Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Broadcast five minutes late, Matt Smith's second episode gets off to an awesome start, portraying the Britain of the future as an escape spaceship fleeing an Earth ravaged by solar flares.

Along the way the Doctor and Amy drop in, and we begin to get an idea of just what the eleventh Doctor may be all about: observation.

After that weird 'what did I see?' section last week, here he takes in a heck of a lot of detail immediately upon arrival, and draws solid theories as to what is actually going on almost before the episode has started.

And there's a lot to see. The Britain of the future is extremely well-realised for just a one-off episode, and even something as subtle as the cleanliness of the glass booths that no-one walks near is a point to pick up on.

It isn't long before Amy has been captured, discovered the ship's sinister secret, and been so horrified that she's voluntarily had her own memory wiped, specifically of the last twenty minutes. We don't get to see that either, so when she receives a distraught video-message from her marginally younger herself, things get a bit disorientating.

(not least because of the question of how she recorded it - was she supposed to have recorded this message to herself on her phone?)

Multiply that by 200 years, and you have Queen Elizabeth X's disorientation. She's been having her memory wiped repeatedly for the last couple of centuries, including her memory of the wipes themselves. Just what is going on that these people choose to live in such ignorance?

The answer isn't quite so disturbing as everyone makes out, it's more a case of the wrong question being asked. Ultimately everyone is being offered two bad options, without any alternative of coming up with a third. (very bureaucratic) Even the Doctor's third option is a somewhat defeatist one, underscored by the tiny fact that spaceships don't need engines to move because there's no friction in space.

I'm no scientist, but as I understand it, once a body is moving through the vacuum of space, it tends to keep moving. An engine would only be used for braking and changing direction. Unfortunately, this whole story is built upon this foundation, so if my understanding is correct, then trying to think the problem through is somewhat pointless.

Even so, I can't forget how the Doctor used the TARDIS to tow planet Earth back home across space just six stories back in Journey's End, so why couldn't he do something like that with Starship UK? Granted, Journey's End was an abysmal episode that the series really needs a mindwipe of its own to forget, but all the same, this is still a bit soon.

Also the pre-credits sequence, like last week's one, didn't seem to me to belong. Why does Hawthorne feed children to an animal that he knows is going to spit them out again? Why have that tantalising rhyme in the lift?

The Doctor seems to assume that Amy's decision to accept the mindwipe was motivated by her knowledge that he was an alien, so he appears to have forgotten that she only learnt this fact after the process had been completed.

The young queen's crazy decision to manipulate herself 200 years earlier, without apparently leaving herself the freedom to come up with any other options. Well, I guess that's what happens when you give youth too much power...

Despite these things, I found this outing to be a really enjoyable one. The story didn't quite have enough time to be adequately explained in just 40 minutes, but the characters and ideas were absorbing, and the design absolutely outstanding. Those Smilers looked terrifying!

The cast all perform this one very well too. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have a good rapport, the kids are all highly convincing, and the inspired casting of Jack Straw lookalike Terrence 'Demon Headmaster' Hardiman as Hawthorne was a stroke of genius.

All this and the unexpected return of the Daleks at the end of episode one… with Winston Churchill! I believe this is the first Dalek cliffhanger to be played for laughs.

Surely the episode won't be?

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