Doctor Who Review: The Beast Below and Vampires of Venice

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 beast belowlobotomize 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.

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7 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: The Beast Below and Vampires of Venice

  1. These particular episodes were never favorites of mine. I generally skip them when they come on. I often found the episode of “Beast” to be confusing and disjointed. How could Amy choose to forget and then leave herself and the Dr. a message? That never made sense to me. And why was he in such a hurry to lobotomize the poor animal? 10 would never have done that. He definitely would have found another way. 11 didn’t even try.

    And Vampires was ridiculous for the reasons you mentioned. These episodes made me truly question Steven Moffett as the showrunner.

    Of this particular Doctor’s companions, Rory was really the only one that I could connect with. And I often wondered why he was attracted to Amy. Her character was annoying to me. I am looking forward to the interaction between Clara and 12.

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    • I’m looking forward to Clara and 12, too. I liked Amy in the beginning, and thought that as she developed, she was a victim of writers who just don’t see Doctor Who the way I do.

      Agree that these are some of my least favorites.

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  2. As with much of New Who, the poor thing is a victim of bad writing. The dilemma of The Beast Below breaks my heart, but the episode is just so odd and disjointed. The entire setup with the weird clown robot things and everything all just has nothing to do with the whale, and no one’s motivations were very well explained. I hadn’t even noticed the not-actually-ticking-clock, but you’re totally right. And even though I love Eleven and Amy, I also love your observation that Rory is the only one who acts like an actual adult.

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  3. I always felt like a lot of the goal in The Beast Below was to help introduce people who were entirely new to the show to the idea of both the Doctor and the Doctor’s Companion. So Amy gets to have most of the action and important decision-making, and the crux of the whole thing is the analogy between the Star Whale and the Doctor – basically using this to introduce people to the idea of the Doctor.

    They were in so many ways re-booting the series with series 5 that someone seems to have thought this was necessary. And so it happened. There’s definitely better stuff in this season, though!

    Like

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