So with the taxing problem of how to introduce a new Doctor and new companion out the way the second episode of this season of Doctor Who gives us perhaps our first glance at what the season is really going to be like. And if it is then we are in for an interesting synthesis of new and old Who.
The setting for The Beast Below is straight out of classic Who. We've got a starship. We've got corridors. We've got a mystery. But the presentation is new Who. It moves fast (sometimes too fast). It has a scope that the older series never had the budget for it.
Moral dilemmas are certainly nothing new for the Doctor, but it was nice to see him in a situation where he didn't have a good answer. Amy Pond certainly isn't a token "girl power" companion. In only two episodes she a remarkably rounded character who is capable of holding her own even against as strong a personality as the Doctor.
Karen Gillan again nails her performance as Amy Pond and it's the chemistry between her and Matt Smith that really keeps this episode moving. Take that out and while the plot is interesting, it's not really anything special. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's Doctor Who by the numbers. The characters and the dialog are what makes it so fun to watch. Some of the strongest moments involve the Doctor and Amy talking to each other with no one else involved. There are some shots where Gillan's expressive face and eyes speak volumes.
Visually though it's a treat. I loved the smilers. They are the perfect creepy monster for Doctor Who and the "star whale" was wonderfully cosmic and kooky. The sets are great, keying in on a lot of things that are seen as typically "British" and combining them in a way which tells us we're in the future but also makes it obvious this is a future where they are looking back at the past.
Unfortunately for the second week in a row there are some weak CGI effects. I don't know if it's the result of the budget cuts for the show or if it's Steven Moffat over-reaching what his team can produce. It's not a show stopper, but it does distract a little.
If I have any real criticisms of The Beast Below it's that the secondary characters don't get much time to develop. The only one that gets as much as a personality is Sophie Okonedo's Liz Ten (a character I'd be happy to see again).
So the season is shaping up nicely. We've got a story-arc hiding in the background (cracks in the universe), we've got a Doctor and companion who spark off each other. We've got aliens old and new. And I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
Oh and of course next week we have Daleks!
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