My take on Doctor Who: The Beast Below
Type: TV episode
Series: Doctor Who
Screenplay by Stephen Moffat
Spoiler alert: I will reveal some things in this post that may spoil the experience if you have not yet seen the episode.
It’s hard to consider a first episode a proper episode. It’s a bit like a first date: it can tell you if you’d like more, but you know that neither of you is really quite relaxed enough to be yourselves. 😉
The Beast Below is the second episode with Matt Smith as the eleventh incarnation of Doctor Who, the eponymous character on the long-running British science fiction series. We are just getting to see them in the US on BBC America, and I wanted to get this out before the third one is broadcast.
I’ll start with the summary: I did think this was one of the best Doctor Who episodes I’ve seen…not necessarily the best, but definitely up there.
However, as some suspected of new showrunner Stephen Moffat (who also scripted this episode), it is darker than you might expect. Well, not if you first encountered Doctor Who through Torchwood (one of my favorite series), but if you knew it as a children’s show from several decades ago…yow! It’s as if Captain Kangaroo suddenly did a CSI style autopsy scene.
This is something we may be able to expect in some Moffat episodes in the future: creepy images that might give 8-year olds nightmares for the rest of their lives.
In this case, I give that honour to The Smilers. Yes, a pleasant smiling automaton in a booth that can rotate to show a second frowning face. Okay, not too bad so far…not like that weird little doll in Trilogy of Terror or “going down in the sand” in Invaders from Mars. However, somehow, there’s a third face…one with teeth and a horrible expression. It would be scary by itself: but there is no place on the head for a third face. This sort of impossible transformation (well, not impossible, but it would require some complicated substitution) can be especially unnerving to someone who has just figured out how things are supposed to work.
That said, is it appropriate for the episode if adults are watching? Absolutely! It fits in very well…not gratuitious at all.
This episode, in fact, has quite a sophisticated theme, and one that I’m not sure the average child (not even the prodigies who watch science fiction) 😉 would fully comprehend. It’s a dystopian society, with a unique twist which I shan’t reveal here. (Hey, I gave a spoiler warning, but I’m still careful).
I think we may also see other episodes with children…and perhaps, children in danger.
As to The Doctor: he has that frenetic, herky-jerky way about him, sort of like one of those plastic ducks that “drink” out of a glass. But this incarnation is also a Sherlock Holmes level observer and deducer. He also seems proud of his knowledge of human behaviour. However, in both episodes so far, he has had a short temper, getting frustrated easily. At one point in this episode, he yells, “Nobody human has anything to say to me today!”
Yet, he is a good person…he clearly cares. He’s just a bit…volatile, I suppose, or perhaps mercurial is better. For an extremely old Time Lord, he is a lot like a human five-year old…albeit a super-intelligent one. I wonder, though, how much of that is intentional on the Doctor’s part? Is he trying desperately not to be sad (he’s had a hard history), and so he is frenetically happy? We’ll see as the series goes forward…and I will be watching, at least for now.
New episodes in the US are normally 9:00 PM Eastern on BBC America, and they do get repeated.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.