Right, so it's about time I got around to writing this. Originally, this was going to be one of my long, epic posts, but I'll spare everyone and do something a little more truncated. And, oh, spoilers.
"The Beast Below." The Doctor and Amy travel to a future ark ship, containing the remaining population of England. The ship harbors a dark secret: they've enslaved a sentient space-faring creature for their locomotion, and all the adults aboard (Amy included) are complicit in knowing the secret, but choose to forget it. (Those who don't, it's implied, are fed to the creature.) The Doctor is understandably not pleased to choose between euthanizing the creature , and Amy saves the day by letting it go free, under the assumption that it is like the Doctor--it volunteered to help humans because it "can't stand to hear a child crying without doing something about it." So she frees it, and it decides to keep traveling with the humans.
This episode still caters to a lot of Moffat's favorite ideas, especially the "child in peril" theme. The difference between this week and last week is that this time, it's explicitly part of the plot. The other important element is that they answered the "why her?" question that comes up for each companion; it was largely Amy's perspective that saved the day here. And they're not sweeping her skewed perspective under the rug; the Doctor tells her that she couldn't know the creature wouldn't just kill them all, and she really didn't--she just assumed it would behave the way the doctor did (or the way she thought the doctor did), despite years of torture. Considering that it apparently eats people, I'd say it might be thinking with its stomach rather than its heart--this way, it's got a permanent self-perpetuating food source.
Other quick thoughts: I liked the idea that everything came down to refusing to accept a binary decision--the denizens of the ship had to vote every five years to either erase the creature from their memories or destroy the ship, and it took an outside view to realize that it's never just A or B. The Smilers continue the retro-technology feel--although frankly, the moment you create robots to act as law-enforcers, you pretty much deserve the resulting dystopia. Last: it's kind of depressing that when the human race takes to the stars, we go entirely along national lines--this is Starship UK, and we're told the Scots went their own way. It fits the vibe of the episode, but it's still depressing. (Of course, if you wanted to be REALLY cynical, you'd have the human the human race go to the stars in populations that were divided in terms of corporations.)
"Victory of the Daleks." The Doctor and Amy travel back to WWII, only a few months off--Winston Churchill has, by the time they got there, authorized an inventor to build war machines that look suspiciously like Daleks. And, as it turns out, that's because they are Daleks. And they built the inventor, not the other way around. The Dalek's plan here is kind of interesting--their own technology is locking them out, because after numerous permutations, it doesn't recognize them as pure Daleks anymore. So they need to get the Doctor stating, on record, that they are Daleks, because the computer will accept the Doctor, Dalek's No 1's villain, as an authority on what is a Dalek. Anyway, the Daleks escape while the Doctor and Amy are preoccupied with convincing the inventor that he's human, and not a Dalek bomb that's going to explode and kill everyone. Because apparently, Daleks make their androids in such a manner that this is sufficient to defuse them. Amy reminds the inventor about lusting after forbidden people, and he "turns" human.
One of the essays I read recently on Dr Who said that the Daleks and the Cybermen are both used in the same manner: by comparing ourselves to machines, we define what makes humans--our emotions, our feelings, etc. To me, this episode personified that use to a T. There's some clever twists--putting the racially pure Daleks into WWII, and, by extension, Nazism; using the android/bomb to suggest a middle state between Dalek and human; and the the fact that, before their technology jerry-rigs a brand new Dalek breed, the only Daleks left were impure themselves. But strip that stuff away, and what you have is "Who-by-numbers"--it's just a variation of the same damn story we get every time the Dalek or Cybermen show up these days. They're suffering the same problem comic book villains suffer--they're overused, to the point where all the stories about them are the same.
I should add that the acting in both episodes was very good--I'm really liking the leads. And while I wasn't particularly struck by Queen Elizabeth the 10th, the portrayal of Churchill and the man who played the Dalek "inventor" were both well performed. So the season has been good--but the real test is the next episode, with the return of the Stone Angels.
*UPDATE: Almost forgot. Here's a picture of the new and improved for the up-teenth time Daleks, and a brand new reason I'll have to struggle to take them seriously:
This reminds me of something...