The Doctor takes Amy into space, the 29th century, where solar flares have forced humanity to vacate the Earth and travel the stars in massive ark ships the size of cities. It’s a quaint little setup in which the whole of the UK (minus Scotland, guffaw!) gets its own ship, its many decks separated into counties and the tenth Queen Elizabeth ruling over it all. But, naturally, bad stuff is happening and the Doctor has to fix it.
I had, perhaps naively, expected all of Steven Moffat’s scripts to be as good as his efforts in past seasons, but that was never going to happen. The Beast Below is no classic, but it’s got Moffat’s signature traits, including bags of imagination, creepy mechanical men and characters receiving forgotten messages from themselves. Despite the story taking place in an out-of-this-world setting, it feels close to home, familiar and relatable (children going to school and London Underground signs around the deck lifts). In terms of writing, it’s pretty sharp, and the two new leads slot effortlessly into their roles, but some of the friction when they disagree comes across a little forced at this early a stage. Then there’s the odd cringeworthy moment, like when Liz 10 says that she “rules”. Groan.
On a broader note, why is it so unbelievable that a ship could float by itself through space without an engine? I’m no physicist, but without anything to cause drag, couldn’t any mass continue through space on just inertia? The trick with the glasses of water is clever in itself, but it often feels like the Doctor leaps to conclusions (and knows everything about everything) and happens upon the answers straight away just to show off how clever he is. Everyone also makes huge assumptions about what would happen if the Star Whale were set free, even the Doctor, to the point of killing it! Nobody considers that it might not actually doom the UK population, except for Amy because, again, it needs to show how clever she is. I get that it’s supposed to show the Doctor can make mistakes and needs somebody with him, but it’s contrived.
The Beast Below has all the right ingredients but doesn’t quite know what to do with them. Once revealed that the oppressed nation is a self-imposed necessary evil, the creepy mannequins don’t make much sense anymore (and half-human robot mannequins make even less sense; why throw that in?). The central theme of exploitation and the “greater good” is perfectly fine but leaves too many questions. The strengths of the episode are in its individual ideas and the drama that emerges as a result. It’s a solid effort nevertheless.
Meanwhile, that mysterious crack is following Amy, and the Doctor gets a call from Winston Churchill…