The Doctor and Amy happen upon an enormous vehicle in deep space in the 29th century: the Starship UK, a spaceborne version of the entire country. But the Doctor instantly senses that something isn’t right: the population of the Starship UK is silently living in fear. Amy discovers that something alive – and alien – is aboard the vessel, but she is then captured by robed monks and shown a history of the ship, a history which she is then asked to protest or forget. The Doctor arrives, and he and Amy discover that the survival of the British people in the future has come at a horrifying price to an innocent life form. But if Amy doesn’t stop the Doctor from taking further action, the price may become even higher.
written by Steven Moffat
directed by Andrew Gunn
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Sophie Okonedo (Liz 10), Terence Hardiman (Hawthorne), Hannah Sharp (Mandy), Alfie Field (Timmy), Christopher GoodMorgan), David Ajala (Peter), Catrin Richards (Poem Girl), Jonathan Battersby (Winder), Chris Porter (voice of Smilers / Winder), Ian McNeice (Churchill)
Notes: Oscar-winning actress Sophie Okonedo makes her second Doctor Who “appearance” here; her first was in animated form in the 2003 BBCi webcast Scream Of The Shalka. Though unrelated to this episode, an episode was developed by writer Pat Mills in the 1980s, though never produced, called Song Of The Space Whale; that unused script was itself reworked into one of Big Finish Productions’ “Lost Stories” audio releases as The Song Of Megaptera in May 2010, starring Colin Baker (as it would have on TV).
A made-for-DVD short, Meanwhile In The TARDIS, bridges the gap between The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below; it’s a bonus feature on the series 5 DVD box set.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Though it’s a lot more like what I’d expect from Steven Moffat calling the shots – menacing and featuring what’s almost a proper hide-behind-the-sofa monster in the Smilers – there’s still something strangely simplistic about The Beast Below. Maybe I’m still in “detox” from Russell T. Davies’ tendency to launch loads of technobabble and rapid-fire dialogue at every problem, but both The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below seem simple by comparison. There’s also something awkward in the pacing that I can’t quite put my finger on. The show obviously has a new rhythm and we’re still getting used to it.
Even the moment where we’re treated to the sight of the Doctor having to make a horrifyingly tough decision is a bit strange; he seems to be ready to leap instantly toward a choice that runs counter to his nature (he even says he’d have to choose a new name, because he wouldn’t be the Doctor anymore), and yet Amy is able to figure out that there’s yet another alternative. For the second episode in a row, we’re treated to a montage that hits us over the head with what a character has seen or heard, which proves to be part of the solution: I hope this isn’t going to be a running gag for the entire season. In The Eleventh Hour it made me think “Okay, well, that’s different,” but in The Beast Below it made me think “Oh no, not again.” We get it: the devil’s in the details. But give the audience a bit of credit for observation right alongside the Doctor’s companion.
The atmosphere of the whole thing is the best part of The Beast Below: before the opening titles run, we have a very good picture of the extremely enclosed world that is the Starship UK. Within a few minutes after the opening titles, it has effectively become a real place – and then the rug is yanked out from under us when the Doctor and Amy discover that there’s an entirely different and much more organic side to things. By this point, the Starship UK has acquired a real sense of place, which isn’t something that every episode is able to establish with its setting.
The Moffat era is off to a good start, but not a “wow” strong start – nothing earth-shaking yet. The Beast Below is, however, a marked improvement.