development nicely. For me this was 'old man in a young body' territory.
The premise of the episode is that the UK trapped a 'star whale' and build a ship around it to escape a dying earth. Other nations had their own ships (the Scots went their own way)
The people of the ship are regularly told the truth and either asked to 'Protest' or 'Forget' - and if only a very small 1% protest, the programme is discontinued. Amy forgets. The Doctor comes in and hits the protest button. This dumps them into the mouth of a giant beastie.
There was a lovely exchange in this sequence - Amy said: 'You look human', 'No, you look Time Lord' the Doctor responded.
There were several elements that felt quite Star Wars - a hooded figure saying 'Help Us Doctor, you're our only hope' - the dropping into a nasty pit (Garbage chute on the Death Star)- the big teeth which our heroes find themselves behind (asteroid monster from the Empire Strikes Back).
Leaving the beastie was the inevitable reflux escape. 'Right then, This isn't going to be big on dignity'... a sequence designed for the kiddies, but I have to admit it made me grin. 'And yes, you are covered in sick'.
'I'm the bloody queen mate. Basically, I rule' - I can see a lot of people hating that as the Queen, Liz ten is 'common' (heck, language changes and we're 1300 years hence). I can see a significant number of people objecting (quietly) that the Queen is black, many of these will find some other reason to object for fear of being branded racist. Some will say it's not racist to object to that, but rather it's a case of looking at how royal marriages are arranged. It's 1300 years out, and a lot can happen in that time - a few marriage choices and it's very possible. In the last century, it was inconceivable that the King could consort with a divorcee, and now we have divorced and remarried Royals. It might be nice to see some of the monarchs in the future between today and Liz Ten. Honestly, I liked the Queen a lot, which surprised me, and I hope we'll see her again. I'd like to see how the monarch becomes the highest power - the layer of elected government we have today seems to have disappeared by the time of 'The Beast Below'
She made reference to previous royalty. 'I've been brought up on the stories, my whole family has'.
'The Doctor, Old drinking buddy of Henry 12, Tea and Scones with Liz 2, Vicky was a bit on the fence about you weren't she.... knighted and exile you on the same day. And so much for the virgin queen, you bad, bad boy...' That's interesting, as in 'The Shakespeare Code', Liz One was one of the Tennant threads left unresolved. Could this be addressed in the Matt Smith era, in such a way that the Queen would then recognise the previous incarnation of the Doctor? (This was apparently referred to in one of the last Tennant episodes)
Liz Ten's speaking pattern changed with situation - which I found pretty realistic, as that's what happens to us all, and if we have an 'activist Queen', surely she would pick up the vernacular. Indeed, the speaking pattern of Liz 2 has changed a lot in her reign - so think of what another 1300 years might do!
We learn that pain is inflicted on the Star Whale as a 'throttle' to make it go faster. The Queen had a similar dilemma to the subjects, she could continue the voyage and 'forget' or end the voyage and 'abdicate'.
The Doctor has to resolve the situation, he either let's the Star Whale continue in agony, he sacrifices millions of people on the ship and released the Whale, or he murders the Whale as painlessly as possible and ends the suffering - but he won't be the Doctor any more.
Amy notices the pattern, in a sequence to the Doctor's last week, she puts the pieces together and shows the audience what they've already seen. She realises that the Star Whale is like the doctor, the last of its kind, and a creature that volunteered to help relieve the suffering of Children.
A nice touch that when Amy says to the Doctor 'You could have killed a Star Whale', the Doctor replied 'And you saved me, I know, I know'. He didn't say 'you saved it'. She saved the Doctor from a decision which would have destroyed him, and they both know it.
It was good to see the next episode leached into this, with a phone call from 'The Prime Minister' - 'Which Prime Minister?' - 'The British One!' - 'Which British One?' - That was very 'classic who' (although, we still got the big trailer at the end, alas). It does look like the fine-level of control for the Tardis is back, though.
On first watching, I wasn't as keen on this episode as with the debut, but you know what? It grew on me, I liked that it changed expectations, it presented a dilemma and challenged the viewer with 'what would you do' and that as a result the villains were essentially everybody.
I really liked the character development, Matt Smith is developing nicely as The Doctor with quite a hard edge to him, he's getting a 'professorial' edge to him, displaying a desire to bring out the academic in his companion as well as exhibiting absent mindedness.