"Life on a giant starship: back to basics - bicycles, washing-lines, wind-up streetlamps. But look closer - secrets in shadows, lives led in fear, a society bent out of shape, on the brink of collapse, a police state!"
The Beast Below, the second episode of the Matt Smith / Steven Moffat Doctor Who, is a surreal, strange sort of, er, beast. The idea of the Doctor finding himself in a claustrophobic, repressive microcosm of Great Britain and bringing down the status quo in the space of one day could easily have come from Sylvester McCoy's time. And so could some of the dialogue: "Hold tight - we're bringing down the government!" But there are also parallels with another 2nd episode: Chris Eccleston's The End Of The World - the new companion's first trip through time is to a vast construct in space after Earth has been deserted, due to the Sun roasting the planet; the companion begins to understand the Time Lord's burden as he talks about his dead race; the Doctor and the companion share a moment by a huge picture-window that looks out on the stars; a female aristocrat makes a sacrifice to help save the day. So, many familiar elements, but the story also has the Grand Moff's own twist, his "fairy tales with fangs" approach:
For starters, Starship UK is a wonderful conceit: the whole of Great Britain ( well, minus Scotland ) bolted together into one giant, bustling, clanging starship, drifting through the universe, looking for a new home. The sinister Smilers ( see above ) are purpose-built to creep out the kiddies with their painted-on smiles and revolving heads that reveal their frowning, snarling other sides.
The Starwhale concept is almost a melancholy, heart-rending take on the Discworld's Great A'Tuin and makes for a poignant climax to the story. As well as some extremely gross humour and glorious Moffat dialogue:
Amy: "This whole place is a mouth? We're in a mouth?!"
The Doctor: "Yes yes yes! But on the plus side - roomy!"
Also in keeping with fairy tales we see children being an integral part of the story, and one of those classic fairy tale characters, the queen in disguise, walking her subjects' streets in a hood and a mask:
"I'm the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule!"
The story also serves to bring the Doctor and Amy closer together. She makes a deadly mistake and takes her position as companion for granted. The Doctor loses his temper ( good to see Smith "do" anger ) and threatens to take her home. Quick-thinking Amy redeems herself by sussing out the mystery at the heart of Starship UK, saving both the human population and the Starwhale, and going on to show the Doctor that she is beginning to understand him and they can work well together. They'll need to, 'cos next week they're up against the Daleks.....