Monday, 27 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 4.3: Planet of the Ood

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A natural-born ood has two brains.
Doctor Who - Season 30, Episode Three - Planet of the Ood
Written 23/3/13

For reasons that are yet to be discovered, the Ood have become something of an RTD posterboy, in much the same way that the Weeping Angels are for Moffat. There's something about their distinctive design that manages to jump so quickly between humour and sheer horror that makes them strangely endearing, as well as their sheer alienness. Planet of the Ood takes a concept that was only touched upon in their first appearance and spins it wide, creating an episode that manages to be both intellectually deep but aesthetically breezy.
     The Doctor and Donna arrive on the Ood Sphere, the Ood's home planet where the creatures are grown and processed by Ood Operations and then sent out to the three corners of the Earth's trigalactic empire. The facility has seen Ood go rogue, succumbing to a condition called Red Eye which makes them either murderous or simply rabid. As The Doctor and Donna investigate the facility, they are shocked to find that the Ood were not, as they were told, born to serve - they are in fact partially lobotomised, with their telepathic ability severely limited by a dampening field on their hind brain. Thanks to a patient Ood Sigma, the facility head Mr. Halpen (Tim McInnery, Blackadder) is made docile by being turned into an Ood, allowing The Doctor to turn off the dampening field and free Oodkind.
     I liked the way that even The Doctor highlighted the rather dangerous way that the Ood have often been treated as something laugh about, especially with Doctor Who's long history of abhorring slavery of all kinds in all circumstances. The most recent example of this was in Chris Chiball's (who else?) ridiculous Pond Life prequels to Series Seven, where the Ponds treated an Ood like a slave for several weeks. Sorry, getting off topic. The way that the Ood's history was explained in such a thorough and touching way makes them one of the more interesting of the races introduced by RTD's tenure.
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The Hokey Kokey is one of the Ood Sphere's most popular games.
     The episode's vibe felt very Star Trek to me - not, of course, that that was a bad thing. Moral dilemma about aliens in slavery, humans looking like the bad guys - it's all there. The episode managed to maintain that strain of moral discourse for the vast majority of the story, but the only problems came when that had to be supplemented in with action, adventure and plot. The scene where The Doctor is chased around a warehouse by a crane controlled by a guy who's gurning for his life, and the end scene where Tim McInnery peels his head back and coughs up tentacles... none of it matches up with the rest of the episode's sharp messages. Instead of it being just about the evils of dehumanisation and slavery, it had to include guys who were just doing for da evuls.
     So, yeah. Planet of the Ood has a lot of emotional and intellectual complexity in its messages, and it presents the plight of a previously underdeveloped alien race with a great deal of humanity. But it manages to lose a lot of that complexity in its attempts to appeal to the wider demographic, and a lot of moments seem out of place because of it. But really, it's amazing that the ideas were given this amount of depth at all - as such, Planet of the Ood becomes something much more special: a pleasant surprise.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Martha's back, and so is an old enemy - Phil Mitchell! Wait, sorry, my mistake. We face the Sontarans in The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky.

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