The Beast Below
The Beast Below was the second episode of the fifth series of BBC Wales Doctor Who. It was notable for featuring Amy Pond’s first trip in the TARDIS. It also brought up some of the past interactions with royalty that the Doctor had in his other incarnations and what effects they’ve had, seen with the introduction of recurring character Liz 10.
On Starship UK in the year 3295, children sit in class waiting to be graded by their instructor, a Smiler. Timmy does not want to line up, and so he joins at the very end; the Smiler calls Timmy a bad boy and gives him a zero. As the students walk out, Timmy’s friend Mandy reminds him that he cannot take the vator; students aren’t allowed to if they have a zero. She leaves in one, promising to wait for him back in London. Not wanting to walk twenty decks to get there, Timmy enters the second vator as it arrives. On the monitor, a little girl recites a poem. Instead of heading to London, the vator drops down to Floor 0, with the floor in the vator opening to a red chasm beneath him as the Smiler in the vator shows its anger. Timmy screams in terror, and falls in…
Amy is suspended in space outside the TARDIS, the Eleventh Doctor standing at the ledge holding her ankle to keep her from floating away. Pulling Amy inside, the Doctor asks her if she believes him now; she does. However, she then questions how they can be breathing with the doors open; the Doctor calmly explains that he’s extended the TARDIS’s air shell. He then looks below them, seeing Starship UK and racing back to the console, going on to explain that in the 29th century, solar flares burned the Earth and forced the entire human race to flee to the stars until it was all over. However, he notices Amy hasn’t followed after him and is repeatedly calling his name; the doors accidentally hit her in the rear and she’s holding onto the TARDIS for dear life.
Pulling Amy back inside, the Doctor puts Starship UK up on the circular monitor, going on to say its the same UK, only metal. Amy asks if they can go aboard. The Doctor agrees, but goes through the rules: they are observers and cannot interfere, something that he has always (tried) to stick to doing in his travels. Amy compares them to filmers of a wildlife documentary. But when they spot Mandy crying silently on the scanner, the Doctor suddenly appears on the screen, asking Mandy if she needs help. The little girl runs away from him, and the Doctor beckons for Amy to join him outside.
Amy exits the TARDIS, and is immediately overwhelmed by everything around her. Once Amy says she’s been dead for centuries, the Doctor is less than amused: “you’re a cheery one!” The duo explores the area, known locally as the London Market, with the Doctor encouraging Amy to notice everything as there are “secrets, shadows, lives lived in fear.”
Abruptly, he stops and takes a glass of water off a nearby table, setting it on the floor and observing it for a brief moment before returning it; he tells those he took it from that “there’s an escaped fish”. He informs Amy that this is a police state: the government controls everything. The Doctor spots Mandy crying across the room, and they move towards her, followed closely by a dark-robed individual. The figure phones Hawthorne, controller of the Smilers, to report what he’s seen.
Hawthorne, likewise, calls a cloaked woman sitting on a bedchamber floor amidst a sea of water glasses; he tells her that there has been a sighting. She asks him if he “did the thing”; yes, he did. The woman tells him that she will take a look at the monitors, and grabs a porcelain mask before leaving.
The Doctor and Amy observe Mandy from a bench. The Doctor explains that children cry because they want attention or they’re hurt; when they cry silently, it means they can’t stop. He tells her that any parent would know that, making Amy ask if he’s a father; the Doctor doesn’t answer. He goes on to explain that several possible parents are passing Mandy and are not even bothering to talk to her, meaning it’s highly likely that they know what’s making her cry, and it’s something that they’re too afraid to talk about. The Doctor encourages Amy to follow the little girl, and ask her about the Smilers, because they are everywhere; even more disturbing is that the cases they’re in are clean. The Doctor tells Amy “it’s either this, or Leadworth”, prompting Amy to comply with his orders. As for himself, the Doctor explains that he’s going to do what he always does — “Stay out of trouble. Badly.” As they part ways, Amy asks the Doctor if he interferes with other lives and planets if children are crying. The Doctor confirms this with a grin.
Searching for Mandy, Amy encounters her in a street. They discover a sealed-off part of the road — which Mandy refers to as a “hole” — which Amy investigates despite Mandy’s warnings that they are not allowed; it has something to do with the Smilers and “below”. She asks Amy whether she’s Scottish, informing her that Scotland has its own ship, something that amuses Amy. Meanwhile, the nearby Smiler’s face turns angry as Amy enters the tent. Inside, she discovers a giant tentacle rising up through the ship from below; it attacks her and forces her back out of the tent, where she is immediately surrounded by a group of hooded men who put her to sleep with a gas in one of their rings as Mandy looks on.
Meanwhile, the Doctor descends a ladder into the ship’s “engine” room. After examining the surrounding area, he meets the masked woman, who tells him that she is conducting an investigation similar to the Doctor’s and demands to know why he thought to put the glass of water on the floor in the marketplace earlier. He relays his suspicions that, in a ship of this size, the engines would have created some sort of disturbance on the surface of the water — and yet there was none. In fact, it would appear that the ship has no engine at all. The woman replies in the affirmative and offers him a device that will lead him to Amy. The Doctor inquires how he can find her again, learning she is Liz Ten, and she will find him.
Amy regains consciousness in a voting booth as she’s scanned by a machine, confirming her name and reading her age as 1,306 years — which amuses her — and her marital status as “unknown”, which unsettles her. The screen switches to a video narrated by a man in a smart suit who tells her that she will now be shown the truth of the ship’s travels; afterwards, she will be faced with the choice to “forget” everything she’s learned in the booth or to “protest”. Should only one percent of the population protest, the project will be discontinued “with consequences for you all”. She is shown the film — a succession of subliminal images that suggests a huge influx of information — then suddenly finds herself having pressed the “forget” button and has no idea what she just saw.
A recording she made prior to forgetting appears on the screen, where, crying, she says to find the Doctor and get him off Starship UK to keep him from investigating. The booth’s door opens, with the Doctor and Mandy waiting for her outside; Amy quickly stops the message before the Doctor can see it.
From a scan with the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor deduces that a machine in the lamp above Amy’s head has made her forget the last twenty minutes. Mandy explains anyone 16 and older can choose to use a booth once every five years; the Doctor jokes that everyone choosing to forget is “democracy in action.” The Doctor brings up his not being a human, and is forced to tell Amy about the Time Lords, all of whom died on a “bad day”.
The Doctor makes a decision. “Hold on; we’re bringing down the government!” He slams his fist on the “protest” button, making the door shut and the floor open to the red abyss that Timmy fell into. While Amy screams in terror, the Doctor is overjoyed, telling her to instead say, “Wheee!” Both plummet down a chute. Liz Ten goes over to Mandy, who recognizes her without her mask.
Amy and the Doctor land in a rubbish dump at the heart of the ship, which the Doctor jokes is Lancashire. He then notices that only food refuse is down there with them, and Amy notices the floor is all squishy. A scan from the sonic tells him the truth: they’re in a mouth of a large beast. As pipes have been surgically implanted in the beast, they can try using the normal “entrance” to escape; however, it is “closed for business”. Amy tries walking to the teeth, accidentally causing the swallow reflex. To avoid being digested, the Doctor uses the sonic to make the beast vomit.
Amy awakens to find herself in an over-spill pipe, where the Doctor explains that she has no injuries and is covered in sick. The Doctor sees that the only way they can get back into the ship is to press another “forget” button. When they refuse to press the switch, the Smilers at the end of the corridor not only become angry, but physically step out of their booths and move to attack them. They are rescued by the mask-less Liz Ten, who enters from the other side of the door and shoots the Smilers down with a gun.
Liz explains that she tracked the device she gave the Doctor; she heard everything they did through it. Liz jokes that the Doctor is a bit hard to miss; “Mysterious Stranger M.O.; intelligence of higher alien life forms, hair of an idiot”. Walking through a hall, Liz goes on to explain the Doctor was old drinking buddies with Henry 12, “Vicky”knighted and exiled him on the same day, and he at least once shared tea and scones with Liz 2. “And so much for the ‘Virgin Queen’, you bad, bad boy!” The Doctor immediately realizes who Liz is: Queen Elizabeth X. Liz Ten. She makes them duck, and shoots down more Smilers. “I’m the bloody Queen, mate; basically, I rule”.
Walking through another corridor, they notice another root coming from the creature pounding against a barred opening. Amy explains her previous encounter with the root that burst through the road; the Doctor confirms that the roots are part of the same creature whose mouth they were just inside, and that it’s reaching out. Liz wonders if the beast is infesting the kingdom, but is more angry that someone is feeding her subjects to it. Explaining that there is a high-speed vator to her quarters nearby, Liz walks off with Mandy. Watching the roots continue banging against the bars, the Doctor sadly tells Amy that they shouldn’t have come here. Amy remembers her message to herself and follows them. Hawthorne sees them on the monitor and calls it in, saying that since Liz has seen the truth, it’s time to activate the protocol.
In Liz’s room, Amy fixes her hair as the Queen goes on to explain that she has been investigating the creature for ten years, ever since she came to the throne at the age of forty. Liz had the ageing process slowed down; “keeps me looking like the stamps.” With everyone knowing who she is, Liz wears her mask for anonymity; the Doctor notes that, because the mask is made of air-balanced porcelain, it must have been made to perfectly fit her face. He points out, though that it’s at least 200 years old.
At that moment, the hooded men enter Liz’s room and demand that she come with them. However, when she protests, their heads rotate to show angry Smiler faces; they are half-human, half-Smiler. Called Winders, they’re in charge of keeping the peace on Starship UK. Liz tells the Winders that she is still their Queen; they agree, but tell her that, on the highest authority, she must go to the Tower of London.
They are taken to the Tower of London in the bowels of the ship, where Liz meets Hawthorne, a senior member of the government. The Doctor reveals that the creature, whom they previously thought was malevolent, is, in fact, the ship’s means of flying; the ship was constructed on its back. They have a laser placed above the exposed pain center of the creature’s brain that repeatedly zaps it, torturing it into continuing.
Seeing children being put to work, they question this; Hawthorne explains that protesters and citizens of limited value are fed to the beast. However, it for some reason won’t eat children. He calls the Doctor and Amy lucky for being the first adults its spared.
The Queen demands the creature’s immediate release. Hawthorne insists that he is simply obeying the orders of a higher authority. Liz protests, calling herself the highest authority on the ship. The Doctor brings her attention back to the impossibility of her mask. How could a mask have been made for her specifically 200 years before when she’s only 50? The Doctor answers his own question: “They slowed your body clock, all right, but you’re not fifty. Nearer… three hundred.” She’s reigned the same ten years over and over again, each time choosing to forget the truth.
Hawthorne plays a recording of Liz Ten; she explains that the British people were faced with destruction when Earth was devastated by the solar flares, and the children screamed in pain. All other countries had taken to the sky, but they lacked the resources to build their own spaceship. But then, “like a miracle”, the creature — the last of the star whales — appeared to them. The government trapped it, and built their ship around it, using the creature in place of an engine. The recording once again gives Liz the option: “forget” or “abdicate”. Pressing abdicate will release the star whale — but in doing so will destroy the ship and kill everyone on board.
The Doctor allows the humans present to hear the star whale’s screams of pain through the use of the sonic screwdriver. He declares that there is no choice but a mercy killing. He will kill the conscious functions of the creature in order to keep it from feeling any more pain and allow it to continue to sustain Starship UK; it is the only choice other than either leaving the creature to endure more torture for centuries or killing every human on the ship… then states that he intends to abandon the name “the Doctor” once the deed is done. The Doctor expresses his fury towards all of the humans who have allowed this situation to arise; he is also angry with Amy for trying to keep the truth from him by pressing “forget”. Amy tries to apologize but he isn’t interested, and tells her that he’ll be taking her back to Leadworth after this is all over.
However, as the Doctor sets up the massive electrical charge which will render the star whale brain-dead, Amy remembers the Doctor’s encouragement that she notice everything; she quickly ascertains that, while the roots will attack adults, they do not attack children. Amy watches as a root plays with Mandy and Timmy. She realizes that the star whale is, in fact, benevolent and has been voluntarily propelling the ship for the humans because of its compassion for the children. She makes Liz Ten press the “abdicate” button, and the brain stimulus halts. The star whale’s freed. The whole ship shakes.
However, much to their surprise, the creature continues to power the ship, with Hawthorne observing that they have actually increased speed. Amy huffs at him, “Yeah, well, you’ve stopped torturing the pilot!” Liz wonders why the star whale hasn’t dislodged itself from Starship UK yet, before Amy reveals it volunteered its services- the humans were so desperate for help, they did not catch wind of its intentions. They outright trapped and tortured the creature for fear it would abandon them in their time of need. Explaining her actions, Amy says that “if you are very old and the last of your kind” like the star whale — and also just like the Doctor — then “you just can’t stand there and watch children cry.”
On an observation deck, the Doctor looks out into space, deep in thought over the events that have just transpired. Amy walks up behind him, handing the Doctor Liz’s mask as a souvenir from their adventure there. She explains that Liz has decided that there will be no more secrets in Starship UK; everyone will know the star whale is to thank for their salvation from the inferno on Earth. Calmly, the Doctor points out to Amy that she could have killed the entire British nation if she was wrong. Amy points out that he could have killed the star whale. She knew how it would react because of its similarities with the Doctor — “Very old and very kind, and the very, very last. Sound a bit familiar?” They share a hug.
They walk through the market street, back to the TARDIS, as Amy wonders if it’s really okay to leave without saying good-bye. The Doctor tells her that they’ll wonder about that and come up with stories, saying it’s a big day tomorrow. Amy, shocked, stops and asks him what he means. The Doctor tells her that it’s always a big day tomorrow for him because he skips the little ones. Amy, relieved that he didn’t know about her wedding, asks him if there was anything he ever ran away from because he was scared or just because he could. The Doctor says yes, but it was a long time ago; his travels through time and space were the end result. Amy tries revealing the reason she wants to go back the morning after they took off, but the sound of the TARDIS phone ringing distracts them.
Inside, the Doctor works on the TARDIS console as Amy answers the phone. Learning that it’s his old buddy British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Doctor takes the call. Winston tells the Doctor that he’s in a bit of tricky situation; he asks the Doctor for help — as the shadow of a Dalek glides into view. The Doctor and Amy set off to help Churchill.
Amy recites a poem, a positive reprise of the verses spoken by the young girl from the Vator monitor.
The star whale continues to ferry humanity through the stars. The people will enjoy newly found freedom and liberation from their police state, but — unbeknownst to the residents of Starship UK — a luminous, white crack has appeared on the hull of the ship. One rather like the one on Amy’s bedroom wall…