THE IMPOSSIBLE PLANET – 3rd June
THE SATAN PIT – 10th June
By Matt Jones
Review and Commentary by Andrew Panero
1. And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.
-Revelations 20 (King James Version).
It’s interesting to see that with the multi-part stories in the new series you have the return of each episode having a separate name. This is a reversion to the very earliest days of Doctor Who, during the William Hartnell era where the stories didn’t start to have collective names until ‘The Smugglers’. Doubtless this will mean a great deal of argument later on when future fans try and give names for these collective stories. So if any of you wish to try your luck then send your suggestions in now.
The story begins off with the TARDIS materialising in a storage compartment of a distant space colony; shortly after landing the Doctor and Rose are confronted by the hideous Ood, a somewhat more successful alien species from Russell T. Davies then last year’s Slitheen. Apparently he wanted to invent something that sounded like ‘odd’, which I guess is a very RTD type of pun. They have the appearance, as someone quite eloquently put it, of looking like they are being permanently sick. In fact, again in another nod to ‘Futurama’, they bear a strong resemblance to Dr Zoidberg, with the addition of a lemon squeezer on a lead coming from their mouths.
Although hideous and terrifying these creatures are not actually a threat to the Doctor and Rose, they serve a team of scientists from the Torchwood Institute, (yes, it’s them again) whose rocket ship has landed on a nameless planet in geosynchronous orbit around a black hole. What’s that you say? Impossible? Well don’t say we didn’t warn you.
We are in familiar Doctor Who territory here and as you would expect there is an external threat seeking to ensnare the unwary space travellers and besiege them in their claustrophobic base. The Doctor and Rose are the first to realise something is amiss when they find that the alien language on the walls is not translated by the TARDIS. This indicates that they have travelled beyond the TARDIS’ range of knowledge, an interesting use of the continuity established within the new series. It doesn’t help that the only words they can understand say ‘Welcome to Hell’.
Something malevolent is locked deep within the impossible planet, a great source of energy situated ten miles beneath the surface. The team from Torchwood lost their Captain when they landed on the rock some months before and a beleaguered Zachary Cross Flane (Shaun Parkes) has stepped into the breach. Helping him are head of security Mr Jefferson (Danny Webb) a man with a shady past and archaeologist Toby Zed (Will Thorp) who is as stumped as the Doctor when it comes to the alien hieroglyphs. In charge of the Ood’s welfare is psychologist Danny Bartock (Ronny Jhutti). They are all engaged in the process of drilling down towards the mystery power-source; this is dangerous work and the planet is subject to numerous earthquakes. During one of these the TARDIS is lost in a bottomless pit. Zack is adamant that they do not have the time or the resources to go looking for it. The Doctor is faced with the horrifying prospect of settling down with Rose and getting a mortgage, but things are just about to get worse, if that is possible.
The Ood have been behaving well, odd, and have taken to muttering strange half biblical sentences about the beast and the pit as they go about their daily business. Not only that but the weak telepathic field that binds them together in a group consciousness has started to become unfathomably strong.
Meanwhile Toby finds himself visited by a demonic voice, nicely provided by Gabriel Woolf (the same man who gave us the voice of Sutekh in the ‘Pyramids of Mars’). Before he can say get behind me Satan, he is possessed by the uncanny voice. This being a siege we expect a good few bodies by the end of the story. Stepping forward into the role of first victim is the unfortunate Scooti Manista (MyAnna Buring) a lowly maintenance worker who finds herself sucked out into space when she comes across the possessed Toby gallivanting out in the vacuum.
The drilling has meanwhile reached the source of power locked in the planet’s crust; it is this same source of power that holds the planet in orbit through the creation of a gravity funnel. The Doctor and scientist Ida Scott descend to investigate, finding a huge underground cavern with an immense trapdoor set into the ground.
Up top things are getting nasty in the control room as both Toby and the Ood come under the beast’s influence and the body count starts to rise. As we go into the cliffhanger for part one we have Rose and the surviving members of the Torchwood team cut off from Zack up top whilst the Doctor and Ida gaze down into the slowly opening trapdoor down below. Something wicked this way comes…
Many of you must by now be thinking that this is in many ways an uber-traditional Doctor Who story; we have the companion and the Doctor separated from each other, an ancient evil using mind control to unleash an army of slaves on a group of besieged humans. We have a fantastic setting on the edge of the known universe, but there are certain differences. The Doctor is for once at a loss to explain away the phenomena of the Beast. True he has crossed swords with the Devil before, but usually it turns out to be some kind of super-powerful alien like Azal. In ‘The Satan Pit’ however, the Doctor cannot fathom what he is up against although he is able to hazard a few guesses. That this is a creature that feeds off fear and negative emotions is established early on; he therefore counsels the humans to work together and use their intelligence in order to combat it. It falls to Rose to organise the people up top and assign tasks to the crew. A way of defeating the Ood is devised, using the collective telepathic field against them, just as the Beast is using it to control them.
Meanwhile the Doctor takes a leap of faith into the Satan pit and finds himself face to face with a monstrous tower block sized version of the Devil. But is it the real Devil? The Doctor defers that question until later, but manages to work out how the Beast was trapped in the pit and what the nature of its prison is. The Beast it seems has left its body behind in the pit while its mind has travelled into Toby. The body of the Beast cannot escape the pit because if it does the gravity funnel will be broken and the planet will plunge into the black hole. (Why they couldn’t have just thrown the creature into the black hole in the first place is not mentioned).
Upstairs the survivors of the Torchwood team have dragged a reluctant Rose onto their Dan Dare style space-rocket and attempt to escape from the planet. Unfortunately this is exactly what the Beast wants, and while Toby goes Biblical on them Rose punctures the window with a flying bolt.
The Doctor is perched on the horns of a nasty dilemma; that if he kills the Beast by plunging the planet into the black hole than he will kill Rose and the escaping humans. If he does nothing, the Beast escapes to wreak havoc in the universe through the agency of Toby and other biddable minds. He resolves this conundrum through another leap of faith, this time it is his belief in Rose that wins through.
As the rocks start flying through air and lava begins to flow the Doctor fortuitously comes across his mislaid TARDIS. (Wow, that was lucky!) Just in time it seems to save everybody from plunging into the black hole, a fate reserved for the Beast, Toby and the unfortunate Ood.
Mostly this story works well, although there is an element of obviousness to the TARDIS being found in the way it is. There is also a sense that Rose is nearing the end of her character arc, that she has just got too good at this cosmic travelling lark. Not only that but I don’t know how many more scenes I can take of Rose reacting to the loss or potential loss of the Doctor. The news that Billie Piper is leaving the series after the end of this year’s season is perhaps less surprising in that case.