Some Doctor Who fans can be an odd lot. After having been cast in the wilderness for the best part of two decades, you’d think that they’d be happy that their favourite show had returned. But they actually spent a significant amount of time moaning that the programme’s former show runner – Russell T Davies – wrote largely plotless stories, populated by large characters, and ridden with sentimental love letters to the ‘Lonely God’ of a Time Lord. The assumption has been that whatever replacement Steven Moffat writes will automatically be superior.
With this episode – more than last week’s season opener ‘The Eleventh Hour’ – the torch is passed from RTD2 to the Grand Moff, and it’s instructive to note that it’s a largely plotless story, populated by large characters, and – yes – ridden with a sentimental love letter to the ‘Lonely God’ of a Time Lord. It even has a none-too-subtle reference to the over-reaching story arc of the season, which has now been mentioned several times in just two episodes, something that not even RTD managed with the likes of ‘Bad Wolf’ and ‘Mr Saxon’.
In truth, there’s not a great deal of story in ‘The Beast Below’ because that’s not really its purpose. Whereas the first episode introduced the character of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), this week, we’re introduced to Amy Pond’s character: resourceful, independent, and vital. This is the episode in which we’re required to see that The Doctor needs Amy, as she sees the things that he misses. In that, she serves that most important aspect of a Companion’s purpose – she is ‘us’ aboard the TARDIS.
Story aside (involving a craft transporting most of Britian to a new destination after solar flares have destroyed Earth: a sort of Cutty Sark In Space), the feel and look of the piece is what’s left, and the Smilers are suitably disturbing, looking like a nightmare fused on bad cheese and the title credits of Tales Of The Unexpected. If you’re over voting age, you’re likely to cotton on to the fact that there’s no real danger here, but otherwise, they are gloriously terrifying.
The link to the following week’s episode – a telephone conversation with Winston Churchill – is a little startling; feeling like those episodes from the Hartnell era where each completed adventure handed directly over to the following episode with barely a pause for breath, and feels rather fun after the somewhat dark and morose tones of kids in grimy corridors being scared by demonic woodentops.
A weird mix of ‘The End Of The World’ and 1987’s ‘Paradise Towers’, this may be the one that you initially vote to forget. But like the titular creature: it’s a grower.
Airs at 6.15pm on Saturday 10th April 2010 on BBC One.