Sunday, April 11, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Beast Below" (5x02)

'The Beast Below' is a pretty solid episode of Doctor Who, but one that does raise some questions about what the show will be like under Moffat, and whether or not he'll ever match up to the heights of the Davies era. It's definitely too early to tell, but this episode definitely raises some warning signs about the future.

The biggest difficulty with this season so far versus the Davies era is the general shift in story format. The Davies era was a kind of hyperoperatic melodrama with personal soap opera style stories writ large against a backdrop of cosmic craziness. Moffat's stories, both in the Davies era, and in the first two episodes of this series, feel much more like fairy tales. There's always children present, and a focus on making ordinary things around us come alive with fear. The almost obsessive presence of child characters is the one that jumps out to me most, as the Mandy character in this episode had no point to the overall narrative.

I really enjoyed all of Moffat's episodes under Davies, but I never loved them in the way that a lot of people did. In fact, my favorite episode he's done is the Silence in the Library two parter, which was his most poorly received. That episode was absolutely amazing, but I've seen a lot more of 'Blink' or 'The Girl in the Fireplace' in the first two episodes of his solo run.

That's not to say that these episodes have been bad, it's more that it raises concerns for the future about how wide and varied the show could be. Davies definitely had certain themes and setups he returned to all the time, but I loved those themes and responded to them emotionally, and nothing in these episodes has gotten to me as much as even a small moment from a weak Davies episode, like Donna and her grandfather looking up at the stars, as she waits for the Doctor in 'Partners in Crime.'

Davies had this messianic view of the Doctor that was a bit much at times, but Moffat's version of the Doctor is still in formation, or at least a bit unclear at this point. In this episode, he's angry at humans, then ready to kill the space whale to save them. He's definitely more of an enigma than Tennant, and seemingly more prone to mood swings, but I don't feel like I totally understand him yet.

On this episode specifically, certain elements felt like Moffat by numbers, but some of it worked very well. The opening bit with Amy hanging outside the Tardis was great, and in general, her character is working well and doesn't feel like a retread of the emotional beats from Rose or Martha's time in the Tardis. The general sense of adventure was strong too, the show is always fun and exciting in a way that few other things out there are.

I also may be being a bit unfair since Davies seasons often started off pretty weak, and what lingers in my mind is the high points, not the clunker episodes. So, I'm eager to see how things keep developing, but this episode didn't wow me.


suncore598 said...

Well, to me it was a good second episode. Not great. It doesn't have a lot of that good, old Davies feel. But the twist about the ship being driven by a whale-like creature and that the creature was being tortured into driving it I thought was interesting and set up a nice moral dilemma for the Doctor. I like that we got to see a bit of the Doctor's dark side. Though Matt Smith's Doctor is still going through formation, what I've gathered about him so far that he uses his zeal for life and his sense of adventure sometimes to cover up how lonely and emotionally scarred he is underneath. He doesn't like dwelling on the past. Notice how he reacted when Amy asked him if he was a parent and when Amy confront him about him not being human. He would briefly mention the past but when it comes to delving into his emotions of a particular part of the past, it seems that he refuse to go that. When he was facing the dilemma with the creature, I think the way he reacted angrily was brought on by personal disappointment. I think he was so looking forward to a fresh start with his regeneration and a new companion, thinking he won't have to go through any dark times like before when he was the 10th Doctor or the 9th. It was going to be good old adventures like it was in the beginning of the original Doctor Who or before the Time War. But now he faces a decision that could result in death in either way. He hates being in situations that would add more blood to the blood that's on his hands already. That's what I think.

Patrick said...

That definitely makes sense, and is an interesting notion of the evolution of the character out of the Davies era. I can definitely see some resonance with the slightly pricklier Doctor here and what I've seen of the older Doctors. They felt more alien than Tennant or Eccleston, and that sense of unknowability seems to be back to some extent in Smith.