Sunday, June 04, 2006

Doctor Who - The Impossible Planet

This series of Who is just getting better and better. The Impossible Planet was by far the best episode I think I've seen so far ... it cranked up the tension and just oozed effectiveness from every pore. What an enjoyable experience. The TARDIS arrives on a deep space exploration sanctuary where a small crew are trying to keep things together. The planet they are on - which at one point they say is unnamed but then say it's called Kroktor (or something) in the scriptures of Valtino (whatever they are) which translates as 'the bitter pill', and it's in orbit around a black hole designated K37J5. Of course this is impossible, but it's happening, and the debris of the universe is being sucked into the hole around them - including any atmosphere that the planet might have. The people we get to meet - Ida Scott (efficient science officer); Zachary Cross Flane (serious acting captain); Mr Jefferson (cold head of security); Danny Bartock (right-on ethics committee); Toby Zed (uncertain archaeology) and Scooti Manista (cute trainee maintenance) - all seem nice people, but are a little generic. Scooti is apparently 20 years old, and one wonders therefore how long it took for the group to get to this planet, and to then build/construct the complex base that they live in, to set up the drilling and to get 10 miles deep ... maybe they start them young in maintenance. The TARDIS is lost when there's an earthquake and a section of the base is sheared away, and the Doctor and Rose seem trapped there. However the crew are busy drilling down into the planet to try and locate a power source there which they want to tap into. This power source is also keeping a gravity well open which is how they arrived. The gravity in the base seems OK, and also on the surface as Scooti goes out in a space suit to repair something ... why wasn't she blown away or dragged off the surface into the black hole? That gravity must be awfully strong. But now the plot starts to kick in. The computer and the strange Cthulhuian Ood creatures (who speak through their balls! And while we're on that subject, if those ball things are translating for them, how would they know whether the translations were correct or not? Wouldn't they just assume that they were?) start to spout pseudo Biblical phrases like 'The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit and make war with God' and 'He is awake'. Very spooky though. Spookier still is what happens to Toby. While examining some fragments brought up by the drilling, which are covered with runes, he hears whispering behind him and an incredible voice tells him that if he looks around then he is dead. This is Gabriel Woolf ... Doctor Who fans will know his voice well as he was the voice of Sutekh the Destroyer in the 1975 story Pyramids of Mars (and maybe there's a connection here as Sutekh was meant to be Satan as well ... hmm) and his tones are creepy to the extreme. Poor Toby discovers that the runes have transferred to his hands, and then his face is covered with them as he is possessed by the Beast. I was vagely reminded of the Pokemon Jigglypuff which would put its victims to sleep by singing to them and then write all over their faces with black marker pen ... but back to the plot. Toby goes for a wander outside without a space suit and Scooti sees him. Next thing, he's making the window by her break with some sort of power and poor Scooti is sucked out. The first death and very horrible too. But hang on ... if there's no atmosphere, then why weren't Toby and Scooti imploded or exploded or whatever happens to unprotected humans in this circumstance? The drilling stops - they have hit point zero, and so some investigation is in order. Toby is back to normal now, though he is behaving a little Lady Macbeth in checking his hands all the time. But who do they decide to send down? Ida I can believe, she is the science officer after all, but the Doctor? And only these two? Very strange indeed. Why not the archaeologist, or someone from security (wearing a red shirt just to be on the safe side)? There are others on the base after all - we just don't get to see them very much. But no. It's Ida and the Doctor make the trip. And at the bottom? A vast cave, ancient buildings and carvings, and a 30 foot across metal hatch-thing in the ground. For no particular reason, everything now seems to happen at once ... the Ood all go a bit wierd, advancing on people in a threatening way, and using their translator ball to kill a random person ... Toby gets written on again and reveals that he knows Jefferson's secrets before passing on the writing to the Ood who advance menacingly on Rose and the others at the top of the shaft ... the gravity field fails, and the planet starts to fall into the black hole ... and the hatch opens down below. The camera rises from the hole under the hatch and the voice of the beast announces that it is free ... and we crash breathlessly into the closing titles, and with no annoying NEXT WEEK trailer immediately after as well. A brilliant cliff hanger. It's all go, and I can't wait for next week to see how it all resolves itself. I hope and pray that they don't go and spoil it all with something naff ... but we will have to see. Overall a superb episode, spoilt only by some inappropriate music on a couple of occasions (when the initial earthquake happens and also when the Doctor and Ida descend into the shaft) and also the cringe-worthy scenes between the Doctor and Rose as they discuss houses and mortgages. Leave it out guys or get a room as they say.


Dave Mullen said...

Not much to add to your excellent summary, except my disbelief in the too young to be convincing Archeologists! We should have seen some mix in the age of them and a little more dirt & stress on them to make us believe they'd been there a while... interestingly only Will Thorp stood head and shoulders above them and I am now seeing the deliberate easy casting apparent of people who won't pose any threat to Dave Tennants performance... it also went against the superb design of the base - very lived in and ramshackle.

It was all too cliche and generic to be a classic, but still a fine slice of Saturday entertainment!

Now someone ask Murray Gold why he feels the need to compete with the programmes content for dominance... i thought incidental music was meant to compliment the story not overwhelm it?!

Matthew C. said...

I agree, twas the best episode yet. However there were a couple of bits I didn't like.

a). When the Ood are advancing on security man, Rose and the other one. Security man has a gun, and yet he just backs away from the clearly dangerously possessed Ood, rather than shooting them. I would have thought it would have made more sense to just shoot them and find out what was going on later, especially as he was a cold security man.

b). The earthquake bits were too Star Trekky for me: Camera shaking around madly, people throwing themselves across the room, steam everywhere (probably from the steam pipes which seem to litter each and every ship and base in Star Trek), sparks exploding from the consoles. I did however like the added side-effect of fire shooting up from the consoles, they never had that in Star Trek.

And once again I was not at all amused by RTD's comments in Confidential. Maybe it's just because I'm a scientist/historian, but I always seem to notice him saying that the details don't matter, it's the overall effect. Which is true to an extent, but still, it annoys me that he shows so little regard for historical/scientific accuracy.

Matthew C. said...

And another thing (which I forgot to mention in my previous comment, doh!). The fact that it did actually appear to be the Devil from Earth legend annoyed me muchly. When the possessed Ood was advancing, it was saying "Some call me Beelzebub, Satan, the Devil, Lucifer" and I was just thinking, surely it has some other names. If it's this all powerful, ancient beyond belief beast, surely it's been told about in some other culture on some other planet, and they came up with a slightly different name for it. Plus the fact that the holographic picture that appeared was of the familiar devil we all know and love.

All this might have just been it telepathically reaching into the mind's of the people in the base and picking up on their fears and their interpretation of it. But still...

Now I'm just really picking holes in every little thing, and I really should stop, because I'm just wittering on and on and on.

Anonymous said...

Sorry David but I'm afraid that it is an urban myth (propogated by movies) that people explode or implode in vaccuums. Nasa have even tested this on animals.

Skin is just too strong (and can expand up to twice the area without rupturing).

Possibly she should have expanded due to internal gases - but this is not certain (much depends on the circumstances) and can take some time to be noticable.

David said...

Thanks Matthew... I too wondered why the security bloke didn't start shooting ... and, yes, the devil from Earth bit. Didn't he say he was known as Kroktor as well? I guess if he reeled off all the names from all cultures we'd have been there for quite a bit.

And on the human body in a vacuum thing ... you live and learn.

Paul Greaves said...

Hi David,

For once, an almost flawless episode. The only bit I didn't really like was the hug between Captain Zach and the Doctor. Out of place and unneccesary. Yes Russell, we know the Doctor loves humans - he tells us every week. Enough already!

Rose wasn't too bad this week but she never seems scared of anything. Time for a new companion before RTD disappears up his own backside with love for Rose. Its getting dangerously close to the fan/writing team obsession with Ace for me. More concerned with the companion than the Doctor.

I disagree with Dave Mullen's comments about the guest cast. Shaun Parkes, Claire Rushbrook and Danny Webb are hardly straight out of drama school - and all have a string of impressive credits to their name. Nice to see the show continuing to pull in the talent.

Nevertheless, a top notch episode. Easily my favourite since The Empty Child.

Gizensha said...

On the Ood balls - I was under the impression they translated the Ood's thoughts into verbal language, but that they were capable of understanding english. Just not capable of verbal speech fullstop. (or could infer from people's reactions that their balls weren't working properly. They're telepathic enough to communicate with each other telepathically, they might also be able to pick up surface thoughts of humans)