Immediately after the events of the previous episode, the Doctor takes Amy to the distant future, where she finds Britain in space!
After solar flares roasted the Earth, every nation took to the skies. Starship UK
houses the future of the British people, as they search the stars for a new home. They land in what seems to be a normal, nice and British marketplace, but the Doctor tells Amy to "notice everything" — they're actually in the midst of a police state. Then he places a glass of water on the floor, for seemingly no reason. "There's an escaped fish
"? Oh really? Well, Doctor, you're being watched, and it seems that you just did "the thing"...
The Doctor notices that everyone is terrified of those smiling robot fellows in the booths, so he sends Amy to interrogate an upset little girl. She does so, but she can't stop herself from stumbling upon a tentacle. In a hole, in the road. That's weird, but what's weirder is the sinister-looking group of hooded fellows spraying her with sleeping gas.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is off staying out of trouble (badly), and has headed to the engine room with another glass of water. Something's very wrong here — "an impossible truth", as the mysterious woman in front of him calls it. She wears a spooky mask and a red cloak, and demands to know the Doctor's business with that water. Were there an engine on a ship this big, there would be vibrations. The water would move! The woman needs the Doctor's help in unearthing the truth, and tells him that her name is... Liz 10. She is played by Sophie Okonedo
Amy wakes up in a "voting booth", and there are three buttons before her — protest
. She is identified (Age 1,306?! Shut up!), and a film starts to play on the TV screen before her, apparently detailing the history of Starship UK
. Suddenly, a whirlwind of images flashes by. Children screaming, violence, terror, pain and most prominently... the Sun. But no sooner is it all over than Amy finds her hand on the forget
button. What just happened in those last 20 minutes? A clue to this is offered as Amy's recorded message to herself starts to play. On screen, a distressed Amy pleads "This isn't a trick, this is for real, you've got to find the Doctor, and get him off this ship!"
Just then, the Doctor arrives. He examines the light bulb at the top of the room — standard memory wipe, must have erased about 20 minutes. But why? And why would Amy choose to forget? Well, according to the crying girl from earlier, Mandy, everyone does. But the Doctor isn't scared, and smacks the protest
button. Unfortunately, this catapults both him and Amy down an air-pressure cannon. They land in what appears to be a rubbish dump. But the Doctor soon figures out that it's a tongue. So they're in a giant mouth. Great. The Doctor triggers a vomit wave to escape, but the switch to exit this dark chamber... is a forget
button. And those Smiler androids in the back are getting pretty irritable.
The two are rescued from the Smilers by Liz 10, who takes them up to her quarters whilst making remarks about the Doctor's history with her kingdom. And why is it her
kingdom? Well, that would be because she's been Queen Elizabeth X of England for 10 years! They slowed her body clock to keep her looking like the stamps. In her room, there are a lot of water glasses. And her mask... it's rather old. Very, very old, an antique. Porcelain, too. Stays on because it's perfectly sculpted to her face. So what? So everything
, Liz... Just then, some of those hooded blokes show up and ask to take Liz to the Tower of London. She refuses, but it seems that these
particular politicians are half-Smiler.
Down in the Tower's torture chamber they find a rather odd installation: a laser in the ceiling perpetually fires shots into part of a very large brain. Piecing together the puzzle, the Doctor figures out that this pain center, the mouth and the tentacle from earlier are all part of one creature, and... it's what they have instead of an engine. And they're torturing it to keep it going. And then we find out what's wrong with Liz's mask. It's at least 200 years old... and perfectly sculpted to her face. Wait, that can't be right, she's only been Queen for 10 years! Oh... dear. The same 10 years... over and over again, always leading her to this same place — a voting booth. It's her choice: forget
. Her own recorded message to herself starts to play.
When the solar flares originally roasted the Earth, the UK weren't quite quick enough to make a ship. Their children were screaming as the skies grew hotter. But then it came... like a miracle... a Star Whale. A massive, old, gentle creature, and the last of its kind. They trapped it, built the starship around it, and now they torture it to keep it moving. Heartbreaking. But hey, at least they feed it... with rubbish... and people. Protesters and citizens of limited value, to be precise. But it won't eat the children. If Liz chooses to abdicate
the ship will disintegrate and everyone will die. But if she chooses to forget
, poor old Space Whale
will be in agony for another decade.
The Doctor realises that Amy recorded that message to herself ("Get the Doctor off this ship!") because she didn't want the Doctor to have to make an impossible choice. Bad move, Amy — you don't decide what he needs to know. He tells her that her days as his new companion are over already. The Doctor Takes a Third Option
, preparing to lobotomize the whale so at least it won't be in pain. He says that it's the most horrible thing he'll ever have to do, and he'll just have to pick a new name because he can't do this and live with himself as the Doctor any longer, but there's nothing else that can be done.
Seeing the tentacles playing with some cute children, Amy takes the Doctor's advice from earlier and notices everything — "it won't eat the children", "our children screamed!", "It came like a miracle,", "Never interfere in the affairs of other planets, unless there's children crying?", "Just me now", "The last of its kind"
. And then she realizes the truth.
She grabs Liz's hand to press the abdicate
button and release the whale, at which point Starship UK
starts moving faster
. But why? Surely it would take its opportunity to escape? No, the kindly old Space Whale
to help in the first place. They didn't need to torture or trap it. It came because it couldn't bear to see the children cry.
Afterwards, the Doctor tells Amy she couldn't have known that. She responds that maybe he
couldn't have known, but that an alien, the last of his kind, who has been through pain and anguish, and just become kinder and unable to see children cry, was something she'd
already seen. The Doctor stares at her for a minute, then yanks her into his arms and buries his face in her shoulder. They return to the TARDIS when the console's phone starts ringing. It's Winston Churchill
and he wants the Doctor's help, while a Dalek is standing in his office
As they leave, though, we see that there's a crack
in the starship...
- Action Girl: Liz 10 is very much made of Badass.
- Apocalypse How: Solar flares toasted the Earth; probably rating Total Extinction. Destroying Starship UK would only be on a regional scope, as other nations have their own starships.
- The Atoner: Queen Elizabeth X.
- Attack of the Monster Appendage: The tentacles/stingers are seen at various places in the ship before the reveal that they are all part of the body of the Star Whale.
- Badass Boast:
Liz 10: I'm the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule.
- Bad Vibrations: Played with — the Doctor's first hint of the Beast's existence is when he notices that the liquid in a glass of water isn't vibrating, which it should be if the Starship had engines running.
- Big Damn Heroine: Liz 10 blasting those smilers.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: The Star Whale grows tentacles into the ship and has some sort of anti-squid tentacular tail.
- Belly of the Whale
- Blatant Lies: The Doctor tells Amy he never interferes. And that he always stays out of trouble ("badly").
- Book Ends:
- Britain Versus the UK: The Doctor notes that Starship UK is still "Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (except for Scotland) after over a millennium.
- Broken Angel: The poor Star Whale.
- But Thou Must: The Powers That Be encourage people to Forget by:
- Keeping the Protest threshold low (if 1% of the passengers Protest, everybody dies),
- Making Her Majesty's vote a Golden Snitch that would destroy the Kingdom, and
- Feeding protesters to the Beast (though the voters, of course, don't know this).
- Cliffhanger: Winston Churchill calls to summon the Doctor's help as a Dalek silhouette glides towards him...
- Cloudcuckoolander: Eleven, turning it Up to Eleven, fittingly. Of course it turns out to be a case of Obfuscating Insanity. Or fortuitous insanity, we'll see...
The Doctor: Sorry, checking all the water in this area; there's an escaped fish.
- Continuity Nod
- Covered in Gunge: Both the Doctor and Amy get covered in space whale vomit.
- Creepy Child: With matching creepy nursery rhyme.
- Disproportionate Retribution: A little boy gets sent down to the Beast for... failing a test and then trying to take the lift.
- Everybody Lives: While it's implied that people have been fed to the whale through the centuries, from the start of this episode to the end not a single character dies.
- Earth That Was
- For the Evulz: Apparently, the rulers of England allow the people to vote on whether or not to continue torturing an ancient creature... or die. Why bother? Unless it's because they need to feed it and can't be bothered to build a farm on their gigantic Space Whale star ship for all of England...
- Foreshadowing: Desperate over having to kill the beast, the Doctor snarls that he'll go through with it — but the idea is so atrocious he'll have to choose a new name, since he couldn't possibly continue to call himself the Doctor. This becomes rather important later.
- Friend to All Children
- The Doctor cannot help but stop to help a crying child. Also, the Beast Below.
- Liz 10 gives this vibe when talking to Mandy as well. The little girl relaxes the minute she recognizes her queen.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters
- I Did What I Had to Do: Those who know the "impossible truth" aren't proud of what they've done; they considered it necessary to save the Kingdom.
Presenter: Here, then, is the truth about Starship UK, and the price that has been paid for the safety of the British people. May God have mercy on our souls.
- Infant Immortality: Justified, and the clue as to what's really going on.
- Internal Homage
- As in "The Parting of the Ways", the Doctor has to make a moral choice he does not want to, before the companion intervenes.
- As Torchwood's "Meat", our heroes have to come to the decision on whether or not to kill an innocent extraterrestrial whale for the greater good.
- Karma Houdini: The secret police, who fed the star-whale with everyone who hit the protest button, and "undesirables".
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The "Forget" button in the voting booths.
- Last of His Kind: The Star Whale. Amy compares his situation to the Doctor.
- Mama Bear: Liz 10 is furious at the idea of someone feeding her subjects to the Star Whale.
- Moral Dissonance
- Granted he was very upset at the time, but the Doctor telling Amy, who waited fourteen years, that he's going to drop her back on Earth after messing up on her very first trip? To make matters worse, she only did so in order to prevent him from having to make a Sadistic Choice. Adam did far worse!
- That's trivial compared to the fact that the government is going to get away with all the horrific stuff they did, including feeding dissenters to the whale, and the Doctor didn't do a thing about it.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Liz 10 discovers that the star-whale's torture is carried out on her orders, and she resets her memory every ten years when she's told about it again. The look on her face as everything falls into place shows she definitely feels this way.
- Nose Tapping
- Not So Different: How Amy saves the day. Incredibly old, a Friend to All Children...
- Older than They Look: Liz 10
- Pajama Clad Hero: Amy, spending the whole episode in her nightdress.
- Percussive Pickpocket:
The Doctor: This fell out of her pocket when I accidentally bumped into her. Took me four goes.
- Poor Communication Kills: Man, wouldn't everything have been easier if the Star Whale could have just told them it was volunteering its services? That happens when you can't even communicate in the audible wavelengths.
- Powered by an Endlessly Tortured Space Whale
- Post-Mortem One-Liner:
Liz 10: I'm the bloody queen, mate. Basically, I rule.
- Press X to Die: Feel horrified from what you've learned from the video? Then press protest and your vote could be the one that condemns the entire Kingdom to death. Or maybe something will happen before then, like getting sent into the mouth of the beast powering the ship.
- Prime Directive: The Doctor claims that he follows this, despite every other episode of the show.
- Punch Clock Villain: It turns out neither the Smilers nor the Winders are actually evil. They were acting on the Queen's orders. The Doctor doesn't like people who are Just Following Orders.
- Reality Subtext: Liz 10 saying "I was brought up on your stories; my whole family was." This is certainly true for the current Queen Elizabeth.
- Robotic Reveal: The hooded men reveal themselves as hybrid Smilers by turning their heads around.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Liz 10, who has been trying to solve the Starship UK's problems for two hundred years.
- Sadistic Choice: Everybody's options basically boil down to: (1) Continue torturing the Star Whale, or (2) kill the entire country.
- Schizo Tech: Life on the spaceship involves a large number of very low-tech things.
- Schmuck Bait:
- "Oh, don't mind me! Never could resist a 'Keep Out' sign."
- The "Protest" button.
- "If this is just the mouth, I'd love to see the stomach!...Though not right now."
- Star Whale: The last of them.
- Stealth Insult: After the Doctor hits the Protest button and he and Amy fall about 600 feet down. Amy asks where they are and the Doctor takes a long smell and says "I'd say [sniff] Lancashire". They're standing on a tongue covered in rubbish.
- Take a Third Option: Double-subverted; the Doctor's Third Option is almost as bad as the other two, but Amy realizes the Second Option won't have the results everyone thinks.
The Doctor: Look, three options. One, I let the star whale continue in unendurable agony for hundreds more years. Two, I kill everyone on this ship. Three, I murder a beautiful and innocent creature as painlessly as I can. And then I find a new name, 'cos I won't be the Doctor any more.
- Take That: When the Doctor and Amy are in a smelly, icky part of the Starship UK, the Doctor guesses they are in Lancashire.
- The Theme Park Version: Starship UK is like a "Britainland" theme park made of a hodgepodge of British props. And it looks good.
- This Is Gonna Suck: A tide of star-whale vomit rushes towards the Doctor and Amy:
The Doctor: Right then! This isn't going to be big on dignity.
- Time Travel Tense Trouble:
Amy: (about when she will/was get/got married) Well, it's kinda weird. A long time ago, tomorrow morning. I wonder what I did.
- Title Drop: Three times:
- "Though the man above might say hello, expect no love from the beast below..."
- "The dream must end, the world must know, we all depend on the beast below."
- "No, that's not going to work on me. Big ol' beast below decks, and everyone who protests gets shoved down its throat. Is that how it works?"
- Town with a Dark Secret: Except it's a starship, but the trope still holds.
- The Unreveal: "Amy Pond. Age: 1,306. Marital Status: [Amy waits in suspense] ...Unknown."
- Viewers Are Morons: OK, so the Star Whale is this clever metaphor for the Doctor, see? He keeps saving mankind but is put through unending pain because of his choices. He just needs someone to show him again that it's a choice, not a painful obligation. Pretty darn blatant. Then why did we have to have it explained to us in the episode THREE WHOLE TIMES!?
- What the Hell, Hero?: Amy calls the Doctor out on his choice to lobotomize the Star Whale. The Doctor calls out everybody on the ship for setting the situation up in the first place, and Amy for not telling him the truth.
- White Mask of Doom: Initially played straight when Liz 10 is introduced, but then becomes subverted when it turns out she's one of the good guys. Then it becomes a Chekhov's Gun, allowing the Doctor to deduce Liz's true age.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Amy's expression as she's drifting in space (with the Doctor hanging onto her foot), protected only by the TARDIS forcefield.