Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jared Reviews The Beast Below

Most of you would probably agree this review is a little late, even by my own subterranean (or proto-antediluvian, if you will) standards. The rest of you have forgotten that this story ever aired in the first place.

Apologies for this lapse. At least I can look at Larry Miles blog and revel in how on-the-pulse I am... now, on to this shit nobody cares about... which I started writing while the show was actually airing... notes from the modern day in {curly braces and italics.} Ironically for a review of one of the more kid-ish episodes the first word is a profanity!


Fuck it, I can't be bothered to watch this story again. But I can hear it playing in the next room... so I'll let that guide my non-linear mindstorm of a review. {They did not do a good job.}

I will say, for the record that after my Hartnell comment, the reason this review took so long for me to write {at the time of writing} was because I had the idea of opening it with a lengthy script extract written of the final scenes as the end of a Hartnell four-parter. See, it's Barbara who pressed the 'Forget' button, Ian uncovers the truth and presses the 'Protest' shocked that so few others have, the Doctor is likewise furious and railing against humanity... meanwhile Susan tries to track down one of the children she met on the upper deck, so gets separated. She finds them "There's somebody I'd like you to meet.." says the child, Susan follows them into a room and we see a worrying-looking appendage rising up behind her like a scorpion's tail about to strike...

..then when we come back after an inbetween-scene, possibly of Hawking {I don't think that's actually his name, monk-like guy with glasses} discussing the possibility of 'removing' the Doctor silently or something similarly utterly unconstructive and padding-ish yet still ably written and engaging, and see Susan and her friends playing hopscotch or draughts with the noodly space whale appendage and laughing. Another boy runs in, crying about the 'old man' going to kill the whale, Susan rushes out and saves the day in the nick of time, throwing herself onto the 'Abdicate' button. Hartnell goes furious and manic as everything seems to fall apart and the already shaky lighting gets worse - then everything's fine and Susan explains herself. The Doctor giggles merrily at being so badly wrong, and apologises to nobody.

Can't you just see it?

The thing is, that version probably would have been better, because over the course of 4 episodes things would have had a chance to make a cohesive whole.

I found it quite ironic when I watched this on the back of the unarguably brilliant Eleventh Hour, because that story had emphatically told me that everything I thought I had to worry about the forthcoming Tarkin Epoch was misleading and paranoid. Then THIS story comes around and tells me all that it's justified, if not readily apparent.

I'm not going to come flat out and say that The Beast Below is a bad story, but it has all the elements of one - namely, Silence in the Fucking Library, although I do realise that story is just about Universally loved when you subtract me from the Earth's population. Everything, EVERYTHING, functions on what TVTropes calls 'The Rule of Cool', or at least Moffat's specific version of this which involves his favourite, very peculiar elements of Doctor Who - Britishness for the sake of Britishness, a monster which has nothing to do with the plot, a screwdriver that can do anything, children in key roles and, curiously two elements not traditionally related to DW that he clearly likes anyway - guns and irrefutable evidence that the Doctor fucks around.

Okay, I guess part of me should be vindicated after my disbelieving "He just said he fucked Elizabeth!" was completely shouted down by certain sceptics as gutter-filth reading of events, but I'd actually rather it be vague or never suggested in the first place. I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea, even if it's just out of fear of the inevitable tie-in novel by Gareth Roberts where we learn the unusual methods the Doctor used to dispose of the incriminating Royal bed linens.

That was me going off-topic, by the way.

What rankles me with this story is that the elements weren't really tied together. It's a Moffat mash-up and contrary to popular belief, not everything he does is brilliant. We're drawn back to the absolutely mined-out inbred quagmire of the British Royal Family, even if we're looking now into the far future descendants of these decadent ne'er-do-wells (who amazingly come off WORSE in DW than they do in actual history books and tabloids) but it doesn't make things any less parochial and tiresome. Speaking of which, isn't it kind of worrying that apparently in the far future Parliament has dissolved yet Her Majesty apparently has no actual power? Nobody comments on it so, er, maybe not. Interesting seeing as the real world looks like going the other way if anything.

But really, how is the society portrayed meant to function? How exactly do the depiction of post-war austerity style on the streets blend with the medieval monks running the city or the renaissance fashion favoured by her majesty? Why do the children have a gap-toothed mascot reading them scary nursery rhymes on elevators when the society clearly loathes children, trying to feed underachievers to the titular beast and if Hawking is any judge being quite pissed off that they are not eaten? Again, how exactly did they hit upon tacky carnival creations of all things as the weapon to put the fear of God into their populace?

Yes, to me it's The Smilers who really do it. Why do they exist other than to scare children. And not even children in Universe, but those in the audience. As Ewen has pointed out, they're pretty light on actual cruel misdeed as well, for all their fearsome reputation and the monks turning out to be half-human half-Smilers really just raises more questions, doesn't it? What the fuck ARE they? WHY do we need them in the future, considering all the fucking terrifying ways we have to run police states TODAY? How they could have engineered/found them while on the most secretive and shameful run from Earth ever is a question so big and compelling it would suggest that the UK had already devolved into some state of democratic savagery before the solar flares - perhaps it wasn't even because of the explosion that the space whale came to save the children? Hmm, hmmm?

Now I'm reading into it to make the idiosyncratic plot more sensible, though, and I'm not sure if this is sensible. The second-up story of a new companion has recently been designed to be fairly disposable (although a fair number of people on OG have praised Gridlock as the greatest story ever... colour me fucking baffled) and Moffatt does fascinatingly follow the formula (Modern day- Far future - historical) but mixes it up more than has been visible with a future nobody can recognise at all. For Amy's first trip it is a slightly odd choice compared to those of fellow travellers - while the year 5 billion did get somewhat tiresome it made sense for the Doc's first date and imparting the broad church of this crazy universe and crazier species... I mean, compare End of the World to "let's go to a depressing space ship where a pack of depressed and OPPressed dole bludgers drink recycled urine huddling in fear of sideshow clowns"

Though of course this is a new Doctor and he does indeed seem less concerned with the comfort of his travelling companions and carrying a "I'll do what I want to and you get come along" attitude akin to, say, Tom Baker. There's also thankfully been no inkling as before that the Doctor's truly trying to power the TARDIS into his companion's vag, ironically the precise opposite of what you'd expect from Steven Moffat who updated a Victorian novel into a miniseries so he could make the entire thing a warped allegory for sex. (It was awesome, though! ...even if there is the matter of every woman on the planet thinking that Hyde is the cute one. Make-up were not on the same page at all..)

The Doctor too falls back into the Moffatian pattern of being too annoyingly brilliant, but this is possibly because there is a mining magnate's arse worth of exposition that needs to be done and the Doctor does all of it when Moff has set him up as knowing next to nothing about the society. Thus fucking insane leaps of logic and unclearly made conclusions are vomited forth endlessly. Look, clean glass! THIS IS A POLICE STATE! This water isn't shaking! THIS ISN'T A NORMAL SPACESHIP. I can't feel vibration at this point when I have frame of reference for where I am on the ship or even knowledge of the ship's design nor even have seen it from the outside. THIS ISN'T EVEN A SPACESHIP! I ran my hand over this mask for five seconds. IT'S 300 YEARS OLD AND YOU'VE BEEN MIND-WIPED 30 TIMES!

Lizzie-10 is a questionable sort of character as well - a strong female heroine who just happens to be the latest Royal and in an ultimate act of whackbrained PCness is the token black character for these 45 minutes. She's meant to appeal to kids, and oddly one of the ways she shows just how cool she is is by pulling out twin pistols and blowing away those sucka-punk Smilers. This is very incongruous in a show that has prided itself in being anti-weaponry quite recently, but I suppose there are similarly "SaywhathaFUCK" examples out there.

The line "basically, I RULE!" is the most kidshow thing I've seen on the show, I think, but is cool/cheesy enough for me not to hate plus gets a little bit of love not from the moment itself, but how HATED it would have been by Larry Miles, Alan Stevens, Ron Mallet and the other bloke who's name I forget.

Incidentally, I brought up her skin colour not because I'm racist (that's immaterial) but because it's a scientifical implausibility (if not outright impossibility). Studies from Brazil, the nation with the longest interracial breeding history shows that multi-generational inter-breeding moves always towards the whiter pigments over time, to the point that ethnicity has become nebulous for many people in Brazil and there are bucketloads of white natives. So for somebody as black as Lizzie 10 to have been descended from Elizabeth II, princes will need to marry some dark-skinned temptresses (full blooded) from somewhere in the upper middle class fairly soon in several different nations, so that THEIR descendants can inter-marry with MORE full-blooded black women and also provide a large pool of black men and women within the Royal gene pools to try their utmost to provide the maximum number of ebony progeny into the limited circles of which dowager princes and princesses are made.

So... yes. Sometime this century a scientist needs to isolate, replicate and disperse throughout the Royal houses of Europe the Jungle Fever virus or we shall never have a black queen who's a bad muthafucka don't take no shit from nobody and keeps her crown in the Tower of London with 'motherfucker' written on it. Jus' sayin'.

Now... from the endless tide of negativity you probably are thinking I hate this story. No. Because the end is really, really good. It's so good I wish it was somewhere else. Hell, I enjoyed the fact that Song of the Space Whale has now effectively been made after more than 25 years... I just wish they didn't have to foist so much fluff onto it's back to make it visually interesting in an inexpensive sort of way.

The slow revelation of the whale, the relationship with the children, the Doctor's cold yet irrational rage toward all humanity, the terrible choice he thinks he has to make, the fact that he's WRONG (Yes! The Doctor, wrong, in a Moffat script!) and Amy solves it all ties her beautifully into the story and continues her journey, something that they were trying to achieve in Dalek but was much less convincing that time around, because to make the companion look good you don't make the Doctor a macho fuckwit.

It does, of course, leave more questions about how they tethered the whale, how exactly the Doctor reaches the conclusion that they will all die if it is freed, how they managed to shock its brain building the giant ray, how they knew SO MUCH about how to do this when death was apparently raining on the planet and so on and so on...

This, in my opinion, should have been the story to get one hour. Whereas Eleventh Hour was padded, this story is on crack and still only just leaves things making sense. With that said, in the attitude that it's the destination that matters, not the journey (which means it can get a hell of a lot worse for the Starship UK inmates, btw...) TBB is indeed an above average story. If only just.

6/10

A random note, making a space whale spew is one of the MORE credible uses of the sonic screwdriver. The mouth and throat are a large echo chamber and considering the power of the screwdriver it shouldn't be hard for it to emit sound at a volume to vibrate the beast's tonsils. The sound in such a case COULD also have proven fatal to the Doctor and Amy, though so swings and roundabouts.


WHAT THOSE OTHER LOSERS SAID

Fucking n00b response: Kudos to Moffat for the references to The Doctor's other encounters with royalty - like in Tooth And Claw and the first episode of The End of Time.

...and Voyage of the Damned, and The Shakespeare Code, and Silver Nemesis, and The Crusades, and The Roundheads and Imperial Moon and the references to throwing a hat at Henry VIII and about FIVE BILLION OTHER STORIES. The world didn't pop out of God's birth canal in November 2005 you twat!


Larry Miles' response: No! You're NOT making me review this!

Den of Geek response: This is an episode that's set to stick in the mind some time after the credits roll, not least the moment where Moffat takes the Doctor into darker territory. For the Doctor’s solution to the dilemma of potentially killing the residents of the British ship or allowing the starwhale creature to remain tortured is to basically mentally kill it. The uneasiness of Matt Smith’s Doctor headed a little into Patrick Troughton territory at this point, and it was great to see.

Presumptuous response: What did the star whale remind you of?.. Let me guess! The Great A'tuin.. Was I right?!

My response, written by somebody else: IMHO, the reason this has happened is that TBB is a bona fide example of writing by memes, by which I mean that the writer has built the story not around a character, a situation or a dilemma, but around a disparate collection of memes (which Wikipedi defines as "a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices"). It's as though he's come up with his memes first, and then written a story to justify them (and hasn't really succeeded). So you've got:
Smiley-faced dummies in fairground booths that rotate to reveal scary faces.
A faded, post-WWII austerity Britain vibe.
Messages of impending doom being delivered in the form of a nursery rhyme.
A starship powered not by engines but by a giant creature.
A kick-ass member of the royal family who's a chav.
The whole dystopian, police-state thing.


Lexiconographically fascistic response: I rue the day that the terms meme and trope made thier way into the internet lexicon. Quite frankly I'd like them all to be killed and stuffed inside a frigging tumble dryer, because they've all become as meaningless as a Sarah Palin quote.

Then we can just get back to ideas, and whether we liked them or not.

Dan Davies response: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaassssssssssssssss syyyyyyyyyyyyy blad!!!!

Perfectly reasonable response: What is this tendency for actors in Doctor Who to try and sound like Smithfield market porters? Thank goodness Matt Smith doesn't speak in an accent designed to suggest that he is a cabbie or was raised in the ghetto, which is a great relief after Tennant and Eccleston (though at least Eccleston enunciated his words clearly, despite his accent).

But Liz Ten was just silly, and her accent doesn't set a particularly good example to young children either.

Ouiji technician response: It was like she was channelling the spirit of Dick Van Dyke

(incidentally, isn't it uplifting that her broken-toothed accent has received much more attention than her skin colour?)


Next time: Jared forgets to write a synopsis of the trailer!


Next review in a month's time.

6 comments:

Youth of Australia said...

Well worth the wait. Well, not actually, but a good review. Funny how we all mentally rewrote this story in our minds for previous teams, huh? Wierd thing is, I can understand why things are the way they are on UK, but NOT how they got that way...

For example, the Doctor escapes the whale by making the whale vomit. Fair enough, except he manages to get thrown up a tube (instead of say drowning) where there are two Smilers and an erase button. WHY?! Who are they expecting to pull that stunt? And if it's for the kids who survive... why give them the opportunity to vote? I have no idea.

As for the monks, well, they're the Winders, the blocks who run all the clockwork machinery in the city, and they're half-human because the full Smilers are complete shit (albeit immortal shit that runs the society so they don't do that stupid thing in the Ark where everyone has a set task so if one redshirt dies the entire civilization collapses).

Also, apparently this story was a last-minute replacement for another one where the Doctor and Amy explore the new TARDIS and find some roundel-patterned howler monkeys had set up residence.

So. Yeah.

But I expect the Dalek story should be easy to review. I mean, it's not like you LIKED it, is it?

I sure as hell didn't...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Wierd thing is, I can understand why things are the way they are on UK, but NOT how they got that way...

I think I'm the same really, the backstory is all quite confusingly imparted in this one..

Fair enough, except he manages to get thrown up a tube (instead of say drowning) where there are two Smilers and an erase button. WHY?! Who are they expecting to pull that stunt?

...yes, it's a perplexing one. They apparently thought of everything but then really, really weird ways of how to deal with that stuff..

As for the monks, well, they're the Winders, the blocks who run all the clockwork machinery in the city, and they're half-human because the full Smilers are complete shit

Well..... yes. But... I'm sorry, they're half perfectly normal human half mechanical sideshow attraction. The idea is not brimming over with logic..

Also, apparently this story was a last-minute replacement for another one where the Doctor and Amy explore the new TARDIS and find some roundel-patterned howler monkeys had set up residence.

Oh..... that explains a hell of a lot, actually.

But I expect the Dalek story should be easy to review. I mean, it's not like you LIKED it, is it?

... oh, dear...

Youth of Australia said...

I think I'm the same really, the backstory is all quite confusingly imparted in this one..
Yeah. I get the feeling this might have been edited a tad.

...yes, it's a perplexing one. They apparently thought of everything but then really, really weird ways of how to deal with that stuff..
The only explanation I can think of is the Queen insisted a "last chance" booth be offered, but for some reason the victims always missed it and ended up in the mouth.

Well..... yes. But... I'm sorry, they're half perfectly normal human half mechanical sideshow attraction. The idea is not brimming over with logic..
No, but Moff out and out admits he only came up with the half-human thing for no other reason than a shock reveal.

Oh..... that explains a hell of a lot, actually.
Yeah, it was going to be a TARDIS bottle episode. Maybe they scrapped it coz it was too similar to Amy's Choice or something...

... oh, dear...
Well, my point was not so much "if you liked it you are a derranged freak" but "if you hated it it will be easier to review".

Youth of Australia said...

Oh, BTW, finally went back to my guides with an 8th Doc/Lucie tale.

Not as good as your sex shoppe anecdotes, I admit...

Treptow: Who are you with, Doctor? The SOE? The OSS?
Doctor: The MSW.
Treptow: MSW?
Doctor: Ministry of Silly Walks. You think Hitler came up with that goosestep without a government grant?
Treptow: Mein gott! He speaks the truth! Only senior Nazis could know such secrets!
Doctor: [sighs] And yet again a random wikipedia article saves the day.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

It made me lol quite a few times, something about the 'usual goat-headed amateurs' line really got me.

Sounds like a hell of a weird story, though. The Dead London guy, eh? I really liked that story, not sure if I mentioned it..

Youth of Australia said...

It made me lol quite a few times, something about the 'usual goat-headed amateurs' line really got me.
Ah, good to know it's still funny.

Sounds like a hell of a weird story, though.
Oh, you betcha. In fact, subtract Captain Jack and it's pretty much exactly as described.

The Dead London guy, eh? I really liked that story, not sure if I mentioned it..
Yeah, he did The Song of the Space Whale too. Oh, see how these conversations return to their starting points!