by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Five: "The Beast Below"

Posted 25 April 2010 in by Catriona

I’ve only just this minute realised I didn’t mention the season for the last live-blogging. How dodgy of me! Still, all corrected now.

And here we are for episode two of season five. We begin by zooming in on a city, a city balancing on the back of an enormous spaceship. Portions of the city are labelled “Devon” and “Surrey.”

Inside one of the buildings, we see children lining up in front of their preceptor, an academic-robed robot in a glass box, like the fortune tellers on the piers, whose smiling face turns around to show a frown as he says Timmy has received a zero.

Timmy’s friend Mandy tells him he can’t ride the elevator with a zero, but Timmy says it’s twenty decks to London, and he won’t walk. He climbs into a lift, but there’s another preceptor—let’s just call them Smilers from the start—in there, whose smiling face turns to a frowning one as a small girl on the viewscreen recites doggerel about the “beast below,” and then turns again to show an even more frowning face as Timmy falls through the bottom of the lift into the depths of the city.


After the credits, we see Amy floating outside the TARDIS, held by the Doctor’s grip on one ankle (and still in her nightie), telling us about her imaginary friend who came back the night before her wedding.

Below them is the pre-credits spaceship, which the Doctor tells us is the remains of the U.K., after solar flares destroyed the Earth.

He calls Amy “Pond,” and tells her that he’s found her a spaceship.

The Doctor tells her that the one rule is that they never interfere: Amy, watching a distressed child—Timmy’s friend Mandy—on the viewscreen—wonders if it’s like nature documentaries, where they film, but don’t interfere. Isn’t that hard? she wonders out loud, as she sees that the Doctor isn’t behind her, but is consoling the child.

He asks Amy what’s wrong with the spaceship, but she’s temporarily confused by the fact that she’s in her nightie. He tells her it’s all sweetness and light on the surface, but really it’s a police state—then he grabs a glass of water and puts it on the deck.

AMY: Why did you just do that with the water?
DOCTOR: I don’t know. I think a lot. It’s hard to keep track.

They’re distracted by a crying child, but behind them a mysterious man in black—let’s just call him a Winder from the start—follows them, and rings another mysterious man. Second mysterious man in turn rings a woman in a long red-velvet robe, who asks if they’re sure that the Doctor did the thing with the water. They’re sure—and she picks up a white porcelain mask, and leaves, stepping carefully past a series of glasses filled with water.

The Doctor repeats that this is a police state, and points out how clean the Smilers’ booths are compared to the rest of Oxford Street. (He also indicates that he has children, but doesn’t answer Amy’s direct question on the subject. Has he ever answered a direct question on the subject?)

Amy follows Mandy, after being taunted by the Doctor about heading back to her tiny village, and the Doctor says he’s going to do what he’s always done—stay out of trouble, badly.

Mandy, who is annoyed when Amy catches up with her, says they can’t keep going that way—there’s a hole in the road. But Amy insists on picking the locks. As she does so, she chats about being Scottish (they aren’t on this ship: they wanted their own. “Good for them,” Amy says. “Nothing changes.”) and about getting married “a long time ago tomorrow morning.”

But as she picks the locks, Mandy refuses to go through with her, and a Smiler in the background turns to his frowniest face.

Inside the tent Amy’s been picking the locks to is an undulating tentacle of some sorts. Amy freaks and backs out, only to find herself surrounded by Winders, who gas her into unconsciousness.

The Doctor, elsewhere, is confronted by the red-velvet woman, now with the porcelain mask on, who tells him he’s stumbled across “the impossible truth.” Having tested things with the glass of water, he’s headed down the engine room, to find that by all accounts, there’s no engine at all.

How is this possible? the Doctor wonders.

The woman doesn’t know.

WOMAN: Help us, Doctor. You’re our only hope.
ME: Ha!

The Doctor asks who she is and how he’ll find her again. She says she’s Liz 10, and she’ll find him.

She walks off.

Amy wakes up in Voting Booth 330C. A disembodied voice tells her that a documentary about Starship U.K. will start shortly, once they verify her status on the electoral roll.

A white-bearded man tells her that she has two options after she sees the documentary: she can “protest” or “forget”. There are two buttons with these labels in front of her. He warns her that if only 1% of people protest, the programme will be discontinued, and everyone will die.

MAN: Here then is the truth about Starship U.K. and the price that has been paid for the safety of the British people. May God have mercy on our souls.

We don’t see the documentary, because it flashes through too fast, but Amy staggers after seeing it and hits the “forget” button almost without thinking. As she does, her own face flashes up on the screen, telling her that this isn’t a trick, that she needs to find the Doctor and get out of here.

The door to the booth slides open and the Doctor pokes his head around the door, asking what she’s done.

Amy doesn’t know why she would agree to forget, and the Doctor points out that he can’t even see the film, because the booth doesn’t register him as human.

AMY: You look human.
DOCTOR: No, you look Time Lord. We came first.

Amy asks if there are other Time Lords, but the Doctor says no: there were, but they’re all gone now. Then he says he’d love to forget, but he doesn’t, because this is what he does—brings down governments.

And he hits the “protest” button.

Both he and Amy slide down into the depths of Starship U.K. as the Smiler in the booth turns around to his frowniest face.

Outside, Mandy is confronted by Liz 10, who says, “Don’t worry, love. It’s only me.”

DOCTOR: Can’t be a cave. Looks like a cave.
AMY: It’s a rubbish dump. And it’s minging.

But it’s neither: it’s a mouth. And there’s really only one way to get out of a mouth.

DOCTOR: Right then. This isn’t going to be big on dignity.

Yes, that’s the sort of thing I don’t want to see while I’m eating dinner.

But though they’re vomited out, they can’t get out without hitting the “forget” button, and they won’t. The Doctor challenges the two Smilers, telling them they’re useless—but they stand up out of their booths, which the Doctor clearly wasn’t taking into account.

Liz 10 turns up and shoots them both, before twirling her guns and re-holstering them.

LIZ 10: No. Never voted, never forgot. Not technically a British subject.
DOCTOR: Then who are you?

Liz 10 tells him she was brought up on the stories of the Doctor: old drinking buddy of Henry 12, and so much for the Virgin Queen.

DOCTOR: Liz 10!
LIZ 10: Elizabeth the Tenth. And down!

She shoots the two self-repairing Smilers.

LIZ 10: I’m the bloody queen, mate. Basically, I rule.

They head up, past more of the tentacles that Amy saw above. But as they move, the mysterious man to whom the Winders were talking earlier realises that they have to initiate the protocol, because the queen has penetrated to the lower levels.

In the queen’s rooms, she tells them that she’s been queen for ten years, and that she’s slowed her body clock, to keep herself looking like the stamps.

But before the Doctor can explain the significance of the porcelain mask that Liz 10 wears, Winders burst in and arrest them all on the strength of the highest authority. Liz tells them that’s she’s the highest authority, and they say, “Yes, ma’am.”

The Winder’s head swirls on his neck, to show a Smiler’s frowny face.

He escorts them all to the Tower, where Liz 10 greets “Hawthorne,” who tells them that the creature to whom dissenters are fed won’t eat children.

So we have the queen, Hawthorne, Mandy, Amy, the Doctor, some dissenting children—and an exposed brain, being burned with bolts of lightning.

It’s a creature, the creature who keeps the ship running, provided that it’s tortured and prodded.

HAWTHORNE: We act on instructions from the highest authority.
LIZ 10: I am the highest authority.

She insists that they’re to release the creature, but the Doctor points out that her mask is not ten years old—and neither has she been on the throne for ten years. More like two hundred, the Doctor says—two hundred years in ten-year increments, always the same ten years.

Always, he says, leading her here—and he escorts her around a corner, to where a video screen shows her own face, explaining that the last of the star whales came out of the sky like a miracle as their children screamed and the skies burned. They trapped it, they built their ship around it, and they rode it to freedom.

Liz 10 tells herself that she has two options: to forget and “become again the heart of this nation” or to abdicate, which will release the star whale and destroy the ship.

Amy asks why she would forget this, and the Doctor says to save him from an impossible choice: humanity or the alien. The Doctor says that was wrong: she’s never to decide for him.

Amy says she doesn’t even remember doing it, and the Doctor says he doesn’t care: when they’re done here, she’s going home.

Amy ask why: just because she made one mistake that she doesn’t even remember?

But the Doctor’s in the grip of a moral dilemma. He says he has three choices: does he leave the star whale in unendurable agony, does he destroy humanity by destroying the ship, or does he lobotomise the star whale, so it carries the ship onwards and feels no pain?

He chooses lobotomy.

But as he’s preparing for this, Amy flashes back to the Doctor telling her to remember this—she remembers he’s the last of his kind and so is the star whale, she remembers the Doctor going to Mandy’s aid, the star whale arriving in the skies as the British children screamed, and the star whale’s refusal to eat the dissenting children.

And she grabs Liz 10’s hand and abdicates her.

The ship shakes a little, but increases speed.

AMY: Well, you’ve stopped torturing the pilot!

She talks to Hawthorne and Liz 10, explaining the reasoning above, but she’s looking at the Doctor. She says to him, speaking in the second person, that if you were that old and that kind, the last of your kind, you couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.

ME: So where were you in “Children of Earth,” Doctor?

The Doctor watches out the window as Amy comes up and hands him Liz 10’s mask, saying the queen—former queen?—says there’ll be no more secrets on Starship U.K.

DOCTOR: You could have killed everyone on this ship.
AMY: You could have killed a star whale.

Of course, this ends with them hugging, as is the Doctor’s way.

Amy is reminded of her wedding day when the Doctor says it’s a big day tomorrow: “It’s a time machine. I skip the little ones.”

She asks if he’s ever run away from anything because he was scared.

DOCTOR: Once. A long time ago.
AMY: What happened?
DOCTOR: Hello!

Then the phone rings in the TARDIS, and it’s Winston Churchill. Let’s leave that for next week, shall we?

As the TARDIS dematerialises, we pan out of the Starship U.K. to a revised, more positive version of the doggerel from the elevator, only to see, on the side of the ship, the same crack that appeared on Amy’s wall when she was a child.


Share your thoughts [14]


Matt wrote at Apr 25, 10:50 am

Let’s rename the show “Amy Pond Saves the Day”. A really enjoyable episode, loved the bolted together UK which was strangley low tech somehow. Some really fun scenes and Liz 10 was completely out her tree as all royalty should be. Had a good laugh at the Forget / Abdicate booth too.


Melissa Graf wrote at Apr 25, 11:18 am

I wonder who made the decision to make her button read “Abdicate”?


Catriona wrote at Apr 25, 11:38 am

I really missed a chance to make a “Time and Relative Dimension in Sexiness” comment, though, Matt—what with the being dangled out of the TARDIS in her nightie and then the later wet nightie moments.

I’m guessing it was Liz 10 herself who made the decision to have the “Abdicate” button—assuming, as I think was strongly implied, she’s been the only queen they’ve had since launching Starship U.K. I suppose it ties in with her not technically being a subject and not having the vote—if she’s disenfranchised, can she actually “protest”? I suppose abdication is her form of protest.


John wrote at Apr 25, 12:49 pm

I love that Liz 10 rules, and that she’s African.

I love the episode: Amy’s just fantastic.

But… The Doctor kind? He might have been once, but I remember the Tenth Doctor saying, “I used to have so much mercy.” (“School Reunion,” I think). The Doctor is many things, including being “completely insane and a bit magnificent,” but I’ve never seen him as “kind.”

Maybe Amy just doesn’t know him very well yet.

(BTW, ep 4: O.M.G!)


Catriona wrote at Apr 25, 12:58 pm

Episode four, John? You can’t possibly have seen episode four!

Maybe Amy doesn’t know him very well—or maybe this kindness is a function of his new regeneration?

I agree, the Tenth Doctor wasn’t kind. I’ve talked again and again in the live-blogging about my concerns with his almost sadistic joy in death-dealing chaos and his hubris—Tim, I remember, was particularly vocal on that topic in the Paul Cornell two-parter “Human Nature”/“Family of Blood” in season three.

And when the Doctor’s hubris was used against him, as it was in “Midnight,” I was delighted, because I needed it to be acknowledged in show that he was going too far.

It almost looked, at the end of “The Waters of Mars,” that his hubris was going to be the ultimate cause of his regeneration, but then that was thrown away—like almost everything else—in the two-part specials (of which we will not speak again) at the end of the Tenth Doctor’s reign.

So maybe this regeneration is kinder? Maybe he is softer? Maybe he learned from the Tenth Doctor’s hardness, his ruthlessness, his lack of mercy in a way that the Tenth Doctor himself never did?

After all, the first thing he did after regenerating was eat fish custard and help a little girl fix the scary crack in her wall.


Tim wrote at Apr 25, 02:15 pm

This was a delightful episode, and I’m liking this doctor a lot so far. Mind you, I liked the last one a lot to start out with. Lots of fun moments (loved the Star Wars shout-out(s)), and Amy is brilliant.

But was the Star Whale killing adults?


Tim wrote at Apr 25, 02:30 pm

And why do the Winders dump Amy in a voting booth? (Possibly because it’s more or less a ‘Forget or Die’ booth — most of the set-up’s problems can be explained away with the ‘Forget’ button.)

But why hasn’t Scotland stuck around to help out? ;)


Catriona wrote at Apr 25, 10:12 pm

I assumed the Winders dumped Amy in the booth because she’s seen the star whale’s tentacles—to stop her asking questions, they allow her to exercise her rights as a citizen.

That’s a nice, creepy touch, for me—they make such a parade of the franchise and voters’ rights, when really there’s no right at all, unless you want to doom the entire kingdom.

As I said to Nick, this episode reminded me a great deal of “The Happiness Patrol,” and that’s one of my all-time favourites.

(Except “Happiness Patrol” was glorious because it was all ’80s garishness and anti-Thatcherite bile—it was cynical and angry and so, so bitter. “The Beast Below” is more post-millenial, post-New Labour ennui, that helpless feeling that the franchise doesn’t mean much any more, because the government will make terrible, frightening decisions with or without your consent, and your protest will just be (ahem) swallowed up.)

I struggled a bit with the idea of the star whale killing adults, too. I could explain it away as another instance of their cruelty to the whale—that they were using it as a disposal chute for their dissidents, forcing it to kill people by literally shoving them down its throat. But it seems the whale does have a choice, or how else would the children be spared?

Perhaps star whales have highly pressure-sensitive tongues?


Drew wrote at Apr 25, 10:17 pm

Kind is exactly how I would describe the Doctor, surely there is benevolent kindness behind his consistent protection of the Earth despite his sometimes disgust with Humanity? Obviously the 3rd and 5th Doctors are the strongest examples here but I feel it apples to them all even if it’s not immediately evident in their personalities.


Tim wrote at Apr 26, 12:56 am

And where did Amy learn to pick locks, I wonder?


Lodger wrote at Apr 26, 01:57 am

“I like a piece of adult dissident, you’re forced to” = yes, that was my reading of the comments about the Star Whale refusing to eat the children, and the revelations about the level of torture it was enduring. Another very well-written episode, and a quantum leap in the characterisations of the new Dr and “Pond”, setting up a really interesting dynamic in coming eps.


Catriona wrote at Apr 26, 04:42 am

Where did Amy learn to pick locks? Well, she didn’t seem to have a key for her kissogram handcuffs . . .


Tim wrote at Apr 26, 10:20 am



Nick wrote at Apr 26, 11:04 am

We don’t know a lot about Amy yet. It seems clear that she herself is one of the central mysteries of the season (some of the fan theories right now — the ones that aren’t ravingly misogynistic — are completely mad) and Moffat is content to parcel out the revelations sparingly.

Lockpicking though, now there’s a skill everyone should have by the time they’re twenty.

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