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6 March 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 795: The Beast Below

Dear diary,

Every so often in this marathon I find myself approaching a story that I just know I’m not going to like. Usually it’s because I’ve seen it before and it’s left a less than favourable taste in my mouth. When these episodes come along (thankfully, it’s a rare occurrence), I find that one of two things happens. Either the episode ends up being even worse than I remembered (as was the case last week with Planet of the Dead, which went from being one I didn’t remember fondly to being one that I really didn’t enjoy), or it swings the other way and ends up being rated probably a little above what it deserves because I’m so taken aback by the fact that I’ve enjoyed it. I’m pleased to say that today’s episode has fallen into the latter of those two categories.

I wasn’t at all expecting to like this one. First time around it felt like crashing back down to Earth after the highs of the previous week’s massively confident start to the new regime. Since then it’s simply occupied a place in my mind filed away with other stories that I never really intended to watch again in a hurry. But actually, there’s quite a decent little story tucked away in here! Oh, sure, it’s not ever going to win prizes as being the greatest episode of Doctor Who ever made, but it’s a perfectly serviceable one to pass 45 minutes, and if we take Series Five as being intended as a new start for an audience unfamiliar with Doctor Who (which is certainly what the production team seem to have been thinking in places), then it provides a crucial tent-pole in that regard.

We’re introduced to the idea that the Doctor is a Time Lord and the last of his kind. There’s none of the mystery built up around it that we had in The End of the World, because it’s not needed - from the point of view of an established audience, we already know what happened (roughly). From a new perspective the description of the Time War as ‘a bad day’ simply fills in enough to keep the conversation moving. The story gets a little less subtle towards the end when trying to about the point about the Doctor and the Star Whale being very similar (they make the point twice in the Tower of London, and then just in case you don’t get it, Amy comes to find the Doctor again and spell it out as plainly as she can), but on the whole it works.

There’s also some rather nice design work in this episode to help set it apart from the tone of Doctor Who from the last few years. One of the things that felt a shame first time around was that this story didn’t feel like it was following the same fresh new look established with The Eleventh Hour, and while it’s certainly true that this is perhaps less honed in places, it certainly does have its own unique style, and it’s really rather lovely. I’d never noticed, for example, the way that the elevators are designed to resemble the London Underground - right down to the tiling on the walls outside them. That’s a nice touch.

And while I’m on the subject of design, I’m going to mention it, because I know I’ll never get around it it otherwise: the new TARDIS. I remember not being all that fussed on the white window frames and shade of blue on the exterior when it was first revealed. I didn’t dis*like it, I just didn’t particularly love it, either. Now, though, I have to confess that I really *do like it. The interior… maybe it’ll grow on me this time around, but I was never that fond of this console room. Something about it just felt that bit too much like a set, in the way that the previous version of the room didn’t. It just doesn’t quite gel with me in the way that the coral did immediately. Not to worry, though, because the greedy Eleventh Doctor gets two console rooms, and his next one is much more up my street…

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