the beast below

What makes Amy Pond’s rich history with the Doctor so interesting is that she has every reason to hate him. Consider: when she first meets him, he eats one bite of probably everything she has in her fridge or cupboards, making her slave over a hot stove at the age of what, eight? Then he inspects the crack in her wall, opens it to reveal a huge scary creature, and then skips off at the first toll of the Cloister Bell to disappear for her entire adolescence. So basically, he’s the plumber who comes around, drinks all the lemonade, then takes one look at the leak and says “let me get some tools from my van,” then drives off in the van and leaves her pipes dripping. For twelve years.

Would you spend that time worshipping a man who ate all your fish fingers and then ran away leaving you to cope with the knowledge that there’s a monster in your wall (eyeball or anglerfish, either one’s terrifying) that he failed to remove?

Probably you hate him to a degree that whacking him with a cricket bat and handcuffing him to the radiator isn’t quite going to resolve. Even if he does finally come back with the number 6 pipe wrench and stop the drip, it could easily take a whole season to work out that distrust and resentment. That’s why the cop-out resolution of “The Beast Below” doesn’t quite feel earned: when Amy says that the Doctor is someone very old and very kind who would make any sacrifice to stop a child crying, she has no reason to think any of these things are true of him and every reason to think that they’re not.

But let’s assume, along with her four psychiatrists, that she’s a bit mental on the subject of this Time Lord. Logical or not, we know she, like everyone else in the new series, thinks the Doctor is a two-hearted Jesus. We’re still left with the uncomfortable fact that a moral dilemma as difficult and compelling as any this series has ever presented has been resolved via the never-proven assumption that the slave enjoys his work.

Up to that point, though, this is a pretty awesome episode. It’s full of sexy imagery, from the floating city and its steampunk trappings to Liz Ten and her porcelain mask. Yes, Moffat’s still mining “The Girl in the Fireplace,” trading French marionettes for seaside fortune-teller dummies (love their third faces) and a historical polymath noblewoman for a futuristic swashbuckling monarch (love her real face). But this time it’s in the service of an allegory with real gravity about the choices we make as a society and the people and natural wonders we step on in order to reach for the stars. The impossible choice this leads to is the same one we face in real life, and that’s why the Doctor’s resolution is so much more shocking and interesting and honest than Amy’s. That’s why Amy’s is actually downright horrible, if you replace the Beast with any of its possible analogs in real life.

That’s why it’s best to punch the “FORGET” button and soak up all the other pleasures on display. At 42 minutes, it’s too short for all the imagery to really pay off (I would have traded the vomit scene for three more minutes sketching in a few more details of this future society), but in concept and execution (if not resolution) it’s exactly what I hoped for from Moffat’s tenure. Let’s hope that next time round neither he nor Amy lets the Doctor off so easily.