Recap: Doctor Who S31 E2 "The Beast Below"

aka: Doctor Who S 31 E 02 The Beast Below
...who peed in your corn flakes?

Forget 

Protest 

Inside the Starship UK, a group of children sit in class waiting to be graded by their instructor, a smiling robot, which is apparently only capable of repeating the same three compliments. But one boy, Timmy, is a bit reluctant to stand in front of the robot, and as he finally musters up the courage, the robot's expression changes into a sour frown, as it tells him that he has been a bad boy and he is rewarded with the grade "Zero". As he leaves the class to board the vator, his friend, Mandy, warns him against boarding, as students with a Zero grade aren't allowed to ride the vators and will be "sent below" if they do. Timmy, however, doesn't want to walk twenty decks to get home, so he ignores her warning and boards another vator. Inside the vator, a little girl on a monitor recites a poem, and Timmy notices to his horror that the vator isn't heading for his intended destination of London, but instead drops down to Floor 0, with the floor in the vator opening to a red chasm beneath him. Timmy screams in terror, and falls in...

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, noticing a crying Mandy sitting on a bench, and points out that everybody ignores her and she tries to cry as silently as possible. 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 Mandy. She does so, and Mandy leads her to what is apparently in a hole, in the road, which is covered with a work tent and sealed off for some reason. Despite Mandy's warnings of getting too close, Amy can't stop herself from investigating the hole, which happens to contain what appears to be a tentacle. 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, forget and record. 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 or abdicate. 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, like Timmy, who are instead locked up inside the Tower. 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 Mandy and Timmy, 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 simply wanted 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...


Tropes:

  • Action Girl: Liz 10 oneshots a smiler each with her dual pistols.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Author Appeal: Scotland has its own spaceship.
  • Badass Boast:
    Liz 10: I'm the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule.
  • Bad Vibrations: Inverted — 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 Heroes: Liz 10 blasting those smilers and saving the Doctor and Amy.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Star Whale grows tentacles into the ship and has some sort of anti-squid tentacular tail.
  • Belly of the Whale: Protestors are dumped into the space whale's stomach.
  • Blatant Lies: The Doctor tells Amy he never interferes and that he always stays out of trouble ("badly").
  • Book Ends:
    Creepy Girl: ...expect no love from the beast below.

    Amy: ...we all depend on the beast below.
  • 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: That poor Star Whale. It's an ancient and majestic creature that has been shackled and tortured constantly for centuries.
  • 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 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. He's a good deal odder than Ten or Nine.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot: This is played for drama. All the grief and pain involving the voting over the space whale's imprisonment and torture was unnecessary. The UK didn't capture it; it volunteered.
  • Covered in Gunge: Both the Doctor and Amy get covered in space whale vomit.
  • Creepy Child: That child in the recording 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: Earth was roasted by solar flares. Now the countries are space ships.
  • Failed a Spot Check: This isn't the first time that the plot might have been vastly simplified if the Doctor had bothered to fly his TARDIS around to take a good look at a space ship before parking on it.
  • 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.
  • Friend to All Children:
    • The Doctor cannot help but stop to help a crying child.
    • The Beast Below volunteered its services to lift all of the UK (except Scottland, which already had its own ship) because it can't stand to let children suffer and die.
    • 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: The scary "Beast Below" is actually a Gentle Giant that the humans constantly torture in order to goad forwards.
  • 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, as the space whale refusing to eat children is 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", face no punishment from Liz 10 when she finally figures out what they're doing.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The "Forget" button in the voting booths; the last 20 minutes of your life didn't happen.
  • Last of His Kind: The Star Whale moving the ship is the last one. 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!
  • 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 so she can innocently ignorant of this fact. The look on her face as everything falls into place shows she definitely feels this way.
  • Not So Different: Amy saves the day by making this realization. Incredibly old, a Friend to All Children, Last of their kind...No, it's just the Doctor. It's also the space whale.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: The Doctor's excuse for putting a glass of water on the floor.
    The Doctor: Sorry, checking all the water in this area; there's an escaped fish.
  • Older Than They Look: Liz 10 claims to be fifty but she's actually five hundred. Her clock has been frozen.
  • Pajama Clad Hero: Amy, spends 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.
  • Plot Irrelevant Villain: The Smilers don't appear to do anything of note except look a bit grumpy. They're eerie enough, fitting three faces on a two-sided head, and they appear in some very creepy scenes, but it's never clear whether they're actually causing trouble or they just happen to be there at the time. The closest they come to participating in the plot is marking a child's homework in the cold opening.
  • 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 a Forsaken Child: Powered by an Endlessly Tortured Space Whale.
  • 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 never interferes with peoples or plants, 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.
  • The Reveal: The end of the episode reveals that Starship UK is in fact riding on top of a Star Whale.
  • Robotic Reveal: The hooded men reveal themselves as hybrid Smilers by turning their heads around.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Liz 10 has been trying to solve the Starship UK's problems for five 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."
  • Shout-Out:
  • Space Whale: The Star Whale is a humongous creature that lives in space. Legends say it guided the early space travelers.
  • 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.
    • Amy saves the day by choosing a fourth option.
  • 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.
    • Even better, while she looks appropriately horrified he's grinning madly.
  • Time Travel Tense Trouble:
    Amy: (about when she will/was getting/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. That's what tips the Doctor off. A child is silently crying and no adult nearby is comforting her, because they know why she's crying and don't want to acknowledge its cause.
  • The Unreveal: "Amy Pond. Age: 1,306. Marital Status: [Amy waits in suspense] ...Unknown."
  • 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.


Alternative Title(s):

Doctor Who S 31 E 02 The Beast Below