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Recap / Doctor Who S31 E2 "The Beast Below"

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The Beast Below
...who peed in your corn flakes?
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Andrew Gunn
Production code: 1.2
Air date: 10 April 2010



The one where the Doctor and Amy get un-vored.

Inside 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 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, another smiling robot sits embedded in the wall, but it changes its expression to the same frown as the teacher robot when Timmy enters. As the vator starts up, a monitor turns on, showing a little girl reciting a poem. Eventually the vator robot's expression changes again, this time to a furious expression with glowing red eyes, and that is when 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...

After the intro, we find ourselves 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 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, to find 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.

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 Mandy everyone does. But the Doctor isn't scared, and smacks the protest button. Unfortunately, this opens up the floor and 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 the un-voring of him and Amy 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 centre, 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, the 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. Heart's in the right place, but witholding information from the Doctor is a 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. Damn Doc. 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 peoples or 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 such 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; given that it's been less than twenty four hours since he regenerated he has not had a good day - crashing into Earth and now this. 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 oneshots a Smiler each with her dual pistols.
  • Admiring the Abomination: The Doctor can't stop himself from admiring the Star Whale even while standing on its tongue.
    "How big is this beastie? It's gorgeous! If this is just the mouth, I'd love to see the stomach!"
    [ominous gurgle]
    "... but not right now."
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Doctor claims that he never interferes with peoples or planets, despite every other episode of the show. (And then he immediately goes to comfort a crying child.)
  • Amnesiacs are Innocent: Averted. The Doctor holds both Amy and Liz 10 responsible for what they've done, regardless of the fact that they fail to remember doing it.
  • Amnesia Loop: Liz 10 discovers that she has been living and forgetting the same ten-year reign for 200 years, looking for the truth but always agreeing to forget it after discovering it. The Doctor and Amy's intervention leads to the loop being broken when Amy finds a way to Take a Third Option.
  • 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 finally assumes this role when she realizes she's been choosing to forget the truth about the Star Whale continuously.
  • 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 would be if the ship had engines running.
  • Big Bad: Hawthorne, the head of the British government who oversees the secret police known as Winders and is responsible for the torture of the Star Whale. He initially appears to be working against Liz 10, only for it to turn out that he's actually acting under her orders...she just can't remember giving them.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Liz 10 blasting those Smilers, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 voting over the Star 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 Star Whale vomit.
  • Creepy Child: That girl 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.
  • Drama Panes: Amy and the Doctor stare out of the windows of Starship U.K. while reflecting on the outcome of the episode, looking out over the city-ship with a binary star system ahead of them. The Doctor points out to Amy that her choice could have killed everyone on Starship U.K. She points out that if he'd gone through with his plans, he would have killed an innocent Star Whale, and the very last one, so far as they know. Amy draws a comparison between the Star Whale and the Doctor, "Very old and very kind, and the very last of his kind."
  • Easily Forgiven: The whale decides not to make a big thing about being tortured for 300-odd years and continues to serve humanity voluntarily.
  • 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 spaceships.
  • Empire with a Dark Secret: England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (Scotland as mentioned in the episode built their own ship) are being carried through space on a star whale which they torture to control the speed — they know they can't justify their actions, but they're afraid that freeing the whale will destroy the ship. Thank goodness for Amy Pond, really. There's also the fact that they feed anyone who finds out the truth and disagrees with it to the whale. Or simply someone who doesn't do his homework. Luckily, the whale won't eat children.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: An unusual example — the Smilers have three faces, smiling, frowning and GAAH!
  • 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 spaceship before parking on it.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: Inverted: Queen Elizabeth X lists various of her ancestors who have met the Doctor before in reverse order. Before Liz II and Vicky and the Virgin Queen, she mentions that the Doctor was the drinking buddy of a King Henry XII.
  • Foreshadowing:
  • 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 Scotland, 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.
  • The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: Liz 10 (Elizabeth X, queen of a future Britain) has a royal mask moulded to the exact shape of her face. This leads to the discovery that she has been ruling for centuries, not for ten years as she believed - her memories are erased every ten years to keep her from remembering the Star Whale.
  • Golden Snitch: The Queen's vote, down in the dungeon of the Tower, will automatically stop the torture, but at the apparent cost of the entire Kingdom. It's no wonder that she always chose to forget for centuries.
  • Gone to the Future: The voting booth identifies Amy on the voter rolls, but says her marital status is "Not Available". Convenient, given she's left from the eve of her wedding, wouldn't you say?
  • Guns Akimbo: "I'm the bloody Queen, mate! Basically, I rule."
  • 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.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Justified, as the Star 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 in 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.
  • King Bob the Nth: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth X of the United Kingdom.
  • 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 its situation to the Doctor.
  • Mama Bear: Liz 10 is furious at the idea of someone feeding her subjects to the Star Whale.
  • Meaningful Echo: After explaining the situation and telling Amy what he wants her to do, the Doctor silences her protests by saying it's this or she'll have to go back to Leadworth. When she finally agrees, he says "Gotcha." By the end of the story, after she convinces him that she knew exactly what would happen when she freed the whale, they embrace, as she whispers "Gotcha" in his ear.
  • 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 remain innocently ignorant of this fact. The look on her face as everything falls into place shows she definitely feels this way.
  • Naïve Animal Lover: The twist is, it's the Star Whale being naïve around people. It was happy to act as a living ship to save everyone for their children's sake. But people build their ship around it, and sought to enslave the benign creature instead, to make it do what they wanted. Torture, or no torture, the beast still wants to help, because it loves the children so much.
  • Necessarily Evil: The humans torture the whale because they believed it was the only way to navigate the ship and they fed it rubbish and people because they thought it was the only way to feed it. However, the humans couldn't understand what the whale was doing, it came to them willingly to save the children and they didn't need to torture it.
  • Nose Tapping: The Doctor does this when giving the "escaped fish" excuse to the people who see him put a glass of water on the floor.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Amy saves the day by making this realization. Incredibly old, a Friend to All Children, last of their kind...
  • 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.
  • Pajama-Clad Hero: Amy spends the whole episode in her nightdress, á la Arthur Dent.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Inverted. "Nobody HUMAN has anything to say to me today!" And then the inversion itself gets subverted, when Amy intuits the true nature of the situation, which the Doctor has failed to do, and intervenes just in time to stop him making a mistake for which he'd never be able to forgive himself.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Liz 10, due to Laser-Guided Amnesia, is surprised to discover she's over four times as old as she thought — over 200 as opposed to 50. It's because her body's age clock has been drastically slowed down so that she can rule Starship UK long enough for them to recolonize.
  • 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 — the Winders — reveal themselves to be half-Smiler by turning their heads around.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Liz 10 has been trying to solve 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. At least, so they think...
  • 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."
  • Self-Plagiarism: Like Moffat's "The Doctor Dances", the resolution to the main problem is solved by an action people at first believed would cause another effect and so tried to avoid. Nancy tried to avoid Jamie for fear of becoming infected by the Empty Child, whilst Liz 10 always chose to forget since she believed releasing the star whale would destroy Starship UK.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Space Whale: The Star Whale is a humongous creature that lives in space. Legends say it guided the early space travellers.
  • Stealth Insult: After the Doctor hits the protest button and he and Amy fall about 500 metres down, Amy asks where they are. The Doctor takes a long smell and says "I'd say [sniff] Lancashire". They're standing on a tongue covered in rubbish.
  • Suddenly Shouting: A sign that the Doctor's officially gotten too angry even for Tranquil Fury.
    The Doctor: Nobody talk to me. Nobody HUMAN HAS ANYTHING TO SAY TO ME TODAY!
  • 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, 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 Starship UK, the Doctor guesses they are in Lancashire.note 
  • The Theme Park Version: Starship UK is like a "Britainland" theme park made of a hodgepodge of British props, and it looks good. For once, the TARDIS blends in perfectly with its surroundings.
  • 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 be/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..."
    • "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?"
    • "The dream must end, the world must know, we all depend on the beast below."
  • Town with a Dark Secret: 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.
  • Turtle Island: The spaceship is revealed to have been built on a galactic whale and the humans enslaved it under the belief they found the creature by chance and needed to torture it so they can control where it goes. In reality, the whale came to them because it wanted to save the children and they didn't need to torture it or sacrifice people to it in the first place.
  • Two-Faced: The Smilers have three faces, one for happiness, one for displeasure, and one for rage. Since their heads turn 180 degrees and not 120 degrees, they apparently have a hidden arm in the back that switches whichever faces are not in use.
  • The Unreveal: "Amy Pond. Age: 1,306. Marital Status: [Amy waits in suspense] ... Unknown."
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Shown from inside the Star Whale's mouth, no less.
  • 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