Monday, 28 January 2013

Review: Doctor Who 2.8-9: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

Toby is possessed by The Beast.
Doctor Who - Season 28, Episodes Eight and Nine - The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
Written between 9th and 11th of January 2013

Religion. Religiony widgiony. It's a topic that I've talked about to various degrees of controversy on this blog, mainly because I don't like it when writers shove religious themes into the finales of otherwise secular stories. Doctor Who itself hasn't shyed away from examining the subject, and while this week's story has certainly been done before by Who, it's not exactly what I'd call deriviative. The Impossible Planet two-parter is distinct in its sheer ability to summon the deepest and darkest of scenarios from what it a basic base-under-siege plot, invoking not just crazy new aliens but the bloody Devil himself.
     The episode comes from writer Matt Jones, who is a big fan of evil devil-like figures (especially if you look at his next story for this universe, Dead Man Walking.) The setting is one immediately different in new Who - an entirely new planet, orbitting around a black hole. The Doctor and Rose land on Sanctuary Base Six, a base positioned on the planet to discover whatever's keeping the planet steady, as well as the source of a gravity funnel into space. They have the telepathic, Zoidberg-esque Ood as willing slaves, and for a while have been finding out that the planet's former civilisation is ridiculously old. When the TARDIS falls into the centre of the planet, The Doctor is forced to stick around and help them, descending their mineshaft into the planet's heart. As he decends, an entity known as The Beast possesses archeologist Toby Zed, who kills one crew member before spreading his possession to the Ood's hive-mind. As The Doctor discovers the ruins of the old civilisation, Rose and the remaining crew battle to stay alive. The Doc finds that the creature controlling the Ood, and sitting at the centre of the planet, is a giant demon who was locked away at the Dawn of Time but who has since subliminally inspired the rest of the Universe's devil stories.
     This isn't the first time that Doctor Who has done The Devil; Season Eight story The Daemons had a slightly similar character in the demon Azal, but this takes a much bleaker and certainly more tense position. Despite obviously having a maximum of what looks like three or four sets, the base feels surprisingly large and the atmosphere is well-crafted. There's the right mix of desolation and loneliness, with the crew members of the base remaining proffessional while at the same time in a state of permenant awe at their current situation. It felt so serious and dark that Series Two's odd habit of having Rose make inappropriate jokes throughout the exposition just felt off. She had recovered by the cliffhanger, however, and managed to maintain a rather odd scenario in which she drove the majority of the action while The Doc drove the exposition.
How Ood?
     I know I've spoken bad of Tennant's Doctor in certain places, but his performance here is just unbelievably good in its sincerity. Jones shows us another side of The Doctor's faith, seeing how he puts his trust in science in all cases except the grand myths from his home period. Despite the way that the episode sets up The Doctor as the saviour of the Universe chosen by the elders to defeat Satan, it's rather odd how humble he comes out of the whole deal, especially as RTD's team would continue to up the "Lonely God" crap as he went through the series.
     Like most of this season, there were a few nitpicks here or there. But the overarching mythology and the well-crafted tone of the story overrode that immediately. The Impossible Planet two-parter is by far the best story of Season 28, and that's not just because it has The Devil in it or the funny Ood guys, but also because it takes a hell of a lot of old ideas and manages to fit them into a story that is not only interesting, but that also maintains a brilliant sense of tension. It was one that managed not just to make our leads come into their own in a way they haven't for a while, but that also managed to introduce a whole host of minor characters and have us feel for their stories.


1 comment:

  1. I love your take on this episode, especially the point you made about the 'Lonely God' crap which worked in episodes like The Girl in the Fireplace...but quickly became old.

    You have nicely deconstructed this episode and put it back together in a way that is both interesting and intelligent.