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.

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Doctor Who Series 5 Review: The Eleventh Hour

by William Hohmeister

Doctor Who, series 8, is due out August 23 starring Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, after three seasons with Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Steven Moffat, who capaldieyestook over as head writer and executive producer after Russell T. Davies left the show at the end of series 4, continues on as the “show runner.”

I recently watched series 2-4, starring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, and there I stopped. I need a break between Doctors, or I resent the incoming actor. I wanted to watch Matt Smith as Eleven without any prejudice.

It’s been a few months; I decided to watch series 5-7, the entirety of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor, and review the series’ as I went along. I hope this acts as both an interesting talk about the Eleventh Doctor, a refresher for returning Whovians, and an introduction for new folks. When series 8 arrives, I’ll also be reviewing it here.

The Eleventh Hour

The first episode of series 5 is well done and serves two purposes: to separate the 11th Doctor from the 10th, and to establish the theme of the new series. It fulfills both while telling an interesting story and setting up a potential series story arc.

Eleven is more boisterous than Ten; the first scene he’s in shows him hanging out of the Tardis and nearly colliding with Big Ben. The Doctor clambers back inside and crashes into Amelia Pond’s garden.

Amelia Pond, an orphan left alone in a too-big house, prays to Santa for someone to help her with a scary crack in her wall. This crack is actually a Crack in reality. She stops praying when she hears the Tardis and rushes outside to meet the Doctor.

The relationship between Amelia and the Doctor is strange and interesting from the start. I had never seen the Doctor with a child Companion before. I was surprised at how rude and unsympathetic he seems. Amelia rolls with him well, serving him food that he spits all over her kitchen until he finally drains a bowl full of custard.

The Doctor examines the Crack briefly and meets an eyeball that claims “Prisoner Zero has escaped”. The Doctor closes the Crack, but has to leave when the Tardis blares an alarm. He promises to return for Amelia in five minutes and take her with him. He leaves, she packs and waits outside all night. She does not see him for 12 years. When the Doctor returns he is knocked out by an older Amy Pond. When he wakes he doesn’t recognize her, but tells her about the hidden room in the house, hidden behind a perception filter; Prisoner Zero, a shapeshifter who escaped through the Crack in the wall 12 years before, has been living there in secret the entire time. When Prisoner Zero confronts them the sonic screwdriver breaks; the hero’s sword is sundered.

This is the point when I see Eleven set himself apart from the previous Doctors; Amy Pond reveals who she is and the Doctor blames her for the time that has passed. He never apologizes or admits fault. Eleven is a jerk, but I like him. He still acts like the Doctor, but he’s not nice about it, and that is an interesting change.

Shortly after Amy and the Doctor reunite we meet Rory Williams, a nurse and Amy’s boyfriend. Prisoner Zero shifts its form by placing humans in a coma and using their dreams. Rory notices that the supposed coma patients he works with often wander around town. His photos help the Doctor solve the mystery; the Doctor tells Amy and Rory to get to the hospital while he enacts a plan. In the end, after Prisoner Zero steals Amy Pond’s form (it appears as the Doctor holding young Amelia Pond’s hand, which is great and sad), the Doctor tricks it into appearing in its own form. The jailers, who have been threatening to incinerate the earth, take the prisoner back and prepare to leave. The Doctor calls them back.

The climactic scene both sets the Doctor up as his own new man and establishes the theme of the episode as fairy tales. When he first met Amelia the Doctor even commented that she had a “fairy tale name”. Amelia is a little orphan girl with a magical friend who fell out of the sky, is in love with the simple village boy, confronts a monster that borrows from the changeling legend and the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, and is about to embark on an adventure. The Doctor’s old screwdriver breaks, but the Tardis forges a new one. The only thing left is to establish the Doctor’s role as the hero, the most important part of every fairy tale; each character has to play a role.

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Can’t wait for this.

video via Doctor Who YouTube channel