DOCTOR WHO 5.2 (31.2): The Beast Below the Doctor

Amy and the Doctor

“The Beast Below” is an important story for DOCTOR WHO: It’s the one in which the Matt Smith Doctor takes new companion Amy Pond on their first intentional adventure.

We pick up the story with the Doctor proving to Amy that the TARDIS really does travel in space. The moment is exhilarating – almost as much for the Doctor as his companion. Indeed, it is difficult to tell who is more thrilled. It is a quintessential Doctor moment. The mighty Time Lord has always been utterly fascinated by the little things in life, and despite all his adventures and everything he has seen and done in his 10 previous lives; he is still amazed and overjoyed by the universe. This childlike fascination in a grown man in one of the essential, enduring elements of the Doctor’s personality. And in this, just his second story, we see more indications that Smith is maintain this innocence while layering on a sense of “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt” ennui of an older, experienced person. It’s actually a tough balancing act, playing old/young, and Smith is pulling it off admirably. This is further demonstrated when the Doctor begins babbling about the 29th century and accidentally leaves Amy to float outside the TARDIS. Again, that was such a Doctor moment, because he is quite easily distracted by shiny objects and cool concepts. The Doctor knows stuff – lots of stuff – but it only matters if he can share it with someone. He may occupy himself with knowledge, but he’s certainly not going to impress himself.

And the knowledge the Doctor shares is about “Starship UK – it’s Britain, only metal,” he explains. The denizens of Great Britain took to the spaceways en masse in a giant ship to flee solar flares that left the Earth uninhabitable. (BTW, those cosmic disturbances are a well-established part of the mythos from previous stories.) Amy is eager to visit the colony in space, but first, the Doctor prepares her with an admonition that left me (and other old-timey fans) laughing: “We are observers only; that’s the one rule I’ve always stuck to in all my travels,” he said, with an improbably straight face. “I never get involved in the affairs of other people or planets.” Minutes later, after I had recovered from peals of laughter, the Doctor loosed another knee-slapper when Amy asked what he planned to do: “What I always do: stay out of trouble. Badly.”

Matt continued to put his subtle physical brand on the role; the way he holds his hands and moves his entire body at once shows me that he has invested a lot of thought into his performance as a whole. He is trying to make his Doctor a complete person, not just a quirky one. I welcomed the renewed emphasis on the Time Lord’s “otherness” – his alien sensibilities. Much like the Ninth Doctor referring to humans as stupid apes, the 11th Doctor railed at Amy and Liz 10, “Nobody human has anything to say to me today!” with such righteous indignation. I also liked it when he said, “I think a lot. It’s hard to keep track.”

I also have to give kudos to Karen Gillan for making Amy such a formidable companion. She is strong-willed, but not as abrasive as Donna (Catherine Tate). She is compassionate, but doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve like Rose (Billie Piper). Of course Amy is brave, but I think what Karen is bringing to the role so far is a sense of healthy curiosity. And Amy is still somewhat skeptical of the Doctor; she cannot help wondering if he is going to disappear for years once again. And, of course, Amy is perceptive. She drew a parallel between the Doctor and the space whale: each the last of his species, and neither one could just watch children cry without helping. Clever girl! She was clearly talking about the Doctor when she appeared to be speaking about the space whale: “All that pain and misery and loneliness. And it just made it kind.” Thanks to Amy, the Doctor can do something about his loneliness problem.

Loved the Doctor’s philosophy: “It’s always a big day tomorrow. I’ve got a time machine; I skip the little ones.” Bring on the next Big Adventure, Doctor!

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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