Sunday, June 11, 2006

Doctor Who - The Satan Pit

One of the problems with cliff hangers is that they can set you up for something which then doesn't deliver. This new series of Who seems to have a problem with this, and the majority of the cliff hangers we get are not really cliff hangers at all, but breaks in the narrative designed to up the ante. We had the 'and with a bound they were free' one at the end of Rise of the Cybermen and now we get something similar here ... all the tension and power of the end of the last episode evaporates. The pit is open. Nothing came out of it. The planet stabilises and the threat mostly goes. This is somewhat disappointing. Furthermore Jefferson's shooting of the Ood seems to have no visible results - if we had seen them dropping then maybe it would have been better. As it is I think we only see one dead Ood a lot later on in one of the service shafts. Given that last episode we witnessed the horrific sight of a dead crew member floating in space, surely seeing some dead monsters lying around would not be a problem? The action is now split. Deep in the planet, the Doctor and Ida wonder how to explore the pit - which is a deep shaft under the hatch, and on the base, Rose and the others head for Ood habitation using maintenance tunnels so that Danny can transmit something to disable the Ood who are all trying to kill them. The Beast gets chatty again and talks to everyone through the Ood, it seems to know all their secrets and lives and even claims that Rose will die in battle very soon. The music in this sequence, and indeed in this whole episode, is much better than previously. Or maybe I'm just getting used to it. It seemed a lot more effective and subdued, underpinning the action rather than competing with it. After the Beast has a go at demoralising everyone, the Doctor retorts with some hope for everyone ... a nice counterpoint and demonstrating well the Doctor's approach to life and humanity. The Doctor and Ida try and return to the surface but the Beast makes the cable break, destroying the capsule under 10 miles of cable (I wonder how big a reel that would have to be). But the Doctor and Ida use the cable and wind it onto another drum in order to lower the Doctor into the pit. Nice idea, but wholly impractical. The cable would be made of steel and be heavy and tangled. I seriously doubt that two people could easily wind it onto another reel for re-use, even if they could find the broken end. Meanwhile the folks in the base are having fun scooting through tunnels as Captain Zack routes the air to follow them around. I'm really not sure that all this was needed as the effort and power needed to constantly flush and fill the sections with air was surely more than just sealing all the non-relevant sections and airating the bits they needed to go through. But if it had been easier then we'd have lost some great tension, as well as Jefferson sacrificing himself. And of course there's the superb moment where Toby turns to the pursuing Ood, and, eyes flashing red, gestures them to keep quiet - he is still posessed! A brilliant moment and very well executed. Our survivors head for the escape rocket and blast off, Rose having to be drugged to stop her staying to wait for the Doctor. Meanwhile the Doctor runs out of cable and decides to drop the rest of the way... a little rash perhaps. But he is safe and falls onto a convenient cushion of air. But why? He finds cave paintings showing the Beast being trapped and two mysterious glowing flasks. Beyond them is the Beast itself - a massive and impressive demon creature shackled and chained in the heart of the planet. This creature cannot speak, it is all might, and the Doctor realises that the intelligence is elsewhere ... on the ship with Rose ... Rose also realises the truth as Toby tells her to keep quiet when she starts to muse on why they are being allowed to escape. It was a shame that the shackled Beast did not speak and was relegated to token monster status. All the great monsters in Doctor Who were memorable because they conversed and spoke and were a little bit more than just a rampaging thing, and this one seemed a waste. It was also all a little obvious. We expected there to be a demon-like beast in the pit and there it was! What happened to trying to surprise the audience with something they were not expecting? I was half expecting the massive creature to be just a guardian, and that the real Beast would be revealed to be Sutekh or some other entity, trapped for all eternity ... but no. But now it gets really complicated with the Doctor trying to figure out what he should do ... should he break the flasks or not? The trap is that if the Beast is freed then the planet falls into the black hole but if he does not break the flasks, then the Beast's intelligence escapes in the rocket. But the Doctor trusts in Rose and so breaks the flasks (I wonder if they were a nod to Fenric in The Curse of Fenric - another all powerful entity/force in the Doctor Who universe). This stops the gravity field and the planet starts to fall into the black hole. The rocket too, and for some reason the Beast manifests through Toby again and gives the game away by ranting, so Rose breaks the window and removes Toby's seatbelt so he is sucked out into space. The Beast in the planet starts to burn (no idea why this happened though it did look good) and the Doctor suddenly finds the TARDIS there. What? How? The TARDIS was in a storeroom thing on the base and fell into a chasm during an earthquake. There was no other debris there, the roof of the cavern was not open to the sky, so how the flip did the TARDIS get there? I could postulate that perhaps the HADS system was working and it moved itself ... So the Doctor uses the TARDIS to rescue Ida before the planet is destroyed and then tows the rocket to safety. All is well, if a little simplistic in the resolution. We never find out who or what the Beast was, where it came from, or even whether it is now destroyed (something that old, powerful and long lived may be able to survive a black hole - after all if it existed before the universe was created, it survived the creation process ...) But this vagiary is nice. Sometimes we don't need everything sorted out for us neatly. Overall this was a crackingly exciting conclusion to the story, and it mostly fitted well with part one. I'd like to watch both episodes together though. I really have no idea why the Beast wanted the Doctor to descend into the pit (breaking the cable and so on to keep him down there) but the inferrence was that there was another power at play here and it was the captors who wanted someone to break the flasks ... but if they wanted this to happen then why bother to chain the Beast at all, why not just send it into the black hole in the first place? I don't know what the business with killing Scooti was all about in part one, nor why the Ood were trying to kill everyone (if everyone died then the Beast's intelligence would never have escaped). But it was a great episode, very well directed and visually stunning and exciting. Very enjoyable. Next week ... Peter Kay, some sort of lizard monster thing, and we're looking for Rose ...


Paul said...

Hi David,

I found this episode to be a good, if not altogether satisfying, conclusion. Last week was so good, I suppose it was only to be expected. But I can't help but feel just a little disappointed. Still, it'll be interesting to watch it all in one sitting and see how I feel then.


My review can be found at

Anonymous said...


Nice review, as always. Just one point re the mute Beast. I'd wager it was a time (and money thing). Given it was shot at the end of the run, it's miraculous that it looked so slick with so much post production needed in little time. Given the time (and cost) of lip synching CGI, it was probably one of Russell's 'pragmatic' decisions.

Anonymous said...

There's some very interesting speculation here -
on why Matt jones may have been so reluctant to be interviewed and why the finished result was so uneven... it has the ring of truth!

David said...

Interesting notes on Matt Jones there ... but I wouldn't read too much into it. All gossip and speculation and no facts. *All* television writing is a compromise when it comes down to it and it's rare that any writer sees exactly what they original wanted make it to the screen.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed The Satan Pit,it was a great story,& the SFX were equal to,if not better than some of the recent blockbusters.However saying this,I still had a problem with a particular aspect of the story.The beast stated that he was evil from before time,however the doctor refused to except this.Has the doctor forgotten about his past adventures.He has battled many evil powerful ccosmic entities before i.e Fenric,The Black Guardian,Sutehk,just to name a few,so why does he find it so difficult to except the claims of the beast.My theory is the beast was either Fenric or The Black Guardian,who had been imprisoned in the pit after the time wars.