Doctor Who: The Beast Below

Your friendly local election candidate

In his second outing as executive producer and main series writer Steven Moffat seems to have followed a pattern, established by his predecessor Russell T. Davies, of putting the “here and now” in strange ‘future’ situations. This is a pity, because it underrates his own imagination and the audience’s ability to see themselves from an altered perspective within a totally strange world. Had Starship UK been populated by a totally alien race it would not have altered our empathy for them and would, I believe, have enhanced it because all those twee Disneyland-like UK icons scattered around the story simply distracted from the pathos of the story. Frankly I don’t believe people are so shallow that they can’t connect with characters unless they are framed as the everyday and familiar “us”.

It was Darko Suvin who defined Science fiction as “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment.”

In other words, SF allows you change everything so that you can view a situation from a fresh perspective without having all that baggage of prejudices and biases we all carry getting in the way of the real point of the story.

Another way to look at science fiction is as an anthropological thought experiment. And an hour wasn’t long enough to explore, or indeed explain, all the ways Britain had changed as a nomadic star travelling species (not to mention all the bits that hadn’t). Why were those gruesome, fairground manikins (  being used to teach children and why where children thrown to the beast below when they did badly at the schoolwork? It would be easier to accept a situation like this in a culture that was already alien and that didn’t beg for a sequence of explanations to these odd changes to “our” culture.

The story itself was interesting with a happy “feel good” twist at the end that Steven Moffat is noted for, though I did feel I was being rushed through it in order not to dwell on all the plot holes (again).

My fear is that the pressures of being Executive Producer and main series writer might force Steven Moffat to churn out substandard scripts the way that Russell T. Davies seemed to do.  My hope is that we begin to see some fresh and stylish stories from a very talented writer who quickly develops the confidence to be different from his predecessor.

Written by Peter Grehan


    Frank Sable

    April 13, 2010

    I thought that perhaps the election aspects were included to give the story current relevance, after the rumours of a UK election first started. Their timing wasn’t bad at least.

    Perhaps the “Beast Below” didn’t refer to the creature at all, but to the human subconscious?


    April 13, 2010

    Lets hope so. He’s a great writer.

    John Campbell Rees

    April 13, 2010

    The child was thrown to the beast for breaking the rule about travelling in the lift without any credits to pay for it. Success or failure meant the difference between an easy journey home, and a long hard slog. Quite a motivator to do well at school.


    April 14, 2010

    Very cerebral. A lot of Science Fiction takes place in “an imaginative framework ABSOLUTELY THE SAME AS the author’s empirical environment” [I said that]. Anyway I liked it, and I like the new Doctor. On a nit-picking note, wasn’t the 30th Century when the Daleks invaded Earth? Wibbelly-wobberly timey-wimey indeed.

    Iwan Dowie

    April 14, 2010

    I’m not sure if I would refer to Russel T Davies or Stephen Moffat as writing sub-standard scripts. The purpose of Doctor Who is to entertain, and like most ‘entertainment’ based programmes holes in the plot are to be expected. I feel the blog written by Peter takes an obvious academic and philosophical view of Science Fiction, whereas for the population at large they are content with a quirky storyline without the need to analyse to deeply the context of the programme. After all many viewers are below the age of 10 and therefore the writers need to reflect a wide age and demograhic range in their stories. Doctors and nurses often complain of the lack of reality associated with programmes such as Holby City, but likewise they miss the point – Who would want to watch an hour’s wntertainment programme viewing a nurse emptying bed pans or writing up all the paperwork!

    Frank Sable

    April 15, 2010

    Perhaps we should start throwing fair dodgers down old mine shafts. That would solve that problem, one way or another. It would be very much in the tradition of British fair play and moderation – not!

    RTD is a good scriptwriter, it just that some of his actual stories were a bit dodgy.

    Peter Grehan

    April 15, 2010

    “Very cerebral. A lot of Science Fiction takes place in “an imaginative framework ABSOLUTELY THE SAME AS the author’s empirical environment” [I said that].”

    Then it can’t be science fiction then can it?

    Rob Lane

    April 16, 2010

    I tend to agree with Iwans take on Peters appraisal of writers ‘short comings’ and see the good Doctor as entertainment rather than a full on Sci Fi. Rememember that this is Saturday teatime fare for the masses, and it all comes together.
    I have to say though that the good ship UK drifted in to Red Dwarf territory when we had the long shot at the end of the episode! Did the Beeb raid their stores cupboard?

    Peter Grehan

    April 16, 2010

    Rob/ Iwan I don’t think the two things need to be mutually exclusive. Just because Doctor Who is entertaining it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of academic mileage in it or that that has no relevance. Looking back at some of the early stories tells us a lot about the concerns and anxieties of the times and how those influenced the creation of the Daleks for example.

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