3) Viewers who never watched the classic series and are only familiar with this version.
“The Impossible Planet” and its second half, “The Satan Pit”, satiates all three types with writer Matt Jones’ engaging concoction of science fiction, horror, religion, myth, chaos, H. P. Lovecraft, Alien, and several doses of classic Who itself. Yet the story feels anything but recycled—ideal fodder even for the uninitiated. Never seen Doctor Who? Tonight would be an excellent opportunity to dip your toe in the pool.
Structurally and dramatically the two-parter occupies the same space as “The Empty Child” two-parter did last season. It was touted as being the “first time in the new series the Doctor and Rose set foot on alien soil” (which isn’t entirely correct; they did just that in “New Earth”. Perhaps it was felt the “Earth” part was a cheat?). Given these factors, I went into the piece with some pretty lofty expectations. Obviously I won’t yet discuss Part Two, but despite a few minor criticisms, the story as a whole stands with “The Girl in the Fireplace” as an example of “how to get it right,” despite it being a totally different type of story.
The Doctor: (looking at the TARDIS) “I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She’s sort of queasy. Indigestion. Like she didn’t want to land.”
From the moment the Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) arrive on Sanctuary Base 6 and see the words “Welcome to Hell” spray-painted above some “impossibly old” writing that even the TARDIS translators can’t decipher, events feel destined to spiral into darkness. And then the alien Ood enters, cornering the duo with a monotonous drone: “We must feed. We must feed. We must feed…”
Turns out the Ood aren’t so bad after all; in fact, they are a telepathic slave race that exists only to serve others. The others in this case being the human crew of SB6: Zachary Cross Flane (Shaun Parkes), Ida Scott (Claire Rushbrook), Toby Zed (Will Thorp), Mr. Jefferson (Danny Webb), Danny Bartock (Ronny Jhutti), and Scooti Manista (MyAnna Buring). SB6 is located on a dead planet orbiting a black hole and, by all laws of physics, the planet should be pulled in. And yet it isn’t. The crew is on a research expedition and is attempting to drill to the center of the planet to discover the power source keeping the planet stationary.
The Doctor: “To generate that gravity field and the funnel, you’d need a power source with an inverted self-extrapolating reflex of six to the power of six every six seconds.”
Rose: “That’s all the sixes.”
The Doctor: “And it’s impossible.”
Something that immediately grabbed me here is the crew greeting the Doctor and Rose with open arms. They’re bewildered and shocked by the time travelers’ sudden appearance, but there isn’t the paranoid reaction the Doctor typically encounters in these situations. Instead of fifteen minutes worth of the Doctor proving “we mean you no harm,” the story moves on quickly to more pressing matters, such as the earthquake which destroys several sections of the base, including Storage 6, where the TARDIS is parked.
Once the Doctor and Rose realize they could very well be TARDIS-less for the rest of their lives, they engage in a wonderfully played, awkward heart-to-heart. He ponders the horror of having a mortgage and she proposes the possibility that they could live together—a notion that clearly makes him very uncomfortable. The chat is mercifully interrupted by Rose’s cellphone ringing. A deep voice on the other end speaks: “He is awake”.
Everything starts going impossibly wrong about halfway through the episode. The Ood’s behavior shifts for the worse. A Satanic figure briefly appears on a holographic display behind Zack. The dark voice speaks directly to Toby and the ancient writing inexplicably covers his hands and face. In a fit of what appears to be demonic possession, he kills Scooti by pulling her through a glass window and onto the planet’s surface.
Mr. Jefferson: “For how shall man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his father and the temples of his gods?”
There are at least a half a dozen perfect moments in “The Impossible Planet”, but topping the list must be the revelation of Scooti’s fate: the imagery of the lifeless body of a striking young woman, drifting in airless space toward the emptiness of a black hole is both beautiful and haunting. I’m sure I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the realm of filmed sci-fi and the fact that Scooti is only a year older than Rose adds to its resonance.
The now iconic “Don’t turn around” exchange between Toby and the Beast is chillingly executed, as is his subsequent possession. The Ood…well, the Ood. Everything about them just plain works. They appear gentle and harmless, but when they begin turning, their threat is immediately felt. The Bolero sequence rocks. Speaking of music—Murray Gold’s score! He’s composed some great themes for the new series and he’s also come up with some bombastic, thumping material that screams “TV!”; but he’s never done anything as ideally theatrical as the somber theme that recurs throughout this story. It’s sweet frosting atop an already perfectly baked cake.
Everything else aside, you know what most excited me upon viewing this episode? Rose Tyler was back. My Rose. The Rose I fell for last year has returned. Billie Piper is “on” here and for the first time in the season I didn’t have to try to care about her—I just did. And it’s as if she’s “Bonus” Rose, like everything she’s witnessed throughout her time with the Doctor has finally culminated into making her a better and stronger person. This isn’t the Rose of “Tooth and Claw”. She’s realizing this time travel business isn’t all fun, games and family reunions, and that while her place in the universe is no larger than she is, there’s still room to stretch and make important contributions and big differences.
NEXT WEEK: Nothing. No new Who the week of the show’s 43rd Anniversary! The Sci Fi Channel is taking the Thanksgiving weekend off from both Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica. Tune in Dec. 1st and dive into “The Satan Pit”.
In the meantime, BBC America begins rerunning the Christopher Eccleston-starring Season One, beginning Tuesday, Nov. 21st, at 10PM (EST).
Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: “The Tomb of the Cybermen”, starring Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, and Deborah Watling.
Ross Ruediger is a San Antonio-based critic and columnist, a contributor to The House Next Door, and publisher of The Rued Morgue. For more writing about the series, see “Dr. Who” in the sidebar at right.