Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Beast Below - "This is the sound none of you wanted to hear."

The Beast Below (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 5, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #204)

Moffat is good at these Kipling via Heinlein-esque bits of verse. Compare:
We pray for one last landing / On the globe that gave us birth / Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies / And the cool, green hills of Earth.
In bed above we're deep asleep / While greater love lies further deep / The dream must end, / The world must know / We all depend on the beast below.
It may be corny, but I guess I'm a sucker for it. We'll see much more of this from Moffat in episodes to come.

The key phrase in Moffat's verse for this story is "greater love." It's about the Star Whale and, therefore -- since Amy's insight is that the Doctor is a kind of Star Whale himself, and it's that insight that allows her to deduce that having the Queen press the 'Abdicate' button won't kill them all -- it's about the Doctor as well.

While I simply adore significant threads of it, I'm not crazy about large chunks of this episode. The Smilers feel like going to well for the uncanny horror of the mechanical toy at least one time too many, the several Star Wars references feel trite and forced, the badass Queen wielding blasters and cracking wise feels like an overworked trope (prescient, in this case, of Series 7's Cleopatra), and, more importantly, I think it's cynical to imply that no more than 1% of the population on that starship every hit the 'Protest' button. It may seem like a nitpick, because I think I would have been OK with a number like 20%, still a minority, but I think it seriously understates our sense of how many people in a total population would be more concerned with justice and fairness than willing to accept a society based on torture.

The ending though, the ending gets it very, very right and is miles better than the rest of the story. Structurally though, it just topples the rest of it. It works to the extent it's a parable about the Doctor, but it fails to the extent it's actually about how societies do this, how everyone is complicit in the existence of sweatshops, slave labor, and wars of aggression but doesn't want to admit it. To tack a happy ending on to a story like that by effectively saying, well, all those slaves would've been willing to do the work anyways, is jarring. Works for the Doctor story, fails dramatically as social commentary. Two very good stories converged here on an ending that only worked for one of them.

But for the one where it did work, oh man, it was very, very good. It's a telling of the story of the Doctor that shows him to be old, and terribly alone, yet forged by all that he's seen and done into a man who's deeply compassionate. His mercurial nature is also put to good use here. He's ready to bring Amy home at one point and so justifiably angry when fumes, "Nobody talk to me. Nobody human has anything to say to me today!" Yet, he's let his anger get the best of him and it takes Amy to recognize the kindness of the beast below. She really earned her stripes in a crucible.

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