The Beast Below is an unusual story even for Doctor Who, with the 2010 episode focusing on an itinerant, space-dwelling future version of the UK that was revealed to be being carried by a mysterious Star Whale rather than engines, as one might expect.
Since its airing it’s received a mixed reception, with writer Steven Moffat even saying that he doesn’t think it fully works as a story.
But these criticisms could be wrong-headed – because we think the story might secretly have had great insight, unintentionally predicting the political fallout of this year’s European Referendum, which saw the UK vote to leave the EU two weeks ago.
Bear with us here. This will TOTALLY make sense.
This all boils down to a bit of dialogue between Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and a small girl she befriends in the episode, when Amy wonders where Scotland fits into Starship UK…
Mandy: You sound Scottish.
Amy: I am Scottish. What’s wrong with that? Scotland’s got to be here somewhere.
Mandy: No. They wanted their own ship.
Amy: Hmm. Good for them. Nothing changes.
At the time this was a fun little reference to the rumbling debate over whether Scotland should seek independence from the UK, which came to a head a few years after this episode aired in 2014, when the country eventually decided to stick with their southern neighbours.
But since the majority of the vote in the EU referendum saw Britain announce that it was leaving the EU, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that Scotland (who had a majority of voters who wanted to stay in the international body) may have a second referendum, and the polls suggest that this time Scotland might well leave us behind and try to keep our EU spot.
Now, if we return to the episode it’s clear that one thing doesn’t really make sense. Amy and the Doctor discover towards the end of the story that the UK was unable to evacuate the planet along with other countries when the Earth burned up.
This meant the UK was left behind, and eventually forced to capture a Star Whale and enslave it into flying them about.
So, let’s pretend that Star Whale stuff DOES make sense, because that’s not the weird bit we’re talking about.
Here’s the question of the hour (first noted in this reddit post): if Scotland had its own ship to fly its population away, why wasn’t the rest of the UK able to get one at all?
Why was the UK shunned by one of its constituent parts (as well as its nearby allies in mainland Europe), to the extent that there was no kind of shared plan to get the UK out on the same sort of ship that Scotland and every other country had? Why was Scotland even allowed to pack up and leave the rest of the UK behind?
The answer is easy – in that future, Scotland must have already left the UK in order for a separate government to have made the plan to get them off Earth while leaving England, Wales and Northern Ireland behind to depend on the mercy of giant magic whales.
By extension, considering the fact that Scotland DIDN’T leave the UK when both were part of Europe in 2014 (as well as the fact that all the other future European countries left the UK in the lurch), that would imply that this future Doctor Who version of our country had also voted to leave the EU and led Scotland to apply for a second referendum in order to get that independence and subsequently a spaceship.
See, we said it would totally make sense. Totally.
Anyway, once you consider this hypothesis, more and more of the episode makes sense. Perhaps the current economic problems the country is facing as a result of Brexit led to this future version not being able to afford the kind of spaceship technology other countries had, and increased isolation led to a breakdown in diplomacy that left Britain alone on a giant intergalactic mammal.
Frankly, the more we think about it this story COULDN’T have happened in the way it was depicted on screen if England and Scotland were still united, or if the UK was still in the European Union.
OK look, this theory is a bit of a mental leap. But if you look back on the episode you have to admit that The Beast Below’s odd inconsistencies make slightly more sense in a post-Brexit world, which is kind of amazing when you consider what a coincidence the whole thing is, based on one topical joke.
Just think of the symmetry – one difficult Brexit (from Europe) would eventually lead to another difficult Brexit (from the Earth itself). How perfect is that? And what does good sci-fi do but predict the future, even if only by accident?
So yeah, we’re calling it – the EU Referendum and Brexit are the canonical background for The Beast Below, and we won’t hear anything against it.
Now, if you’ll excuse us we need to get cracking on our thesis on why the Conservative leadership challenge is an obvious precursor to the Silurian invasion of Earth. This one’s a doozy…
Doctor Who will return to BBC1 this Christmas