by William Hohmeister
Instead of one episode of Doctor Who today I decided to review two, out of order: “The Beast Below” and “The Vampires of Venice.” “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” come between these two episodes, but I’ll review them next time.
“The Beast Below” and “The Vampires of Venice” are both bad episodes, although a bright spot appears in “Vampires” when Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) joins the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) in the Tardis. His character is the only good thing about either episode, however.
“Beast” and “Vampires” both try to capitalize on the fairy tale theme introduced in “The Eleventh Hour”. Both feature monsters – an enormous creature hidden in a spaceship in “Beast”, and guess who in “Vampires” – a moral dilemma, and the Doctor and Amy continuing to occupy the roles of hero and victim, respectively. Unfortunately, neither episode moves beyond this basic setup.
The plot in each episode is dull and unimportant. A space whale in “Beast” is tortured into carrying a spaceship with millions of humans on its back. The Saturnyians, a fish-like alien in “Vampires,” want to repopulate their species in Venice after a crack in reality destroyed their planet. Both sound interesting, as they present the Doctor with a moral dilemma. Or they should, but the plots are solved without trouble.
“Beast” is the worse offender. The dilemma exists because freeing the space whale from torture condemns the ship and kills millions of people, but the alternative condemns the whale to unending pain. The Doctor decides to lobotomize the whale, as the least of all evils, so that the ship survives but the whale feels nothing. Amy Pond frees the whale before he can, and the ship survives. The whale, like the Doctor, wanted to help.
The aliens of “Vampires” plan to sink Venice so their children, who live in the canals, can mate with the genetically altered human women. Rain starts to fall, but the Doctor stops it and the queen alien kills herself.
In each episode the characters behave as if time is racing, but it’s not. The Doctor decides to lobotomize the space whale without considering other options, such as finding alternate transportation or moving the humans in the Tardis, and then freeing the whale. When rain starts to fall in Venice, everyone freaks out immediately, but the rain is not heavy and the city doesn’t begin to sink. The plot needs the characters to pretend they have no time because if they don’t, the plot falls apart.
The characters also disappoint. Neither Amy nor the Doctor grow or learn. Amy is supposed to act as the Doctor’s savior in “Beast,” but she behaves selfishly and is self-absorbed. Things matter only if they affect her. Every human on the ship votes whether to free the beast or to have their memories wiped so they can continue in safety and ignorance. Amy Pond voted to forget, and somehow left herself a video message on the voting terminal to get the Doctor out. She decided to abandon a creature in unendurable agony and a society in terrible trouble because she didn’t want to upset the Doctor. When Amy frees the whale she risks the lives of millions of people, which the Doctor points out. Amy doesn’t seem to care, and the Doctor drops it.
The Doctor is the most inconsistent character. He seems only to care about Amy – she’s the only person he puts himself in danger for – but he threatens the Saturnyians because they don’t remember the name of a girl they killed. The Doctor didn’t seem to care the girl either, and he comes off as self-righteous rather than genuine. Amy compares him to the space whale in “Beast” as old, lonely, and kind. I said above that the whale and the Doctor wanted to help, but only the whale matters to the episode; the Doctor has no effect. And while the whale forgives the humans, the Doctor condemns them and decides to take Amy home. Amy objects and claims she can’t be blamed because she can’t remember, and that is when I stopped caring about her character.
Rory Williams is a nice change of pace in “Vampires” as an actual adult who objects to the stupid plans of Amy and the Doctor. Amy decides to join the aliens as a nun – or something – so she can sneak the Doctor inside their base. Rory and the Doctor say it’s too risky, but only Rory remains adamant and the other two overrule him. He actually reacts to the vampires as a person might, horrified and disturbed by all the people they’ve killed, while Amy and the Doctor treat it as just another adventure. He also calls out the Doctor as dangerous and irresponsible, which feels long overdue, though this is only the fifth episode of the series. I’ll probably focus on Rory in future reviews, because he is the only character I feel any connection to.
Next: the two-parter “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone.” Though not nearly as bad as these two episodes, the two-parter has its own share of problems.