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Immediately after the events of the previous episode, the Doctor takes Amy to the distant future, where she finds Britain in space! After solar flares roasted the Earth, every nation took to the skies. Starship UK houses the future of the British people, as they search the stars for a new home. They land in what seems to be a normal, nice and British marketplace, but the Doctor tells Amy to "notice everything" - they're actually in the midst of a police state. Then he places a glass of water on the floor, for seemingly no reason. "There's an escaped fish"? Oh really? Well, Doctor, you're being watched, and it seems that you just did "the thing"...
The Doc notices that everyone is terrified of those smiling robot fellows in the booths, so he sends Amy to interrogate an upset little girl. She does so, but she can't stop herself from stumbling upon a tentacle. In a hole, in the road. That's weird, but what's weirder is the sinister-looking group of hooded fellows spraying her with sleeping gas.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is off staying out of trouble (badly), and has headed to the engine room with another glass of water. Something's very wrong here — "an impossible truth", as the mysterious lady in front of him calls it. Wait, what mysterious lady? She wears a spooky mask and a red cloak, and demands to know the Doctor's business with that water. Turns out there isn't an escaped fish, but rather an escaped engine - were there an engine on a ship this big, there would be vibrations. The water would move! The woman needs the Doctor's help in unearthing the truth, and tells him that her name is... Liz 10. She is played by Sophie Okonedo.
Amy wakes up in a "voting booth", and there are three buttons before her — protest, forget and record. She is identified (Age 1,306?! Shut up!), and a film starts to play on the TV screen before her, apparently detailing the history of Starship UK. Suddenly, a whirlwind of images flash by. Children screaming, violence, terror, pain, and most prominently... the Sun. But no sooner is it all over than Amy finds her hand on the forget button. What just happened in those last 20 minutes? A clue to this is offered as Amy's recorded message to herself starts to play. On screen, a distressed Amy pleads "This isn't a trick, this is for real, you've gotta find the Doctor, and get him off this ship!"
Just then, the Doctor arrives. He examines the lightbulb at the top of the room — standard memory wipe, must have erased about 20 minutes. But why? And why would Amy choose to forget? Well, according to the crying girl from earlier, Mandy, everyone chooses to forget. But the Doctor isn't scared, and smacks the protest button. Unfortunately, this catapults both him and Amy down an air-pressure cannon. They land in what appears to be a rubbish dump. But the Doctor soon figures out that it's a tongue. So they're in a giant mouth. Great. The Doctor triggers a vomit wave to escape, but the switch to exit this dark chamber... is a forget button. And those Smiler androids in the back are getting pretty irritable.
The pair are rescued from the Smilers by Liz10, who takes them up to her quarters whilst making remarks about the Doc's history with her kingdom. And why is it her kingdom? Well, that would be because she's been Queen Elizabeth X of England for 10 years! They slowed her body clock to keep her looking like the stamps. In her room, there are a lot of water glasses. And her mask... it's rather old. Very, very old, an antique. Porcelain, too. Stays on because it's perfectly sculpted to her face. So what? So everything, Liz... Just then, some of those hooded blokes show up and ask to take Liz to the Tower of London. She refuses, but it seems that these particular politicians are half-Smiler.
Down in the Tower's torture chamber they find a rather odd installation: a laser in the ceiling perpetually fires shots into a very large pain center. Piecing together the puzzle, the Doctor figures out that this pain center, the mouth, and the tentacle from earlier are all part of one creature, and... it's what they have instead of an engine. And they're torturing it to keep it going. And then we find out what's wrong with Liz's mask. It's at least 200 years old... and perfectly sculpted to her face. Wait, that can't be right, she's only been Queen for 10 years! Oh... dear. The same 10 years... over and over again, always leading her to this same place — a voting booth. It's her choice: forget or abdicate. Her own recorded message to herself starts to play.
When the solar flares originally roasted the Earth, the UK weren't quite quick enough to make a ship. Their children were screaming as the skies grew hotter. But then it came... like a miracle... a Star Whale. A massive, old, gentle creature, and the last of its kind. They trapped it, built the starship around it, and now they torture it to keep it moving. Heartbreaking. But hey, at least they feed it... with trash... and people. Protesters and citizens of limited value, to be precise. But it won't eat the children. If Liz chooses to abdicate, the ship will disintegrate and everyone will die. But if she chooses to forget, poor old Space Whale will be in agony for another decade.
The Doctor realises that Amy recorded that message to herself ("Get the Doctor off this ship!") because she didn't want the Doctor to have to make an impossible choice. Bad move, Amy — you don't decide what he needs to know. He tells her that her days as his new companion are over already. The Doc Takes a Third Option, preparing to lobotomise the whale so at least it won't be in pain. He says that it's the most horrible thing he'll ever have to do, and he'll just have to pick a new name because he can't do this and live with himself as a "doctor" any longer, but there's nothing else that can be done.
Seeing the tentacles playing with some cute children, Amy takes the Doctor's advice from earlier and notices everything — "it won't eat the children", "our children screamed!" "It came like a miracle," "Never interfere in the affairs of other planets, unless there's children crying?" "Just me now." "The last of its kind." And then she realises the truth.
She grabs Liz's hand to press the abdicate button and release the whale, at which point Starship UK starts moving faster. But why? Surely the Whale would take its opportunity to escape? No, the kindly old Space Whale simply wanted to help in the first place. They didn't need to torture or trap it. It came because it couldn't bear to see the children cry.
Afterwards, the Doctor tells Amy she couldn't have known that. She responds that maybe he couldn't have known, but that an alien, the last of his kind, who has been through pain and anguish, and just become kinder and unable to see children cry, was something she'd already seen. The Doctor stares at her for a minute, then yanks her into his arms and buries his face in her shoulder. They return to the TARDIS when the console's phone starts ringing. It's Winston Churchill and he wants the Doctor's help, while a Dalek is standing in his office.
As they leave, though, we see that there's a crack in the starship...
- Action Girl: Liz 10 is very much made of Badass.
- Anvilicious: Hit us a little harder with the "Doctor = Space Whale" parallel, why don't you?
- Apocalypse How: Solar flares toasted the Earth; probably rating around a Class 4 (biosphere extinction). Destroying Starship UK would have been a Class 0, as each nation had their own ship.
- The Atoner: Queen Elizabeth X.
- Attack of the Monster Appendage: The tentacles/stingers are seen at various places in the ship before the reveal that they are all part of the body of the Star Whale.
- Bad Vibrations: Played with — the Doctor's first hint of the Beast's existence is when he notices that the liquid in a glass of water isn't vibrating, which it should be if the Starship had engines running.
- Big Damn Heroine Liz 10 blasting those smilers.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: The Star Whale grows tentacles into the ship and has some sort of anti-squid tentacular tail.
- Belly of the Whale
- Blatant Lies: The Doctor tells Amy he never interferes. And that he always stays out of trouble ("badly").
- Rule One.
- Book Ends:
- Broken Angel: The poor Star Whale.
- But Thou Must!: The Powers That Be encourage people to Forget by:
- Keeping the Protest threshold low (if 1% of the passengers Protest, everybody dies),
- Making Her Majesty's vote a Golden Snitch that would destroy the Kingdom, and
- Feeding protestors to the Beast (though the voters, of course, don't know this).
- Cliff Hanger: Winston Churchill calls to summon the Doctor's help as a Dalek silhouette glides towards him...
- Cloudcuckoolander: Eleven, turning it Up to Eleven, fittingly. Of course it turns out to be a case of Obfuscating Insanity. Or fortuitous insanity, we'll see...
Doctor: Sorry, checking all the water in this area; there's an escaped fish.
- Continuity Nod: The solar flares that drove people off the Earth, previously mentioned in "The Ark in Space" and "The Sontaran Experiment".
- There's also a large Magpie Electricals sign above the hole in the road.
- Liz 10 knows about the Doctor's affair with the "Virgin Queen".
- And that the Doctor and Queen Vicky didn't quite see eye to eye.
- "You look Time Lord."
- The Doctor's extremely brief explanation that he is the last of his kind. "Bad day" indeed...
- Apparently the British government still believes that sending underperforming children to a Fate Worse Than Death for the benefit of society is still acceptable.
- Creepy Child: With matching creepy nursery rhyme, natch!
- Disproportionate Retribution: A little boy gets sent down to the Beast for...failing a quiz and then trying to take the subway-elevator-thing.
- Everybody Lives: While it's implied that people have been fed to the whale through the
yearscenturies, from the start of this episode to the end, not a single character dies.
- Five-Finger Discount:
Doctor: This fell out of her pocket when I accidently bumped into her. Took me four goes.
- For the Evulz: Apparently, the rulers of England allow the people to vote on whether or not to continue torturing an ancient creature... or die. Why bother? Unless it's because they need to feed it and can't be bothered to build a farm on their gigantic Space Whale star ship for all of England...
- Friend to All Children: The Doctor cannot help but stop to help a crying child. Also, the Beast Below.
- Liz Ten gives this vibe when talking to Mandy as well.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Those who know the "impossible truth" aren't proud of what they've done; they considered it necessary to save the Kingdom.
Presenter: Here, then, is the truth about Starship UK, and the price that has been paid for the safety of the British people. May God have mercy on our souls.
- Infant Immortality: Justified, and the clue as to what's really going on.
- Internal Homage: As in "The Parting of the Ways" the Doctor has to make a moral choice he does not want to, before the companion intervenes.
- Iron Woobie: The Star Whale. Say what you will, there's something touching about choosing to continue ferrying the humans who tortured you for roughly two hundred years.
- Karma Houdini: The secret police, who fed the star-whale with everyone who hit the protest button, and "undesirables".
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The "Forget" button in the voting booths.
- Last of His Kind: The Star Whale. Amy compares his situation to the Doctor.
- Mama Bear: Liz Ten is furious at the idea of someone feeding her subjects, especially children, to the Star Whale.
- Moral Dissonance: Granted he was very upset at the time, but the Doctor telling Amy, who waited fourteen years, that he's going to drop her back on Earth after messing up on her very first trip?
- To make matters worse, she only did so in order to prevent him from having to make a Sadistic Choice. I mean, geez, Adam did far worse!
- That's trivial compared to the fact that the government is going to get away with all the horrific stuff they did, including feeding dissenters to the whale, and the Doctor didn't do a thing about it.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Liz 10 discovers that the star-whale's torture is carried out on her orders, and she resets her memory every ten years when she's told about it again.
- Mythology Gag: Churchill is an old friend of the Doctor. Indeed, he met the Sixth Doctor a few times in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novels.
- Nose Tapping
- Not So Different: How Amy saves the day. Incredibly old, a Friend to All Children...
- Oh Crap: "I'm not leaving and I'm not forgetting. What are you going to do, stick out your tongues?" Then they stand up.
- Older Than They Look: Liz 10.
- Pajama-Clad Hero: Amy, spending the whole episode in her nightdress.
- Poor Communication Kills: Man, wouldn't everything have been easier if the Star Whale could have just told them it was volunteering its services?
- That happens when you can't even communicate in the audible wavelengths.
- Powered By An Endlessly Tortured Space Whale
- Press X to Die: Feel horrified from what you've learned from the video? Then press protest and get sent into the mouth of the beast powering the ship.
- Punch Clock Villain: It turns out neither the Smilers nor the Winders are actually evil. They were acting on the Queen's orders.
- The Doctor doesn't like people who are Just Following Orders.
- Robotic Reveal: The hooded men reveal themselves as hybrid Smilers by turning their head around.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Liz 10, who has been trying to solve the Starship UK's problems for
tenthree hundred years.
- "I'm the bloody queen, mate. Basically, I rule."
- Sadistic Choice: Everybody's options basically boil down to: (1) Continue torturing the Star Whale, or (2) kill the entire country.
- Schizo-Tech: Life on the spaceship involves a large number of very low-tech things.
- Schmuck Bait:
Amy: Oh, don't mind me! Never could resist a "Keep Out" sign.
- The "Protest" button.
- "If this is just the mouth, I'd love to see the stomach! ... But not just now."
- Shout-Out: Help us Doctor you're our only hope. And the tongue scene was very similar to the Death Star garbage scene. And the Idiosyncratic Wipe.
- There's also a sinister, talking version of the Test Card Girl.
- Did anyone think the closing scene of the Star Whale was reminiscent of Great A'Tuin?
- The tentacles look and act like they came straight out of the first Half-Life game.
- The lettering of "STARSHIP UK" on the voting booth TV screens resembles the old BBC logo, especially as seen on the 70's BBC Station Ident. Though, while the lettering was similar, it was more likely a reference to this ident.
- All of humanity fleeing their devastated homeworld on a fleet of ships, sinister robots that can impersonate people...this episode could almost be called Battlestar Britannica.
- The superfast propulsion powered by a tortured alien is similar to the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Equinox". It could just be that they're running off of the same trope, though.
- From the outside, Starship UK resembles Rapture.
- Or one of the cities from James Blish's "Cities in Flight" books.
- Star Whale: The last of them.
- Space Whale Aesop: Because we all live in starships powered by space whales.
- Take a Third Option: Double-subverted; the Doctor's Third Option is almost as bad as the other two, but Amy realises the Second Option won't have the results everyone thinks.
The Doctor: "Look, three options. One, I let the star whale continue in unendurable agony for hundreds more years. Two, I kill everyone on this ship. Three, I murder a beautiful and innocent creature as painlessly as I can. And then I find a new name, 'cause I won't be the Doctor anymore."
- Take That: When the Doctor and Amy are in a smelly, icky part of the Starship UK, the Doctor guesses they are in Lancashire.
- The Theme Park Version: Starship UK is like a "Britainland" theme park made of a hodge-podge of British props. And it looks good.
- This Is Gonna Suck: A tide of star-whale vomit rushes towards the Doctor and Amy:
The Doctor: Right then! This isn't going to be big on dignity.
Amy (about when she will/was get/got married): "Well, it's kinda weird. A long time ago, tomorrow morning. I wonder what I did."
- Title Drop: Three times:
- Though the man above might say hello, expect no love from the beast below...
- The dream must end, the world must know, we all depend on the beast below.
- No, that's not going to work on me. Big ol' beast below decks, and everyone who protests gets shoved down its throat. Is that how it works?
- Town with a Dark Secret: Except it's a starship, but the trope still holds.
- The Un-Reveal: "Amy Pond. Age: 1,306. Marital Status: [Amy waits in suspense] …Unknown."
- Viewers are Morons: OK, so the Star Whale is this clever metaphor for the Doctor see? He keeps saving mankind but is put through unending pain because of his choices. He just needs someone to show him again that it's a choice, not a painful obligation. Pretty darn blatant. Then why did we have to have it explained to us in the episode THREE WHOLE TIMES!?
- They even include the line "The Star Whale is the Doctor".
- What Do You Mean It's Not Political?: Considering it aired during the approach to an election, could be a commentary on increasing voter apathy. To forget could be anything from not voting to sticking with the same old party owing to familiarity. Protesting, on the other hand, could be voting for a different party to electing a new party into power or even spoiling one's ballot. If you think about it, the mechanical Smilers are symbolic of Britain as a Nanny State, with the Winders being the politicians claiming to work for the Queen/for the better of Britain.
Eleventh Doctor: Once every five years everyone chooses to forget what they have learned. That's democracy in action.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Amy calls the Doctor out on his choice to lobotomise the Star Whale. The Doctor calls out everybody on the ship for setting the situation up in the first place, and Amy for not telling him the truth.
- White Mask of Doom: Initially played straight when Liz 10 is introduced, but then becomes subverted when it turns out she's one of the good guys. Then it becomes a Chekhov's Gun, allowing the Doctor to deduce Liz's true age.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Amy's expression as she's drifting in space (with the Doctor hanging onto her foot), protected only by the TARDIS forcefield.
- A horse and a man: above, below/One has a plan, but both must go/Mile after mile, above, beneath/One has a smile, and one has teeth/Though the man above might say hello/Expect no love from the beast below.|Creepy Little Girl
- In bed above we're deep asleep/While greater love lies further deep/This dream must end, this world must know/We all depend on the beast below.|Amy