Sunday 11 April 2010

Doctor Who, "The Beast Below" - Comments

My post on the TWOP forums about last night's Doctor Who, in response to another person's post:


"Now, I'm not saying that this was a perfect episode by any stretch of the imagination, but I will say that if you try to pick it apart, you're just going to kill it, so I, at least, am not going to try. Does it really matter, at the end of the day, why they made the smilers or why the UK couldn't get into space or how, exactly, one can make a starwhale throw up using a sonic screwdriver?"

Perhaps not. My own take on it was that the Smilers were in a lot of the promotional material, much like the clockwork androids in "Girl in the Fireplace" and the Weeping Angels in "Blink", so I was expecting them to be the Big Bad. Now, I'm happy for the Doctor Who team to completely subvert that - humanity is the Big Bad - but if that's the case, the Smilers just left me feeling confused, since there seemed to be no explanation for them to have that particular "fairground-booth" form whatsoever - ordinary "secret police" -type humans would have worked just as well.

Side note: The Doctor Who / Torchwood writers seem to have a real hatred for school league tables, don't they?

To me, it did matter why the UK couldn't get into space, because for me, it undermined the emotional punch of the Doctor's dilemma (or at least what he saw to be his choice): kill all the humans on board, let the star whale continue in horrible pain, or lobotomize it so that it can't feel the pain, because I was too busy wondering "Why is any of that necessary?"

Why on earth doesn't the ship have an engine?

Why is it necessary to torture the whale to keep it swimming, particularly if it showed up wanting to help?

Why feed it humans, when it presumably didn't eat them when it was swimming freely between the stars?

Why keep feeding it children who fail their exams, when it obviously doesn't eat them?

I can think of my own explanations for these points; maybe the catastrophe was so sudden, so horribly unexpected, that the star whale appeared just as all seemed lost, and Liz 10, desperate to save her people, seized on the idea of building the ship around the whale and the "engine room" was built to keep up the illusion (so that when people 'forget', they aren't reminded by the absence of an engine on the ship). Was that actually meant to be the explanation? Likewise, maybe the whale actually eats something entirely different and feeding people to it is a means of social control. Or...

Well, one can continue on this line for quite some time, though I can't help thinking that the story might have made a little more sense if, instead of "Starship UK", it was "Starship Earth", so I don't have to start thinking up fanwanks for why every other nation on earth either managed to build a functioning ship and leave, or perish. Plus, it would have made the Doctor's choice even more horrible if the ship contained the remains of the entire human race, not just the British part of it.

The humans on board do seem to be getting off lightly, though... every single one of them apart from the children was complicit in torturing an innocent being. (And what exactly did the "if 1% of everyone on board does this, society falls apart" warning actually mean? Shades of the Ursula Le Guin story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"...) I'm becoming very fond of Matt Smith's Doctor, but couldn't help thinking that a certain amount of Ten-style fire and brimstone judgement a la "The Christmas Invasion" was called-for there.

I suppose I can let every other plot hole go, except for that one point about why it was necessary to torture the whale. Wouldn't it have made for an even more wrenching outcome if it was explicit that the decision to do that was because Liz10 and/or her advisors couldn't conceive of the idea that a being could be so altruistic, so simply assumed they'd have to torture it to make it power the ship?

Last question from me: how and when did Amy record the message of herself warning her to get the Doctor away from the ship, and how did she arrange for it to be delivered to her?

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