Doctor Who: The Beast Below (Second Verse Same As The First…)

So to a large extent I could repeat last week’s post about the show as my review of this week’s.

After two weeks, it now looks like MoffWho will be, more or less, a series of remakes of the Welsh Series as if they’d been written by a competent writer. Not, necessarily, a *good* writer, but a competent one, which is, to be frank, more than we had for most of the Welsh Series so far. In this case, what we had was What If… The Long Game Had Been Better Than It Was And Had Those Creepy Puppets In Coin-Operated Booths From Old Fairgrounds In It?

Along with that, of course, we *also* had the second trip for the Doctor with his new companion being to a future spaceship with people from Earth who’ve escaped its destruction and a woman who, thanks to rejuvenating treatments, had lived a long, long time. (And next week we’re getting the Celebrity Historical By Mark Gattis. It seems we’re following the template of Davies’ first series exactly).

And it’s all seeming a little… calculated. We’ve got Moffatisms (cute little girl scared of common childhood fear) coupled with Davies’ series structure, mixed in with some of the more annoying Welsh Series aspects (we did *NOT* need another monologue about how special the Doctor is, especially in a story where the companion solved the problem).

And I’m still not convinced, *AT ALL*, by Moffat’s characterisation. He writes the Doctor as if he’s been given a description of what the character’s like, but without having ever seen an episode. Which is still an improvement over the previous series, which last I saw had no consistent idea of what the Doctor’s character was meant to be (unless, ‘unpleasant, annoying and prone to Kenneth Williams impersonations’ counts as characterisation). And in much the same way, Smith’s performance seems off. It’s definitely the same *kind* of character as the Doctor, but it’s not the Doctor I know. I’ve heard him compared to Michael Palin and Jim Carrey, and both of those seem apt at different points (he makes me think of Emo Philips myself, the way he gangles and folds himself up), and while I can see *some* people casting either of those as the Doctor, I wouldn’t cast either (though Palin might be interesting, thinking about it…)

And the worst thing of all is the fact that the dialogue is so reliant on cliche. Almost all the ‘witty’ lines were ones I could see coming from three lines earlier (“OK, the Doctor’s doing something ‘wacky’. That means the companion will say *this* confused line, which will allow the Doctor to make *this* reply. Oh I was right. Again.”) and some of the other stuff was frankly painful. I don’t care if “Help us, Doctor, you’re our only hope!” was meant as a post-modern ironic pop-culture reference or whatever, it’s still a terrible line.

And yet…

The plot only had the normal number of plot holes, the Doctor was shown as an actually decent person trying to do good, the dialogue was only not-very-good, rather than terrible, again the turning point was someone actually using their brain, and most importantly, *the story was based around an actual moral dilemma, and both the Doctor and his companion acted properly*. That dilemma was somewhat cheapened by the everybody-lives ending, but even that ending was set up from the very beginning, as a proper actual consequence of things that happened in the show – and brought about by an independent action of the companion, rather than just being Davies ex machina.

It’s still far from what I’d hope for in a series of Doctor Who, and it’s still problematic (and WHAT THE FUCK was Moffat thinking with the menacing black man in a hood? That’s NOT the kind of imagery you should be playing around with) but it’s better than anything from the five previous years, by some considerable margin, and I’m always willing to forgive the occasional lapses of a sinner that repents. I’m definitely going to watch at least the next few episodes, and I’ll see how it goes from there. I don’t love this – I’m not even sure yet if I like it – but on balance I don’t *dislike* it, and that’s a start.


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20 Responses to Doctor Who: The Beast Below (Second Verse Same As The First…)

  1. John F says:

    Each to their own opinionwise, but actually the story line delves into more levels than you realise at first. Think about it more.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Please don’t presume that I’m stupid. I’m perfectly capable of picking up on all the subtleties of a children’s TV programme.

  2. Dave Page says:

    I’m hoping that the voting at age 16 was a cunning return to subtle references to Lib Dem policies ;)

    • Jennie says:

      Subtle? ;)

      Andrew: would point out that the menacing guy in the hood only turned menacing when he turned white and plasticky.

  3. Bill Reed says:

    I thought it spoke to all that stuff about morality you talked about last week.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Absolutely. And that’s one of the main reasons I think it’s worth giving the show a chance…

  4. Bob Temuka says:

    Excellent points, argued well. I couldn’t disagree more with you when it comes to new Who, but at least you’re willing to argue the point, rather than resort to valueless snark.

    You certainly have some valid points when it comes to the overall morality of the past five years, but I do genuinely think that almost any other era of the series could be found to be ethically dodgy. The first Doctor was a bit of a fan of the Reign of Terror, and the seventh wiped out whole worlds.

    While it had supreme moments like the that part in Genesis of the Daleks, where Tom Baker is crouching down in that corridor with those two bits of wires, there were a hell of a lot “what, what?” moments in the old series, a tradition that still exist in the new.

    It’s not that anybody involved, from Verity and Sid to Russ and Steve, are morally corrupt, but that there were certainly moments of ideological clumsiness that exists in almost any part of fiction, if you look hard enough. The broader fiction is played, the easier it is to read a different way, and nothing is broader than Doctor Who.

    By the way, have you ever been tempted to read A Writer’s Tale, Andrew? It might be a bit too indulgent for you, but it’s a good look inside Davies’ rationales and thinking.

    • The first Doctor was a bit of a fan of the Reign of Terror

      Um, except he wasn’t. (We even covered this in the comments section when Andrew reviewed the first episode.)

      • Bob Temuka says:

        Sorry, that was the first one that popped into my head and I should have remembered those comments. There are plenty of other examples of the first Doctor treating people badly, especially the way he started out, but that one was pure laziness on my part and cheerfully retracted.

        • Okay, your general point is a good one. But that is all pretty much over during the first season. Even by the end of that, the Doctor might be irascible but he at least looks after his own. ‘Reign of Terror’, the last story of the first season, is actually quite a good example of that. The Doctor risks everything to save his companions, dismissing all advice to the contrary.

  5. Dave Page says:

    If you’re going to be watching the new series of Doctor Who, I’d advise watching the Doctor Who Confidential episodes on BBC3 as well – I’ve just seen the most recent one and it has Moffat talking about Doctor Who as fairytale, and a few other things that will probably interest you more than the usual “ooh aren’t the cast pretty” bits that go into DWC.

  6. Oliver Townshend says:

    It seemed far better than the first episode, and as you say, the previous 5 years, because its a) almost back to being a kids show (although I don’t really trust Steven Moffat in this regard), with some level for adults (like a Pixar movie, as opposed to a soap with innuendo and cheap political shots) and b) the Doctor or the companion have solved the problem by thinking, not be deux ex machine (which I can accept once if its done correctly but not repeatedly). I can accept a show for kids & adults being predictable, although I wouldn’t want it to be a trend in my favourite TV shows.

    As regards predictability, I have a friend who is sick of modern “thrillers” because she claims she can always predict the ending. And she does. And once she pointed this out, I found I could/ Is this part of modern movie/tv making? Are the riffs and themes and plots of modern drama just items to pull from a bag and assemble like a jigsaw and call “story”? Or are we in a post-modern world where we have seen it all, so we are condemned to just see it again and again? Or is it just that you want to be an author, and now all you are seeing is technique?

  7. Seb Patrick says:

    >a) almost back to being a kids show (although I don’t really trust Steven Moffat in this regard)

    Out of curiosity, why not? It’s not like he doesn’t have form in the kids show field…

    • Oliver Townshend says:

      Yes he has done kids shows, but Dr Who isn’t quiet that, for instance the new companion is a kiss-o-gram (which could be construed as a stripper).

      • Kissograms are now such a thing of the past that the sole example of one on their Wikipedia entry is Amy!

      • Wesley says:

        I once saved a great quote from a Terry Pratchett interview which I think is relevant here:

        And people will say: ‘Well it covers very adult subjects …’ Yeah, that’s why it’s a book for kids. Because you want kids to grow up to be adults, not just bigger kids.

      • Shinydan Howells says:

        I keep on saying “strippogram” when I’m quoting this line. Especially given the Grand Moff’s past efforts, I suspect that she was a stripper in early versions of the script and then got Parentally Guided to her current job before they made the show.

  8. Nathan says:

    “and WHAT THE FUCK was Moffat thinking with the menacing black man in a hood? That’s NOT the kind of imagery you should be playing around with”

    Seemed to me that all the “stormtrooper” type guys were wearing robes and the actor who tried out for that role was black. Or should that have precluded him from getting the role?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      You might not be aware that in the UK people who wear tops with hoods (‘hoodies’) are demonised on a regular basis by the right-wing media, in contexts which contain a lot of racist (as well as classist) overtones (and are otten conflated with Asian women wearing burqas into a general fear of the dark-skinned ‘other’ covering their faces). In the particular context of Britain, right now, ‘dark-skinned person with a hood on is a baddie’ sends a particular, rather unpleasant message.
      (Not that Moffat was *intending* to send that message, but it’s there nonetheless).

      • Mike Taylor says:

        I think you’re seeing things that aren’t there.

        I don’t want to live in a country where black people aren’t allowed to wear hoods on TV.

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