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The Beast Below (over)Analysis

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Amuro
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« on: January 14, 2011, 09:54:38 am »

I have always really got a kick out of this episode, but acknowledge some of it's flaws. Mainly, I feel certain aspects of the story aren't fully explained. I re-watched it last night, however, and started to think that there is something much deeper under the surface that might explain this. Basically, I think the episode is a political jab against the state of Britain and the west and that Moffat had to tone down certain elements of the episode either because he thought it was too controversial, or because he was pressured by others.

Of course, to an extent this is obvious. The Doctor says of the voting system that it's typical of democracy. People are told the facts, but also that solving the problems behind them might make their lives less comfortable, so they vote for the easiest option and forget the problems and lessons learnt along the way. This is certainly true now, where, for example, in the North of England massive cuts are again happening under a Tory government, re-creating the problems of the past.

But I feel that this wasn't explained as clearly as it could have been. I think that Liz 10 is our entry point to the mindset of the whole of starship UK. They start to notice something is wrong, ignore it at first, but gradually start to raise questions. Of course the government could oppress the people, but that isn't the easiest way. Instead, they relied on human nature. Once, around every 5 years, the people start to question their situation, they are told the truth and given the chance to ignore it. Once they have to face the consequences and actually solve the problems, people prefare to keep the status quo. The people who do protest are dealt with silently by being fed to the beast.

Why the Smilers? These are basically the 'thought police'. They check that no one starts noticing the problems and, if they find someone doing so, they give them another chance to vote, knowing they will choose to forget. If anyone does start to cause a problem, they eliminate them for the 'greater good'. Although people don't remember what the smilers do (they have chosen to forget) there is a general fear about them that remains. This is why the doctor recognises a 'police state' when in fact the people seem reasonably free.

Finally, why are the children fed to the beast? I think this is where the polemic really comes into play. Children who are struggling, instead of being given support, are simply fed to the beast to become labour. I think a Marxist perspective is useful here. It symbolises how the working classes 'hold up' society like the star whale and are oppressed in order for the middle and upper class to go on with their lives. Instead of solving the problems caused by poor labour conditions and povety, those benefiting from the status quo choose to ignore it (this could also be seen as the relationship between rich nations and poorer nations). When children don't show the values the higher classes believe are needed to benefit from the status quo, they are ignored and left to become the oppressed workforce (we see this briefly at the end). even the rulers of Britain choose to ignore the plight of the people in order to maintain their position.

I really do think all of this is strongly implied, but sometimes not explicitly said. This is why some people question why the smilers are there and why the children are used as labour (and I acknowledge this isn't made clear in the episode). I can't help but feel that Moffat couldn't, for whatever reason, make these points explicitly. Ultimately, it seems a bit confusing because the government is presented as reasonably benevolent at the end despite the use of evil robots and trying to kill children! I think this was Moffat taking his foot off the pedal at the end to prevent the episode being seen a polemic. Saying these things about alien worlds is fine, but saying it about Britain, about our government and our royal family was probably a step to far for a family show on the BBC.

But, I really do believe this is what the episode is getting across, and so I see it as one of the bravest and clever episodes of recent years. I love when the Doctor says what he always does is 'protest'. Moffat uses this story to get across that element in the doctors character; that he stands for equality, hates oppression of any kind and always, ALWAYS, questions the system. That's why I love the Doctor, and it's captured perfectly in this episode!
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« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2011, 05:35:32 pm »

The thing with this episode is that it was very cut down, Moff has said so a few times. For timing more than anything else, which left it in parts slightly patchy. Also, unlike what you said about it taking its foot off the peddle politics wise, I disagree. The point was obvious, but I think Moff didnt realise that we got it and so used up a lot of time overstating it and pushing it at us. Some parts were more subtle than others, but then there are parts, like with Amy explaining the Space Whale, he had her say the same thing twice over in the same breath, like we couldnt grasp it with just the one mention. I do like the episode but I think even in its condensed form it tried too hard to put its message across, to the detriment of the overall story.
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Amuro
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2011, 09:55:45 am »

It's true that Amy does repeat some points at the end, but I thought that was more to do with how she comes to understand the Doctor rather than the situation on Starship UK. I think the only reason it was repeated was so they could have the scene with the Doctor and Amy looking out into space after the conclusion, which was important for the relationship between them.

Still, I think that although it seems very obvious where they are going with the nature of the Government of Starship UK, by the end they are presented as being reasonably benign. They explain why they have kept the secret from the Queen, but never why they feed the children to the whale or why they need to use the Smilers. It goes from the Government being an the corrupt rulers of a police state to them just trying to protect the population, and I can't help but feel that the story seemed to be heading to a much more darker version of the government that was scrapped for whatever reason (yes, the episode being cut down is a good one, but in the DWM special episode guides, it references all the bits that where cut and there isn't much that that would change this.)
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« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2011, 01:04:29 pm »

The thing with this I think, is that instead of having something interesting to say in the way of politics, Moffat just seemed to use the episode as a way of making snidey remarks about aspects of government. Perhaps he was vetoed by the BBC, but it came across as though he has things to say but instead of addressing them he wrapped them up in jokes. It's not a bad story all in all, but its a very messy episode
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2011, 06:13:14 pm »

I see none of this. The Beast Below is near-perfect IMO.
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« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2011, 03:21:28 am »

While I think the political commentary is certainly there, I personally don't believe it to be as intentional as some might think. Being a writer myself, I'm content saying that most modern writers don't start out thinking "Okay, I'm going to write a story about my views of my national government", or "I'm going to write about the growing apathy in western democracy". I know plenty of authors have done so in the past, but I don't think the idea works for television drama, especially for family-oriented shows. Stories would become too contrived, too forced if that were the case, if you ask me. I think it's merely a case of Moffat's views permeating his writing. He feels a certain way about the nature of modern democratic methods. Obviously, how he perceives a topic is going to work its way into stories that by their very nature touch on similar subject matter.

The same thing could be said for a number of Davies' stories, as well - take Gridlock, for example. In The Writer's Tale, Davies baldly states that he didn't set out to include any kind of commentary on religious devotion or faith. He made the people of New New York the way he did so that we as the audience could empathise with them, and see the suffering they don't acknowledge in a very exposed kind of way. But their faith is misplaced - there's no one up above to help them. He didn't intend for that to reflect his views on religious faith, but it's there. He summed it up quite nicely in one of my favourite quotes of the book: "Writing isn't just a job that stops at six-thirty... It's a mad, sexy, scary, obsessive, ruthless, joyful, and utterly, utterly personal thing. There's not the writer and then me; there's just me. All of my life connects to the writing. All of it."
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Torchwood Five

Episode I - The Brainstem Murders
Episode II - Vanishing Act
Episode III - Side Effects
Episode IV - The Villieneuve Incident
Episode V - Ritardando
Episode VI - Body Count
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