dws5: the beast below

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Steven Moffat Appreciation Day Countdown Challenge
November 12: Favourite villain

In The Beast Below, the villain is the structure of society itself. While in reality governments rarely explain their sins openly, if you’re reading this you are probably capable of accessing the internet, from which the generalities at least are easily found. No one needs the exact details of the human exploitation, environmental degradation and kyriarchy that our society is built upon to know that it’s indefensible. The torture of the Star Whale stands for it all.

The message is simple: terrible things have been done to protect you. They are not necessary. The answer is not torture and fear and murder: the answer is courage and insight, and for those in power to abdicate.

Protest, or forget.

Moffat loves poetry.

“A horse and a man, above, below,
One has a plan, but both must go.
Mile after mile, above, Beneath,
One has a smile, and one has teeth.
Though the man above might say “hello,”
Expect no love from the Beast Below”

“Demons run when a good man goes to war.
Night will fall and drown the sun,
When a good man goes to war.
Friendship dies and true love lies,
Night will fall and the dark will rise,
When a good man goes to war”

“Tick, tock, goes the clock, and what things shall we see?
Tick, tock, until the day, that thou shall marry me.
Tick, tock, goes the clock, and all the years they fly.
Tick, tock, and all too soon, you and I must die.
Tick, tock, goes the clock, we laughed at fate and mourned her.
Tick, tock, goes the clock, even for the Doc…
Tick, tock, goes the clock, he cradled and he rocked her.
Tick, tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor”

“The trap is set. The Doctor’s friends
Will travel where the Doctor ends
His friends are lost forever more
Unless he goes to Trenzalore
This man must fall as all men must
The fate of all is always dust
The man who lies will lie no more
When he lies at Trenzalore
The girl who died, he tried to save
She’ll die again inside his grave”

“And now its time for one last bow
Like all your other selves
Eleven’s hour is over now
The clock is striking Twelve’s”

I have launched a Kickstarter funding drive for my third 5th Edition D&D module, Wyrmkeep Dungeons BW3: The Beast Below. In this adventure a party of 6 to 8 characters of 1st to 3rd level become embroiled in a battle with malign forces threatening the residents of the local town. How are the strange ruins beneath the town involved? And what is the proper attire when attending a gala… featuring treachery?! Learn more by visiting The Beast Below project page via this link:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1867564967/wyrmkeep-dungeons-bw3-the-beast-below-a-5e-dnd-adv

The Beast Below - Doctor Who blog

(SPOILER WARNING: The following is an in-depth critical analysis. If you haven’t seen this episode yet, you may want to before reading this review)

Remember those awful social satire episodes RTD used to write during his tenure? Episodes like The Long Game and Bad Wolf with social commentaries so obvious it feels like being hit on the head with a two ton anvil wearing concrete slippers and carrying an anchor? Thank God we don’t have to put up with those now Moffat is in charge, right?

Oh.

The Doctor and Amy arrive on Starship UK in the 29th century where solar flares have roasted the Earth and now the human race is searching the stars for a new place to live. But something is not quite right. How can Starship UK be flying without an engine? What monstrous creature dwells at the bottom of the ship? Who is the hooded woman in the mask? What’s the deal with those Smilers? What exactly happens inside the voting booths? And why the fuck should I give a shit about any of this?

In case you missed the oh so subtle political allegory that Moffat has cobbled together here, The Beast Below is supposed to be a satirical jab at the UK’s electoral system by way of The Matrix. No seriously. The whole Forget and Protest stuff is a direct ripoff of the red pill/blue pill scene from The Matrix (and it wasn’t very good then). The problem Moffat runs into is the same one RTD continuously ran into whenever he tried these types of episodes. Too much focus is given to the glaringly obvious satire and not enough goes toward actually developing the setting, giving us a reason to care about the characters within that setting, or explaining how the mechanics of this world actually works. If anyone who presses the Protest button just gets fed to ‘the Beast,’ why bother giving them a choice at all? Why not just erase their memories and let them live their lives in blissful ignorance? And why do the voting booths let you record messages to yourself? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of forgetting?

Then there’s the Smilers. Immensely creepy at first, but… what’s the point? Things briefly get exciting when they suddenly get out of the booths, but they don’t actually do anything other than shamble very slowly toward the protagonists. What threat do they actually pose? What’s their purpose in this society other than to admonish small children? Same goes for the guys in the hooded cloaks. The reveal that they’re in fact half Smiler, half human was nicely executed, but again… what’s the point?

But my biggest question mark is on Liz 10, aka Queen Elizabeth X. I loved Sophie Okonedo in the role. She possesses a lot of natural authority and charisma, and I really like that in the future we have a black, Cockney monarch.

Liz 10: “I’m the bloody Queen mate. Basically i rule.”

Unfortunately Okonedo is let down by Moffat’s writing. What do we actually learn about Liz 10? She cares about her country? Okay. Not exactly a startling revelation, is it? The problem is, as I’ve said numerous times in the past, Moffat can’t seem to write women. It’s as if the only way he knows how to write a ‘strong independent woman’ is to make her a sassy, gun toting badass. Not that there’s anything wrong with women being sassy, gun toting badasses of course, but it does get a bit boring after the 25th time you’ve seen it, plus there’s more to being a sassy, gun toting badass than just being sassy, gun toting and… badassy? (Is that a word?) How about an actual backstory? Some light and shade. Offer us something that’s more emotionally complex and thus more captivating to watch. As much as I enjoyed Okonedo’s performance, her character is incredibly one dimensional.

And I haven’t even mentioned how she factors into the plot. It’s revealed that she’s actually over 300 years old and that her body clock has been slowed down so that she looks nearer 40. Why? What’s the point? Why keep her alive for so long? She’s investigating the possibility that the government is conspiring against her, but the only reason she knows is because the government itself keeps dropping little hints every 10 years. What for? And then she’s given the choice to either Forget or Abdicate, which brings me to the same question I had with the voting booths. Why give her a choice in the first place? You’ve already got the Star Whale chained up and flying your ship. It’s a bit late to start having second thoughts.

Ah yes. The Star Whale.

Now I’m not going to comment on the idea of an alien whale living in the vacuum of space because it’s Doctor Who. If I were to comment on all the scientific inaccuracies in this show, we’d be here all day. I will however comment on the wasted potential here. There’s a tricky little moral dilemma taking place in this episode. The last Star Whale has been chained up and tortured for hundreds of years. That’s horrible obviously, but it’s either that or letting everyone in the UK die. Whose life is more important? The last Star Whale in existence or millions of humans? It’s a good ethical conundrum. Pity they don’t bother to explore it. Nope. The Doctor just marches in and says the humans are more important. Wait, hold on a minute! Let’s not be too hasty! Obviously nobody wants to kill millions of humans, but it’s not like Starship UK houses the only humans left in existence. There are other starships out there somewhere. There’s only one Star Whale left, but there’s still billions of us. Is it really worth making a species extinct to save one spaceship? RTD kept running into similar problems during his tenure too. There’s the potential to have an interesting moral debate, but it’s abruptly cut short because the Doctor is the so called ultimate authority and what he says goes.

And then of course Moffat proceeds to let all the air out of the debate entirely when it’s revealed that the Star Whale wasn’t captured against its will at all. It volunteered to help because it couldn’t stand to watch children crying (from space. It can see children crying from space). So it turns out the humans were the bad guys all along and it was never that morally complex to begin with. Thank God. For a moment there, I thought things were going to get interesting. (On a side note, I’m surprised the Star Whale is still willing to keep flying Starship UK after all the torture it endured for centuries. if it was me I’d have fucked off. Also is everyone just going to ignore the fact that the government has been feeding people to it? Under Liz 10′s orders I might add. Don’t forget this was all her idea before she pressed the Forget button).

Which brings me to the final climax. While it’s nice to see Amy put the pieces together by herself and work out what to do, couldn’t we have done it in a way that doesn’t involve reducing the Doctor to a complete blithering idiot? How come he didn’t notice? It’s not as if the children crying reveal was some obscure thing. That guy said to his face that the Star Whale doesn’t eat children. How come the Doctor didn’t put two and two together. And don’t get me started on his bloody solution. Having decided the humans are more important just because, he then decides the best course of action is to fry the poor whale’s brains out and make it a vegetable so that it won’t feel the pain of its torture. Well first of all, people in vegetative states can actually feel pain, and second of all, this sounds like quite possibly the most unDoctorly solution I’ve ever heard. Moffat, what were you thinking?

And then things just went from bad to worse when Amy starts making painfully obvious comparisons between the Doctor and the Star Whale. They’re both old and the last of their species. All that pain and misery and loneliness and it just made them kind. Add Murray Gold’s overly whimsical soundtrack over the top and I was practically on my knees begging them to stop.

Somewhere buried in this compost heap of pointless satire and underdeveloped concepts lies the seed of a good idea. Unfortunately Moffat just doesn’t have the skill to nurture and develop it. Outside of Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Sophie Okonedo’s performances, there’s not much to like about The Beast Below. 

I vote to Forget.