“The Beast Below”, the second episode of the new series of Doctor Who, has the Doctor whisking Amy Pond out of her bed on the eve of her wedding and into the far future. The TARDIS lands on a giant spaceship, the Starship UK, and the Doctor is out and about before Amy can even catch her breath, or change her clothes. She spends her first off-world adventure in her nightgown. The Doctor immediately notices that there is something wrong with the spaceship, and of course is off to investigate. This is a story filled with lots of action and adventure, with shades of the Gunpowder Conspiracy/V for Vendetta type of conspiracy and mystery.
This episode is a good example of why i enjoy Steven Moffat’s writing so much. He throws the Doctor and Amy into an unknown situation with a dark and/or menacing feel to it. There is something wrong with the Starship UK. It flies without making any kind of vibrations. While the people seem satisfied with their life, they are wary of the Smiler enforcers, and keep their distance. A situation like this is pure temptation for the Doctor, and he has to keep digging until he finds the truth. What he finds is a moral dilemma that shakes him to the core. What Moffat does so well, is to take this dark, and seemingly impossible situation, and turns it around in a believable way. He sets up the solution so that it makes perfect sense by the end.
He’s also good at coming up with memorable characters. Besides Amy, the Doctor gains another ally in his search for the truth; Queen Elizabeth X, or Liz X, who knows some stories about the Doctor that were passed down from Queen Elizabeth I. She is not your typical monarch. She is very gung-ho, and jumps into the action, as she fights against her own government to discover the truth. Moffat comes up with some memorable villains too. The three-faced Smilers in this episode are a perfect example. They are ordinary, and yet creepy at the same time. The old-fashioned carnival look of the faces already have a high creep factor, but as they go from smile, to frown, to red eyes and fangs raises them up to just plain scary!
Amy really shines in this episode, as we get to see her in action, and not just following the Doctor around and trying to understand who he is and what’s going on. Even though she’s good in the first episode, it’s in this episode that she proves she’ll be a great companion. She’s smart and sassy, and is willing to stand up to the Doctor when necessary to tell him he’s wrong. Or in this episode’s case, shows him /since/ he won’t listen, and saves him from what could have been the biggest mistake of his life. The whole scene in the Tower of London is one of the most intense and best scenes of the series so far. She seems to have a knack for putting pieces of information together. Pieces the Doctor misses, mostly because they have to do with him, and are things only an outsider watching him could see. This episode is an affirmation as to why the Doctor needs a companion. And best of all, there isn’t any “lovey-dovey” stuff developing between them! That’s the worse thing one can do with a companion. They may feel something for the Doctor. It’s hard not to love him for all his quirks and arrogance, but please spare us the meaningful looks.
And what about this season’s overarching theme, the crack? Well, you’ll just have to watch the whole thing to catch it. This is the best episode of the series so far. Moffat has done a spectacular job putting together and casting the 11th Doctor and Amy, but there are still 11 episodes to go, and a lot can change.