Doctor Who 5.02 - Karen Gillan, Hannah Sharp, Sophie Okonedo and Matt Smith
Doctor Who 5.02 The Beast Below - Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Mandy (Hannah Sharp), Liz Ten (Sophie Okonedo) and The Doctor (Matt Smith) © BBC

The Doctor and Amy arrive on a spaceship in the far future containing the whole of the UK – well, except Scotland. But it holds a terrible secret, as usual…

There are two outcomes from a rather weak story. One is that the directing, design and acting are so good that you hardly notice, and the other is that one or more of these is not good enough and you do care, spoiling your enjoyment. Annoyingly, this story fell into the latter option, and ticked more than one box.

[quote_center]“For a while I thought we were back in a Russell T Davies drama, where the plot doesn’t hold together”[/quote_center]

For a while I thought we were back in a Russell T Davies drama, where the plot doesn’t hold together (or seem to matter). And there are certainly questions that should have been answered.

Evidentally, the idea of a space whale has been floating around – no pun intended – in Doctor Who for some time, and I can see why it wasn’t snapped up. Yet again we encounter the “last of its race”. Sometimes it seems that the Doctor Who universe  is populated by these unique creatures, and it’s becoming tedious. Yes, of course, there were heavy-handed parallels with the Doctor’s sad circumstance (although I still don’t understand how a time traveller is cut off from his people, when they have been in series we have seen). So how did the UK people ‘capture’ the whale in the first place, and why did they need to torture it to get it moving if it was already willing to help?

Why, after all that time in space, had no one worked out an alternate means of propulsion, if indeed Spaceship UK was actually going anywhere? We never found out what was the intention of the space flight, apart from escaping from a doomed Earth.

A Smiler © BBC
A Smiler © BBC

What were the Smilers? Robots? Real people? Where did they come from? All rather spooky, but what was their point, apart from being, well, spooky and a good visual?

What did the queen normally do? What was her role? She was monitored, but most of the time she seemed to be alone.

Really dubious is that the Doctor saw so few options to solve the situation. Save the whale and kill the poulation, or save the population and keep the whale a prisoner and tortured. Er, no… What about trying to communicate with the whale, since it seems it was meant to be intelligent. Or perhaps, as has been done before, the Doctor could use the TARDIS to dematerilise the whale from the ship, separating the two without any damage. Then the Doctor could easily pop up with some alternative propulsion method, as he has done before.

One possibility is that the Doctor knew all along what the solution was and wanted to see what Amy would do. If that was the case, though, we needed to be be given at least some clue – or maybe I was losing interest so much I missed it. That was where the story really fell down. I did get the feeling that this was really a setup for something yet to come. I have no problem with that, but not to the detriment of the current drama.

I continue to have problems with the sound mixing. Some of Amy’s dialogue was lost amongst the still too over-the-top music. More than once I was tempted by the subtitles option.

Last, and very least was the complete lack of imagination in the design. I had hoped with a new production team that we could actually have something that looked futuristic, rather than cobbled together from whatever was lying around today. I know the series is somewhat strapped for cash, but I would have thought a simple, clutter-free approach would be cheaper. All we’ve had since the series came back are spaceships full of pipes and concrete corridors, and it seems like the same pipes and concrete are everywhere the Doctor goes. Boring!

The Doctor (Matt Smith) © BBC
The Doctor (Matt Smith) © BBC

But there was one redeeming feature in this, and that was Matt Smith. Somehow this young actor has managed to imbue the Doctor with an authority of knowledge (whereas Tenant just burbled along) and great depth. It was this new Doctor that kept the attention and he made the episode worth watching. But not much else.

[Rating: 2]

Jan Vincent-Rudzki

UK editor of Film Review Online