As is customary in the second episode of a series, the Doctor takes his new companion to some far off space and time to impress her. This time they end up on Starship UK in the distant future, and something is being fed bad kids and protesters.
Unfortunately the episode just doesn’t deliver on the promise, not even delivering a coherent storyline. The ideas here are solid and interesting; the genuinely creepy smilers, and the dystopian police state, like a Tory-fuelled nightmare, where despite being given the chance to vote every 5 years the citizens of the ship “choose to forget what they’ve learnt” and live on in ignorance and fear (how very political of you Doctor, and in 2010 election season as well), but that’s all it seems to be, a load of ideas and imagery plastered together with authorial gaffa tape.
The sad thing is, I remember really enjoying this episode first time around. it’s only when watching it back I notice that a lot of it doesn’t really make sense. For example, yes, there’s a voting system, and democracy means the government allow the citizens of Starship UK to view ‘the truth’ about how they are able to fly, later revealed to be the enslavement of a peacful creature known as a ‘star whale’. They are then given the choice to ‘protest’ or ‘forget’. I get this, but how does Amy, thrown into the future in her nightie, then figure out how to record a message to herself before she forgets? Never explained, and then later fed upon by the Doctor when ranting about how Amy had not right to shelter him from making a hard decision.
On top of this, why on Earth are naughty children dropped into a pit as food for the whale? Yes, they are rejected because we find out that the whale is only there for the crying children, but why would the government choose to do this in the first place, except to set up a creepy opening to the episode. Sloppy.
We also meet Liz 10, the Queen of England who recognises The Doctor from her family stories, a nice touch and hark back to previous adventures. Liz 10 is also investigating how the ship is seemingly flying with no engine, and what her government are hiding from her. She makes an interesting side character, albeit a slight box-ticker (ooh, a streetwise black queen!)
We hear from the government (look it’s that guy from The Demon Headmaster!) that they are acting on “the highest authority”, and it transpires that Liz has actually been giving the orders herself, kept alive for 200 years on a ten year loop of investigating, solving and choosing to forget the slavery she authorised for the good of the British public. A good solid twist somewhat signposted on second viewing, but effective nonetheless.
Amy gets to figure out the solution and redeem herself with the Doctor. She sees the somehwat hamfisted parallel with The Doctor that the starwhale is “very old and very kind” and doesn’t get involved until the children cry. The whale is released, and it chooses to stay for the children, just as amy predicted. Clever Amy. A win for humanity that The Doctor had dismissed 10 minutes earlier. It’s the point where the companion ‘earns’ the right to travel with the Doctor which we’ve seen before.
There’s a development here of the much-touted ‘fairytale’ theme of this series. The Eleventh Hour set us up with The Doctor as the imaginary friend of a little girl, who whisks her away the night before her wedding. Her raggedy Doctor. We’ll see this continuing through the series, and here the idea of him as a kind old man, along with the scene in the mouth of the giant whale, and the Amy voiceover of the ‘Beast Below’ poem at the end of the episode keep this lovely imagery going.
Then Winston calls and we’re off for an adventure with the Daleks!
FEZ SEZ: “An enjoyable but ultimately flawed second episode with some nice ideas but no real coherence”
Arc Stuff I spotted:
- The big gaping grinning crack at the end, obviously
- Amy hints at her wedding, but doesn’t admit it