Sunday, May 04, 2008

Doctor Who - Planet of the Ood

One of the nice things about Doctor Who has been that it's not afraid to plunder its past when this seems appropriate. Ever since the very beginning, certain characters and monsters have reappeared, starting with the Daleks, and although it really took four years or so for the trend to really kick in, it's one of the elements which had made the show such a survivor. The only repeating elements in the William Hartnell days (aside from the Doctor and his companions of course) were the Daleks, and a rogue member of the Doctor's own race - then unnamed - called the Monk. It wasn't until Patrick Troughton took over that we had repeat appearances from the Cybermen, Daleks, Ice Warriors and Great Intelligence/Yeti. In the Jon Pertwee era there were the Nestenes/Autons, more Daleks, and more Ice Warriors, with the Silurians/Sea Devils adding a nice twist to the concept, and of course the one-eyed hermaphrodite hexapod Alpha Centauri (and Aggedor too). Not forgetting another renegade Time Lord called The Master ...

During Tom Baker's long tenure we saw the Sontarans as a new 'returner', with the Cybermen and Daleks (with new and improved added Davros) keeping the flag flying. The Master also came back a few times to torment the Doctor, changing his face along the way. In Peter Davison's era we enjoyed the now traditional Daleks, Cybermen, and Master with new baddies the Mara coming back for more. Omega (from Pertwee) reappeared, and the Guardians (from Tom Baker), and the Silurians and Sea Devils (from Pertwee) also returned. Colin Baker enjoyed two appearances from the slug-like Mentor Sil (as well as Daleks and Cybermen), and Sylvester McCoy battled Daleks and Cybermen, as well as a return from the Master and the Rani (another renegade Time Lord) with no returning baddies from his own era to contend with.

I may have missed a couple in that quick resume (and I didn't include 'The Five Doctors' at all!) but you can see that returning foes is certainly one of the building blocks of the show.

New Who has done the same, with returns (so far) from the usual suspects (Daleks, Cybermen, Master) as well as the less likely (Macra, Nestenes/Autons) and the new (Slitheen, Novice Hame, Face of Boe).

All of which brings me to 'Planet of the Ood' and perhaps the most blatant return of a new series creature. My overall feeling here is that if you are going to bring someone/thing back, then you need to have something new to say about it, some reason for doing that - whether a sequel to the original story, or some other original ideas to bring to the table. What 'Planet of the Ood' managed to do was to combine both, and to have a returning creature which seemed to do exactly the same as in their first appearance (eyes glow red, killing people with the translation balls) while also adding in some fairly unlikely backstory as to what was happening with the creatures and what their history was.

It's unfortunate therefore that the story as a whole comes over as fairly generic and bland, with the main cast, the Doctor and Donna, given very little to do. It was pointed out to me that the events would have unfolded in exactly the same way if the Doctor and Donna had never arrived - all the main threads had nothing to do with them, and were in progress long before (Ood Sigma turning Halpen into an Ood, Ryden being a member of 'Friends of the Ood' and so on). This renders our heroes ineffectual, and their involvement becomes more of an inconvenience than helping to drive the plot. I'm sure there are other Doctor Who stories where the Doctor changes nothing whatsoever by his involvement but I can't think of any just now.

The TARDIS randomly arrives on the Ood Sphere, a cold and wintry planet which unfortunately manages to still look like a quarry covered with snow. I liked the reference to the Sense Sphere though, a touch to the show's history (look up 'The Sensorites' on page 46 of The Television Companion if you're still puzzled).

We rapidly meet the prime movers: Halpen, director or boss or something of the Ood supply chain, Solana the head of Marketing, and Ryden, a doctor tending to them (we know this as he wears a white coat). Halpen has his own Ood slave, called Sigma Ood for no apparent reason, and there's a group of buyers there looking to invest in Ood, as well as a group of bloodthirsty, triggerhappy soldiers led by Commander Kess.

The Doctor hears singing but Donna cannot. It is the song of the Ood, and I'm not sure that viewers heard it as well - surely that dreadful opera stuff wasn't the song? No wonder Donna couldn't bear to hear it when the Doctor opened her mind to it. Our heroes explore and join the party of Ood buyers. Meanwhile Ood are going rabid, slavering and red-eyed, and rampaging about the compound.

There's a lot of cross-scene editing in the episode, showing parallel events as Doctor and Donna are faced with different threats, like the utterly pointless CGI attack on the Doctor by Kess operating a grab-crane. Probably winner of the 'most pointless use of CGI' award. There's also something nasty lurking in hangar 15 ...

The Doctor and Donna find some unprocessed Ood in basement cells, and we discover that they carry a second brain in their hands. Said brain being cut off and replaced with a translator ball when they are processed. The processed Ood all go mad and red-eyed and start attacking everyone. For some reason soldiers armed with machine guns are killed as the Ood rampage (very, very slowly) through the base.

Solana is killed (well she was cute, but very misguided and thus doomed), then Kess is killed by his own gas. The Doctor and Donna manage to miraculously escape from handcuffs when the red-eyed Ood don't kill them (saved by the unprocessed Ood down below stopping the red-eye or something like that anyway) ... and so it's on to hangar 15 for the endgame.

Therein is a massive brain, held within an electrical field. What? Suddenly this is like 'Time and the Rani' all over again. How can a giant brain survive under the planet's surface anyway? Why does it seem to absorb Ryden when he is thrown to his death by Halpen? How can the Ood who have been processed (and have had their hind brain removed) communicate effectively together? It all makes little sense.

Then, to top it all, it is revealed that Ood Sigma, although mentally castrated, has maintained enough nouse to feed Halpen Ood grafts suspended in organic solution ... which conveniently turns him into an Ood at exactly the right dramatic moment. So ingesting genetic material from another species turns you into that other species does it? Some day humans are going to start to turn into cows, sheep and chickens then, or even carrots and broccoli. This is of course patent rubbish, and stretches believability to the limit.

But never mind. The electricity is turned off and all the Ood can be happy again now they can communicate and sing with each other once more.

There's a note of 'arc' at the end when Ood Sigma comments to the Doctor that his song must end soon - we hear notes from the Rose 'Doomsday' theme on the soundtrack - but then the Doctor and Donna are off again in the TARDIS.

Overall I didn't really find this episode terribly satisfying. There's an awful lot of death with no consequence, and a great many unanswered questions. I guess that the whole Ood production line now stops. The story is set in 4126, so I presume that the Ood's last appearance on the Sanctuary Base (in 'The Impossible Planet'/'The Satan Pit') was therefore set before this.

The characters were all very one-dimensional, 'evil boss', 'good doctor', 'misguided marketing manager', and the Ood themselves did little more than stand around, or, when they exhibited red-eye, either quote in unison or kill people. Pretty much as they did in their earlier appearance. Something of a disappointment I felt.

I was also disconcerted by the need to have a 'catchphrase' for the monster. After 'Exterminate', 'Delete', 'Are you my Mummy?', 'You will be catalogued' and 'The Beast will arise' we can add 'The circle must be broken'. I hope that these things aren't added in just to provide T-shirt opportunities ... but I start to wonder.

Next week we have Martha back ... UNIT, Sontarans, Earth Invasion ... why does it all seem so familiar?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you're being a bit hard on this episode David.

I was a bit disappointed in the depiction of the planet; it was almost on a "Tron" level compared to the Xmas special's fx.

But I'm really suprised that you didn't give Catherine praise for her performance. While I agree the "slavery- bad, freedom-good" morality was trite this episode did have pace and the claw chase scene was great. There was little stereotypical Donnaisms nor was there too much sonic screwdriver wizardry.

Compared to the next 2 episodes this is "The Pyramids of Mars"!