Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Beast Below: Smiling Faces Sometimes

'This is what I do. Every time. Every day. Every second. This. Hold tight, we're bringing down the government.'

Ah, the use of metaphor in Doctor Who. A subject with a long, fascinating, and occasionally downright peculiar history. I could write an essay. In the past, trust me dear blog reader, I have. Several. And they weren't very good. Because, frankly, the use of metaphor in Doctor Who isn't always a very good idea. Doesn't mean the stories which use a metaphor themselves weren't sometimes terrific. Some of my favourite Doctor Who stories have a whopping great metaphor at their core. It's just that such conceits are usually trowelled on in exactly the sort of way that a dodgy tiler would grout your bathroom. Necessary, but a bit ... functional. The Dominators suggesting that being a pacifist isn't entirely a good idea if some bullies come round looking for a fight. Etc. And metaphor is usually damned difficult to be subtle with. That's pretty much a description of the metaphor at the heart of The Beast Below too. Britain has, in the past, tended to oppress indigenous races for its own benefit and will likely do so again given half the chance. Check. Politicians are all, well, scum basically. Check. And, very true. ('Once every five years everybody gets the chance to forget what they've learned. Democracy in action.') Subtle as a brick, there Steven!

And, yet, I loved this episode. I mean, I thought it sang. From Amy asking the Doctor what he's going to do and his reply 'what I always do. Stay out of trouble. Badly' to him telling his new companion that they're about to become, let's not be too precious about this, space whale vomit and that the experience 'isn't going to be big on dignity' to Liz Ten's proud, defiant royal decree - 'I'm the bloody queen, mate!' the dialogue was wonderful. Funny ('there's an escaped ... fish'), inventive and righteously angry in a Tom Baker 'but, what's it FOR?' stylee. ('Nobody human has anything to say to me today'). This was an episode for all true connoisseurs of the witty quip and the harsh and venal put-down. And many shades of grey, purple and green in between.

Which brings us to yet another terrific performance by Matt Smith, who seems to be settling into the role very nicely indeed. Here is a Doctor who can find the time to indulge Amy's sense of wonder and reflect on the age-old conundrum of observation versus interference. One who can crack a witty one-liner even upon discovering himself and his companion to be inside the mouth of an alien. ('But, on the plus side ... roomy!') One who expresses white hot anger at torture and stupidity. One who can talk, quietly and without much emotion but with obvious regret about the destruction of his race, but simply cannot stand by and watch a child cry. One who finds truth in a glass of water. And, I really like the mad-professor-action-adventurer thing he's got going for him. Two parts Harrison Ford, one part Graeme Garden. It's that Patrick Troughton vibe. The stone cold warrior behind the clown's painted smile.

A good episode, then. Very good in fact. Possibly not a great one, I mean, you can't have one of those every week. But one with some big, high-concept ideas battling for prominence against far smaller, and infinitely more human, emotional resonances. Again, as with last week, light and shade. Ignore the obvious (possibly too obvious) clumsy political parables and concentrate, instead, on the episode's clear characterisation and the way in which Amy seems to know the Doctor almost as well as the Doctor knows himself. 'Very old, and very kind, and the very, very last...' Bring on the Daleks, the Doctor will see them next.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but any story featuring children will receive poor marks from me.

And as for cute gap-toothed kids, well let's just sat the Space Whale wasn't the only one forced to vomit.

Didn't like the simple Amy pushes a button solution either.


For all she knew the Abdicate button could have caused the spaceship to self destruct.