"New sun, new air, new sky. A whole universe teeming with life. Why stand still when there's all that life out there?" -The Doctor
"Asking a linguist how many languages they speak is like asking a doctor how many diseases they have." -Unknown

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Expect No Love From The Beast Below

As with The Eleventh Hour, I've been trying to work out what to say about The Beast Below. Several days and reviews later, I still can't get around the fact that I just loved this episode.

A note on the music: So maybe it was just the fact that the pre-title opening for the last episode was kind of painfully bad. Maybe we didn’t have the speakers cranked high enough. Because with an awesome and totally freaky opening involving a demonic robot, a terrifying children’s song, and a bottomless pit of doom, and with the volume on max, the new title sequence is a whole lot more epic.

I might even learn to like the new music.

Amy, What Have You Done?
This episode was all about choices, from beginning to end--political, moral, relational, practical--and dealing with the consequences of those choices. The biggest choice, of course, is the one that every adult on Starship UK, including the queen, has to make: whether to continue torturing a benevolent and innocent creature for their survival, or release it from its agony and die themselves. Every person on the ship has chosen to survive and forget the terrible truth, save for those few who dissent and are eaten, presumably unwillingly or unknowingly, by the creature itself.

This choice is presented to our heroes and decided twice in the episode, and both times by Amy Pond. The first time, she chooses to forget, urging herself to get the Doctor away before he's faced with the same choice. She presumably wants to save him from having to take the responsibility on himself, but it's very possible that she isn't at all sure how this strange, enigmatic time traveler will choose. She has no reason to assume that the Doctor will always choose to protect human life over alien, and good reason (he's an alien himself) to assume he wouldn't.

But inevitably, the Doctor's sharp mind and Liz 10's blasters get them back to the Tower, where the awful truth is again revealed. Infuriated at being kept in the dark and caught up in his own righteous rage, the Doctor determines to take a third option: extinguish the Star Whale's consciousness to block the pain and allow the human race to continue on into the stars. It takes Amy's connecting the dots and impulsive stubbornness to redo her own choice, this time choosing for the Queen not to forget but to "abdicate": set the Star Whale free. And for the first time in Nu-Who history, the companion is right and the Doctor, in his arrogance, is actually wrong.

I was much happier with Amy this time around. She's done what no other Nu-Who companion has done yet: shown up the Doctor, all on her own. And we finally get to see how she handles a real crisis and new situation. She doesn't disappoint, either; she tackles challenges head-on, makes her own decisions, and wanders past Keep Out signs just to see what might be there. Not only that, but the lovely and slightly awkward hug between her and the Doctor at the end was just adorable. This pair may be my favorite yet, and I thought it couldn't get any better than Ten and Donna!

Amy makes a few other important choices in this episode also. At the beginning, she chooses to go forward into the unknown of Starship UK when offered the choice to go back; and at the end, she chooses to try and explain to the Doctor what she's been hiding--namely, her upcoming nuptials.

Which reminds me--is Amy, being a headstrong, independent, and clever woman, simply leery of married life? Does she have another secret that prevents her being secure in her marriage? Or is there a problem with the man himself?

Help me, Obi-Wan—Wait, What?
If I sounded uncertain in the last episode's review--and I know I did--almost all of those qualms were resolved in this episode. I wanted to know if Eleven could pull off sadness, darkness, and wrath, and boy, were my prayers answered!

The Doctor really runs the gamut in this episode. He starts out as we have known him for a long time, back into Ten and even Nine's era: quirkily enthusiastic about a new place and time, insatiably curious, aware of more than he lets on and unable to resist the temptation to poke around. He sends Amy off on her own assignment, despite the fact that he's just told her that Starship UK is not necessarily a safe or friendly place, and reacts to Liz 10's entrance with suppressed curiosity. This is all pretty standard for our beloved Doctor, although Matt Smith plays it as a wonderful cross between an absentminded professor and a mischievous Peter Pan refusing to grow up.

But as the starship's secrets begin to surface, so do the new facets of the Doctor's personality. When asked about other Time Lords, he answers in vague terms and distant tones, his brow furrowed as if staring into an interminable distance. And then the man who stated not fifteen minutes ago that he never got involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets rebelliously proclaimed that he would bring down the government. Was he being facetious with Amy, knowing full well that he always gets involved? Or does the Doctor really believe that he does his best not to get involved, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary?

Eleven's fascinated glee with the Star Whale's anatomy was wonderful to watch, as was the shocked look on his face when Liz 10 mentions the Virgin Queen. But the last twenty minutes of the episode are the real treat. For me, one of the most fascinating ideas in the Doctor's character is that he is an alien with an unimaginable intellect, powers we hardly ever see, and although all the people that enforced the laws of time are gone, he sticks faithfully to them anyway, keeping his ego firmly in hand. But what would happen if he decided to do as he liked? There are no Time Lords or--for the moment--Daleks to stop him. The only thing that keeps the Doctor from wreaking havoc with time and space to suit his whims is his conscience.

Waters of Mars played on this idea beautifully, letting the Doctor indulge his desire to help and change, which is constantly at war with his self-imposed rules about non-involvement and preservation, but after being (sort of) reprimanded/summoned by the Ood, the point was ignominiously dropped. Now, Eleven gets to pick up that thread again, but it a different way.

"Nobody human has anything to say to me today!" he screams, convinced that his way is the only way. Forced to choose between humanity and the alien, the Doctor has to follow his conscience and choose humanity, but there's a tension about that choice--as if he could have chosen differently, given just a little provocation. Eleven is clearly not the human-loving philanthropist that Ten was; he is palpably, wonderfully, terrifyingly alien, with alien morals, and alien standards, and an alien perspective. He chooses the people of Starship UK not out of loyalty to humanity but a simple ratio of lives lost: millions to one. And he is so accustomed to being right, to being the cleverest one in the room, and is so disgusted with the selfish and cruel decisions that have forced him into his terrible choice that he dismisses anything the humans have to say as automatically wrong. Of course, Amy figures out what he couldn't see. Humbled and disturbed, he nevertheless is kind to Amy--a graceful loser, if you will. It seems though, like there is no rhyme or reason to his decision to take Amy along, his threat to take her home when she defies him--even if she doesn't remember it--and his inviting her along again--it's all at a whim. That doesn't bode well for further conflicts.

I'm The Bloody Queen, Mate
I don't have much to say about Liz 10 except that she was awesome. The Princess Leia references aside, everything about her was great--her mask, her attitude, her wrathful determination to find the truth and subsequent horror at what had been done.

Now, of course, she has to deal not only with the guilt of inflicting all that agony on the Star Whale for hundreds of years, but also with restructuring the government and way of life on the starship. Given the horror that she put her subjects through--and the number of people that have been fed to the Beast and children working in the dungeons--she'll have lot of explaining to do. I imagine it won't be pretty.

Never Get Involved--Unless There's Children Crying
Although there have been complaints that the plot was weak, I certainly didn't think so. I loved that a full reveal of the heart of the mystery was simply handed to Amy, who then, in terror, promptly chose to have it all erased from her memory, so we had to discover it all again, bit by horrifying bit.

The Smilers turned out to be a fairly innocuous threat, more foreshadowing doom than presenting any real menace. They were definitely creepy, but not really scary--again, I didn't really feel like there was any immediate danger to the Doctor or Amy. Also, it's a good bet that most of the people watching this saw The End of Time; we're very clearly aware that the Doctor is the last of his kind. There's no need to beat us over the head with the connection between him and the Whale, thanks.

I loved this episode for its ideas, its slow reveal, and its development of the relationship between the Doctor and Amy. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of this strange, alien Doctor, and the willful brilliance of Amy. Oh, and Winston Churchill.

Favorite Moments
Amy: Can we go out and see?
Doctor: Of course we can, but first, there’s a thing.
Amy: A thing.
Doctor: An important thing, in fact. Thing one: we are observers only. That’s the one rule I’ve always stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets. Ohh! That’s interesting.

Doctor: Sorry. Checking all the water in this area. There’s an escaped fish.

Doctor: Oh, this fell out of her pocket when I accidentally bumped into her. Took me four goes.

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

Amy: So is this how it works, Doctor—you never interfere the affairs of other peoples or planets…unless there’s children crying.
Doctor: Yes.

Amy: Oh, don’t mind me. Never could resist a keep-out sign.

Liz 10: Help us, Doctor. You’re our only hope.

Amy: You look human.
Doctor: No, you look Time Lord. We came first.
Amy: So there’re other Time Lords, yeah?
Doctor: No. There were. But there aren’t...just me now. Long story, it was a bad day, lots of bad things happened. And I’d love to forget to all, every last bit of it, but I don’t. Not ever. Because this is what I do, every time, every day, every second. This. Hold tight. We’re bringing down the government.

Doctor: It’s not a floor, it’s, uh…So.
Amy: It’s a what?
Doctor: The next word is kind of a scary word, you probably want to take a moment, put yourself in a calm place, go “ommm.”
Amy: Ommm…?
Doctor: It’s a…tongue.

Amy: We’re in a mouth!
Doctor: Yes, yes, but on the plus side: Roomy!

Doctor: If this is the mouth, I’d love to see the stomach! …But not right now.

Doctor: Right then. This isn’t going to be big on dignity. Geronimo!

Liz 10: Hair of an idiot.

Liz 10: Vickie was a bit on the fence about you, weren’t she? Knighted and exiled you on the same day! And so much for the virgin queen, you bad bad boy!

Amy: I voted for this. Why would I do that?
Doctor: Because you knew that if I stayed here, I’d be faced with an impossible choice: humanity or the alien. You took it upon yourself to save me from that. That was wrong. You don’t ever decide what I need to know.
Amy: I don’t even remember doing it!
Doctor: You did it. That’s what counts.
Amy: I’m…I’m sorry.
Doctor: Oh, I don’t care. When I’m done here, you’re going home.

Doctor: Yeah, I know. You’re only human.

Doctor: Nobody talk to me—nobody human has anything to say to me today!

Amy: Very old and very kind and the very very last. Sound a bit familiar?

Premonitions and Predictions
The ominous crack appears again. Either it's following the Doctor and Amy, or it's simply everywhere. I vote "following", personally.

No ducks (or lack of ducks) this episode, sadly. However, we did have two other recurring ideas: glasses of water and twenty minutes. The Doctor used a glass of water to listen to the crack in Amelia's bedroom, and this time to check the lack of engine vibration. Last time he had twenty minutes to save the world; this time, Amy had twenty minutes of her memory erased when she chose to forget. These may just be coincidences, but we'll see.

No comments:

Post a Comment