I love how the first thing that Moffat does, when running this show, is by completely laying into Britain and British attitudes.
Although there are unfortunately all too many who will say otherwise, Britain has got a dark history. They often say history was written by the winners, and that’s all too true – Britain won a lot of stuff over time, hence why we get away with a whole lot of shit we really shouldn’t have done, and hence why there are way too many people who glorify our past. But Moffat isn’t one of them, and he lets rip here. Amongst many of the worst people the UK has churned out, a philosophy has sort of developed, which involves pushing your Britishness onto as many people as you can possibly find. Moffat makes that toxic philosophy extremely relevant here, because not only does Britain enslave a Star Whale, which is a parallel in itself, Britain literally forces itself on the back of it.
Moffat builds this rich critique of Britain and ‘British values’, right down to the education system (the people who don’t do well are chucked out), our treatment of the rejects of society, of those who have suffered because they haven’t had good upbringings, our treatment of criminals – all are chucked out of the spaceship to be eaten! And there’s something delightful in the irony of the fact the children who are rejected by society, when they come together, they actually liberate the ship from that toxic Britishness. I’ll come to “very old and very kind” in a minute, but Moffat builds a resolution partly on the optimistic note that regardless of whether change is incoming or not, it will eventually happen – because one day, society’s rejects, society’s slaves, the kids and the Star Whale, will realise their errors, as they do here, and they will stop and they will change things. It’s very hopeful.
Moffat also isn’t going to hold back on the royal family either, because it’s Liz 10, the embodiment of royalty, who allows this all to happen. He’s very gracious, actually, in making Liz 10 such a lovely and awesome character, because he needn’t have to get his point across. But it is royalty, the traditional representation of our British values, and therefore of our horrendous history of colonialism, that is, as they always do in history, forcing Britishness onto the Star whale.
There’s also a few subtle notes on race. Britain is full of racists and it’s prevalent here – the Queen’s mask is white, to hide the fact she’s black. Also, there’s a black Winder, whose face turns and the Smiler side is white. That racist element of British society has slithered onto Starship UK, and it’s still there, subtly hiding away, as it always does.
It’s so clever in the way it deconstructs the nastiness of British society and of British attitudes. Because of that, it is a script that now, in 2017, is arguably even more relevant than it was in 2010. The abhorrence of British society and British values has been exemplified by figures such as Nigel Farage – actually, the entirety of UKIP – actually, the Tory party as well. And it all culminated last year in the Brexit vote, the shadow of which now, is all the more prevalent – because that icky aspect of our society is even more open than it ever was before.
But let’s not forget the relevance of this script in 2010. Here we have a government, on Starship UK, that cannot be held to account, because everyone chooses to forget about it – but let’s be honest, they don’t really have a choice, unless they want to be eaten. But that is a governmental system that is held to account by the end, and Moffat is telling us that we don’t have to forget the icky actions of the government and we all should be protesting against them. We should all be pressing protest instead of forget. Eg. The vile actions that led to the Iraq war. In 2009, the Iraq Inquiry begins collecting evidence and that continues throughout the first two years of the Moffat era. Accountability for the Iraq War is beginning to happen.
And let me be clear, this isn’t a script telling people to hold governments to account by ousting them. Eleven says “let’s bring down the government!” and he eventually realises that isn’t going to work. In 2010, that would mean ousting a Labour government to be replaced by a Tory one, which I can imagine Moffat would rather die than write. It’s a script that, before the General Election of 2010, is saying that we need to have an end to this politics of acceptance and we need a new kind of politics of accountability.
Gun to my head, the sole problem – and this is still relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, is the heavy handed-ness with which Moffat handles the parallels with the Doctor and the Star Whale, when he strays away from the usual delicacy with which he works with themes. It’s a bit strange because this is the one time he does it – he gets progressively better at it, of course, but here it is a bit insistent with Karen having to say the same line over and over again. Having said that – I’m not sure I can blame Moffat for letting that be the case, considering half the stuff he does nowadays goes over a lot of heads. However, the lack of gentleness is obvious.
Personally, what makes my little heart swell are the parallels between Amy and Mandy, the little girl. Both reach out to their respective old and lonely creatures to save the day. It is Mandy, reaching out to the Star Whale, that causes Amy’s revelation, and it is Amy reaching out to the Doctor afterwards that causes our new TARDIS crew to continue on their journey. The narrative can progress, because a sad girl reached out, and not because it is being repeatedly tortured by the BBC for another ten episodes until the series is eventually finished.
And so we’ve got something deliciously meta going on here, as not only is the Doctor a parallel to the Star Whale, but the Star Whale is a parallel to Doctor Who. It’s a very old show, and it’s not only the last of its kind, it’s basically the only one of its kind *ever*. Just as the Star Whale swooped down from the skies to save a dying society and then keeps them alive on its back, that’s what Doctor Who does – it keeps our forever-damaged society by supporting it and guiding it through. Not only that, but it’s hated by those at the top – it’s no secret the BBC, and hell, several political parties, don’t like Doctor Who, perhaps because it’s left wing, perhaps because it’s very anti-establishment, who knows. But the government in The Beast Below don’t like the Star Whale, just as important people in our society don’t like Doctor Who.
And crucially, this is our first routine episode in a while, and it’s a key indication of Doctor Who breaking away from the narrative the post 2005 show has developed. Just like the Star Whale broke away from its routine of torture, Doctor Who is breaking away from its routine – Doctor Who is breaking away into the Moffat era.
But there’s something so stunning about the thought of Doctor Who not just being a mechanical spaceship, but a beautiful living creature that wants to help.
As Amy reaches out to the Doctor, I reach out to Doctor Who, all the kids back in 2010, like me, reach out to Doctor Who. And just as Amy’s fairytale can continue, my fairytale of Doctor Who can continue. Just like the Star Whale kept flying to keep the children safe, Doctor Who kept progressing to keep me safe.
All to stop a child from crying.
The Beast Below – 9/10