Doctor Who - The New Series

2.08: "THE IMPOSSIBLE PLANET"

TX: 3 June 2006

Written by: Matt Jones

Directed by: James Strong

Running time: 45' 16"

Location: The planet of Krop Tor, AKA "The Bitter Pill"

Date: Unknown; described as "43k, 2.1"

Monsters and villains: The Beast (a psychic monster), The Ood (slave creatures)

Tardisode Synopsis: A man named Captain Walker is told that he will be heading out on an expedition to bring back the power source that is stopping a planet from being sucked into a black hole. It turns out that 'The Empire' that he works for heard about it in some ancient manuscripts from planets close to the planet. As he and his boss leave the office, an Ood says, "...and The Beast shall rise from the pit."

Plot Synopsis: The Doctor is startled to find himself on a planet orbiting a black hole and surrounded by psychic slaves - but even stranger things are afoot and something deep below the planet's surface is trying to escape...

Smug Warning: The Doctor and Rose's infuriating laugh at the start of the show. "Oh-ho-ho-ho! Danger is awesome!"

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry": The Doctor, to Scooti's body.

Torchwood spotting: None.

Trivia: (1) The Beast is played by Gabriel Woolfe, who also played Sutekh in the Fourth Doctor story "The Pyramids of Mars". Both Sutekh and The Beast are supposed to have gone by the name of Satan. However, the two characters are unrelated.

(2) The Captain Walker mentioned by Zach is shown in the episode's Tardisode.

(3) Originally the planet was to be called "Hell", hence the graffiti found by The Doctor and Rose at the start of the episode.

(4) The Doctor is wrong to say that it is impossible for something to orbit a black hole; provided the body is not within the event horizon (the point at which a black hole's gravitational pull becomes impossible to escape), then it is most certainly possible.

(5) Also incorrect is the term "geostationary orbit", which only applies to things orbiting the Earth.

(6) Rose mentions her role as a dinnerlady in 2.03, "School Reunion".

(7) Originally Matt Jones wanted the role of the Ood to be played by enslaved Raxacoricofallapatorians (the species first seen in 1.04, "Aliens of London"), but Davies was concerned that they would overshadow the rest of the episode.

(8) The cavern containing The Beast's seal was actually show in Wenvoe Quarry in Wenvoe. This is the first time a quarry has been used as a shooting location in the new series, although they were famously used extensively in the original series.

(9) Because the quarry was open to the elements, an optional line of dialogue was added to the script; in case of snow or rain during shooting, The Doctor would explain that it was poisonous precipitation collecting inside the caves.

(10) The Doctor's claim that TARDISes are not bulit but grown contradicts dialogue in the Fourth Doctor story "Warrior's Gate" and the Fifth Doctor story "Arc of Infinity".

(11) The biblical number of the beast, 666, turns up twice in the episode: a computer readout says 66.6 and The Doctor says that to generate a gravitational field would take a power source of "six to the power of six every six seconds". Also, the date of the Wednesday after this episode's broadcast was 06/06/06. Additionally, the soundtrack features Ravel's Bolero, which was played for ice dancers Torvill and Dean at the 1984 Winter Olympics; their performance that day netted them a perfect six from each of the three judges.

(12) A creature similar to The Beast appears in the last episode of the first series of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off. One of the characters subtly implies that the two monsters are connected somehow.

(13) The corridor set was recycled and used for the entrance to the set for the children's magazine show spin-off Totally Doctor Who.

Spoiler Synopsis: Wheezing and groaning even more than usual, the TARDIS touches down in a storage cupboard in a pre-fabricated space station which constantly hums with the sound of drilling. The Doctor says that it must have indigestion and he and Rose head out to a habitation area and find a series of unreadable symbols on the wall. The Doctor says that as the TARDIS isn't translating it, there must be beyond even the ship's vast knowledge, out on the far reaches of the universe. They open a hatch to leave the room and find themselves confronted by aliens known as the Ood, who speak using glowing balls connected to their mouths by transparent cables.

Three humans enter the room. Their leader, security chief Jefferson, reports The Doctor and Rose to the station's commander, Zack, but is interrupted by a warning of an imcoming earthquake. Everyone - save for the Ood - rushes into the station's command room just in time for the quake to hit. After it subsides, Zack says that a section of the base has collapsed into the planet's surface. The team is then introduced: Ida the science officer, Zack the acting captain, Jefferson the head of security, Danny Bartok of the ethics committee, Toby Zed the archaeologist and Scooti Manista, a trainee maintenance officer. Rose asks what's outside the station and Ida pulls a switch, opening up a panel in the roof to reveal an enormous black hole directly above them.

The Doctor says that it's impossible for the planet they're stood on to be in orbit around the hole, but Ida says that's exactly what's happening. Zack explains that the planet is somehow generating a massive gravitational field that extends like a cone into space - that very same cone was used to land on the planet in the first place. During the trip the original captain died, hence Zack taking over. He also says that the planet's name is translated as "The Bitter Pill" and that according to ancient lore, the black hole was a demon that spat out the planet after it was unable to digest it. The Ood are also explained - they are a slave race that serve the humans. Rose objects, but the Ood say that they crave orders and are perfectly happy with the situation.

It turns out that the humans are on the planet to get hold of whatever is generating the field. Toby adds that the planet once supported life and he has found their relics but has been unable to translate them.

The Doctor is delighted that the humans came all the way into the depths of space just to learn more about the anomaly. He decides to take his leave, but is horrified to discover that one of the sections that was lost when the planet's surface partially collapsed contained the TARDIS. Zach says that it will be far beneath the planet's surface now and there is no way they can divert the drilling away. They are trapped.

That night, something dangerous inhabits the station. Demonic images appear on hologram projectors; an Ood's translator says that "The Beast will rise"; the computer says that "he is awake" and Toby, alone in his room, hears a horrible voice that tells him not to look around or he will die. He looks around anyway and sees nothing but when he turns back, the mysterious writing has somehow transferred from his artifacts and covered the whole of his body and his eyes have turned red. He collapses.

Meanwhile, in the command centre, The Doctor and Rose discuss what they'll do now they're stranded. Rose suggests that they could share a house, but The Doctor is clearly not enthused by that idea. Suddenly, Rose's mobile phone rings and a voice on the other end of the line says "he is awake". Elsewehere in the station, Toby wakes up.

In the Ood storage area, near the lift shaft created by the station's sill-moving drill, The Doctor asks Danny how the aliens communicate and Danny tells him that they are psychic, operating on Basic 5 - the psychic equivalent of conversation. Suddenly, the rating raises to Basic 30 - screaming - and the Ood, who were sat down, now stand and say that "he" is coming. The Doctor and Danny ask who, but the Ood do not reply.

Elsewhere, Scooti looks out of a window and sees Toby somehow standing on the planet's surface without a space suit. He beckons to her and the glass screen shatters, sucking her outside. Zack sees that Habitation 3 has become depressurised and orders everyone to the station's command room. Everyone but Scooti arrives, including a confused but seemingly not possessed Toby. The Doctor looks up and sees that Scooti is floating in space directly above the station. Ida closes the roof panel to hide the body from view. Suddenly, the drilling stops; they've reached the planet's core.

The Doctor and Ida both go down the station's lift shaft to the planet's core while Danny goes to keep an eye on the Ood, most of whom have been restricted to their storage area. As soon as the lift reaches the bottom, the Ood simultaneously rise up. They have now reached Basic 100 - brain death - but they continue to stand. Jefferson and his guards grab their weapons and head to the life shaft.

Far beneath them, The Doctor and Ida find an ornately-inscribed trap door. The Doctor asks Toby if he's deciphered the alien writing and Toby reveals that he is possessed. Jefferson raises his gun and threatens him, but Toby uses a psychic link to pull a terrible secret from Jefferson's past, shaking him. The letters drop off Toby, who collapses, and spread to the Ood, whose eyes begin to glow as they declare themselves The Legion of the Beast. One of the Ood throws its translation ball onto one of the guards, electrocuting and killing him.

Danny runs off, while Jefferson, Rose and the remaining guard back up slowly. As the Ood continue to approach them, the trap door in the underground caves begins to open and Zack announces that whatever is providing the gravity is failing - the planet will soon be sucked into the black hole.

TO BE CONTINUED

Review: It's Event Horizon for kids, everyone! Complete with an actual event horizon and everything. Okay, so it might be a wee bit cheaper than that movie and lack the horrendous eye trauma, but if you're willing to suspend your disbelief, this is easily the best new Who for scares since "The Empty Child". Even better, it's a proper "base under siege plot" of the kind that the original series became so good at, except this time the BBC has the budget to actually go at it full pelt with some lovely sets, great VFX and some genuinely great chills.

The old-school vibe is helped not only by the triumphant return of the quarry as a shooting location, but also by the large supporting cast, all of whom have clearly different personalities despite the relatively minimal screentime that they get. Only the two doomed security guards get pretty much nothing - not even names as I recall - which seems a bit unfair, but there's enough to fit into this episode already, what with the monsters and the visions and the little dig at The Doctor and Rose's relationship.

Oh yes - this episode sees the return of what passes for a character arc these days. Remember how Rose began to doubt her future with The Doctor in "School Reunion" and that doubt seemed to be built upon with his relationship with Madame de Pompadour in "The Girl in the Fireplace". Yes? Well for the last three episodes I was starting to think that the writers didn't, but there's a pleasing return to it here as Rose suggests that, since they are stranded, she and The Doctor could move in together - and he clearly doesn't like the idea.

It's a nice scene and had it been part of a proper arc then it would have worked even better, but there is absolutely no follow-through on any of this, as viewers that have seen the full second series will already know. Shame. Still, the failings of the season as a whole don't decrease the enjoyment to be found in the rest of this episode. In fact, I'd say that this is a perfect example of modern Who (Moffat's scripts being better, but slightly too weird to be representative) aside from a few tiny problems.

First of all, the fact that the episode went through about a million rewrites is really, really obvious on occasion. Example? In the scene in which The Doctor is introduced to the crew, one of them says that the planet has no name. Less than five minutes later, someone else is explaining the story of how it became known as "The Bitter Pill". In that same scene, a variation on the line "you're not kidding, you really don't know do you?" is used twice (possibly three times, but I lent out the DVDs. Whoops!).

Now I can understand how these things happen when constantly rewriting a script, but why weren't they caught by the script editors, or changed during shooting by the director? It's a shame, because it does make the production look kind of amateurish despite the accomplishments of everyone else involved.

There's also the slightly odd way that Rose acts fairly blasé about being stranded in the future, but it's not serious enough to drag down what is a grand episode and one of the highlights of the second season.

8/10

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Sources:

http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

During the first series of the Doctor Who revival, The Doctor and his companions never left earth. Somewhat understandable in terms external to the story, but a great loss in terms of what is possible with Doctor Who, which more than any show ever filmed is limited only by imagination. And costuming, prop, special effects and scenery budgets. In the second series, starring David Tennant as the 10th Doctor and with the continuing presence of Billie Piper as his companion Rose, there are three or four episodes that take place in alien locales. Along with "New Earth" and possibly "The Girl in the Fireplace", there is the two-part story "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit", which I will be treating in this write-up as one story.

The episode starts when the Tardis materializes on a broken down, battered exploration base on a small, uninhabited planet orbiting a black hole. With writing on the walls that is so ancient that the Tardis can't translate it. The exploratory crew of the base, which consists of a half-dozen people, assisted by a hive mind race called the Ood. The planet has a mythology built up around it, based on its unusual physics (orbiting stably inside of the event horizon of a black hole, using an anti-gravity generator) supposedly being an ancient trap built for some type of entity trapped within it. And over the course of the two episodes, we see that the legend is based in fact, as we see hints, and then revelations, that there is indeed a great and hidden evil. The slow revelation of the menacing presence trapped in the planet is truly creepy.

The episode certainly captures some great tropes of Doctor Who, including such perennial points as a race against the clock, a crumbling base, and lots of running/crawling down corridors. Also, of course, a gradual death toll, and a crisis that is only averted at the last moment. Several times.

In terms of the development of the series, the most important point of this episode is that it truly made the decision to go big. The episode takes place far out in space, in an undisclosed future time, and it deals with a menace from the deep past that, when we finally see it, is big in terms of physical size and presence. The entire episode is, in a word, cosmic. The layout of the base, and the appearance of the crew, would also become a design staple of revival who: futuristic technology that looks like it has been repaired with spit and baling wire. The entire thing is realistic and atmospheric and helps build the episodes tension.

If there is any trouble with the story, it has to do with one of the flaws of revival Who overall: the relationship between individual episodes and overall plot and character arcs. The Doctor and Rose visit their most cosmic location yet, face down an ancient evil... and then the episode ends and it is just another adventure, not much more different than meeting Charles Dickens in Cardiff. However, building story arcs is not an easy matter, and the fact that this spectacular story didn't quite fit into the rest of the series as well as it could have is a somewhat minor point.

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