Doctor Who - The New Series

2.09: "THE SATAN PIT"

TX: 10 June 2006

Written by: Matt Jones

Directed by: James Strong

Running time: 47' 12"

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 in the station's command room receives Captain Walker's belongings and is horrified when the captain's diary bursts into flames and the ship's computer begins to chant that "he is coming". Later, a woman enters the room to find the man comatose, his face covered with mysterious symbols...

Plot Synopsis: The Beast has woken from his slumber and is moving on the surface of Krop Tor. Can Rose and the exploration crew fend off the relentless hordes of the Ood? And what awaits The Doctor at the bottom of The Satan Pit?

Smug Warning: None.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry": No mentions.

Torchwood spotting: The expedition is being made on behalf of "The Torchwood Archive".

Trivia: (1) Originally Toby's possession was going to be held back until the end of the episode, but it was felt that this would seem to come out of nowhere.

(2) At one point there were concerns that the CGI Beast would be too costly. Suggested replacements were an old man, an enormous eye and a spooky young girl. This latter suggestion was made by Davies and inspired by one of a avatars of the Senior Partners of the supernatural law firm Wolfram and Hart in the TV series Angel. Some of the unused designs were worked into the show's third season.

(3) The scene in the TARDIS where the Doctor says "the stuff of legend" was actually the last scene Billie Piper filmed for the series.

(4) This episode's Tardisode was based on cut lines from the script that said the station's command room had already seen some deaths. Presumably both crewmembers shown in it died prior to The Doctor coming aboard.

(5) The Beast's claim that Rose will die in battle comes true - sort of - in 2.13, "Doomsday".

(6) As he enters the pit, The Doctor lists some planets whose inhabitants believe in horned demons. These include Draconia from the original series story "Frontier in Space" and Dæmos from the original series tale "The Dæmons". Both are Third Doctor stories.

(7) The Doctor claims that the Time Lords created black holes; he is referencing The Eye of Harmony, which used black hole technology to power TARDISes and other machinery.

(8) Russel T. Davies gave the designers paintings by comic book artist Simon Bisley to inspire them when they were designing The Beast.

(9) The caves used when filming the scenes with The Doctor and The Beast - the Clearwell Caves in Gloucestershire - were also used for the interior of the Sycorax ship in sp.01, "The Christmas Invasion".

(10) The episode pulled in 5.5 million viewers, the lowest to date, although it had an audience share of 35%, which was in-line with previous weeks. Good weather and the first England game of the 2006 World Cup were blamed for the drop in viewers.

Spoiler Synopsis: In the Ood storage room, Jefferson gives the order to fire and the approaching Ood are cut down. More Ood follow, however, and the second guard is killed by one of their translation balls. Jefferson opens fire again as the humans flee. They meet up with Danny, who ran at the end of the last episode, and the rest of the survivors - with the exception of Zack, who is trapped in the command station. Zack reports that the planet's orbit has stabilised again and they are no longer in danger of being pulled into the black hole.

Jefferson tells Zack that he's low on ammunition and Zack himself says he only has a bolt gun with one bolt loaded. He suggests that they put in place "Strategy 9". The Doctor calls through from the planet's caves and says that the trapdoor is open but that nothing seems to be inside, just a bottomless pit. Zack orders them back to the base and The Doctor agrees, suspecting that the pit is a trap.

Back at the station, a now-normal Toby says that he cannot remember much of his possession but says that he thinks he was being controlled by the Devil. The Doctor and Ida make their way back to the lift shaft just as its power supply fails, trapping them there. The Ood, controlled by The Beast, appear on viewscreens and The Doctor asks which of the universe's many devils it really is. The Beast says that it is all of them.

It says that it existed before the creation of this universe, where it was chained down into the pit by the Disciples of the Light. The Doctor says that it is impossible but it laughs him off and tells the team about each of their hidden secrets. It then says that Rose will die in battle.

Everyone starts to panic, with the exception of The Doctor, who tells them that they can all work together to bring The Beast down. Just then the lift's cable snaps, trapping him and Ida down in the caves with only 55 minutes of oxygen. With no other options, they decide to use the cables so that The Doctor can climb into the pit.

Up in the base, Zack says that thanks to the partial loss of power he is unable to put into plan Strategy 9, which would have involved evacuating most of the base's oxygen to kill the Ood. However, Danny says that they can use the monitor in Ood storage to broadcast a psychic flare that will scramble their brains. Zack says that he can move the station's oxygen fields through the ventilation ducts, allowing the team to pass through them and into the storage area.

They travel through the ducts, but find themselves chased by the Ood. Jefferson holds them back but finds himself seperated from the rest by a junction door. Zack says there's no way to open it again and Jefferson asks that he remove all oxygen from his part of the tunnels before the Ood get him. Zack complies. The team continue and find themselves stalked by more Ood.

Unseen by Rose and Danny, Toby's eyes turn red and he motions to the Ood not to harm him. They hang back and he joins back up with the rest of the group. They make it to the storage area and Danny uses a computer program to zap the Ood, dropping their psychic level to Basic 0. They collapse.

The Doctor reaches the end of the cable partway down the pit and, deciding he would rather risk his life continuing to explore than just suffocating, he detaches himself and drops into the pit. At that moment, the team make contact with Ida who tells Rose that The Doctor is gone.

They say that they are going to have to flee the base and leave Ida behind. She agrees. Rose demands to be left behind as well, but Zack knocks her out and carries her to the escape rocket. On their way, they pass The Ood, who are beginning to wake back up. On the ship, Rose threatens Zack with the bolt gun and demands to be taken back, but Zack says it's too late. Rose wonders why they escaped so easily but Toby is quick to silence her.

At the bottom of the pit, the Doctor wakes. His helmet is broken and he notes that there is oxygen down there - a cushion of air must have broken his fall. He finds carvings on the wall showing The Beast being chained down and enters a room with two vases on pedestals. He touches them and the room lights up, revealing a 100-foot horned demon chained to the wall of a massive cavern.

He notes that this snarling beast seems to have no intelligence at all and guesses that its mind must already have fled inside one of the crewmembers. He realises that its captors chained it there knowing that if it escaped it would be sucked into the black hole. He guesses that they also left a breathable atmosphere there so that anyone happening across the planet would be able to stop The Beast from escaping by smashing the vases.

The Beast's voice returns to the cavern and tells him that if he removes the planet's gravity field the ship containing Rose will be lost to the black hole too. The Doctor decides that Rose will be able to do something to save herself and smashes them. On the ship, The Beast - now in Toby's body - begins to breathe flames. Rose quickly uses the bolt gun to shoot out the ship's window and opens Toby's safety belt, allowing him to be sucked into space. Zack raises a second window but they are stil being pulled towards the black hole.

The Doctor finds the TARDIS in one of The Beast's caverns and dives inside. The escape ship's crew prepare for death, but the TARDIS appears in space and uses its gravitational beam to pull the ship away from the tunnel. The Doctor's voice comes over the intercom and says that he was able to save Ida but didn't have time to grab the Ood. The ship leaves the pull of the black hole and the TARDIS materialises inside its bay. Rose and The Doctor say their farewells and leave. As the ship containing the three survivors heads back to safety, Zack records a captain's log, listing the names of the dead.

Review: Oh dear, it seems like they've completely forgotten how to resolve cliffhangers this season. The start of "Rise of the Cybermen" was bad enough, but this is awful on three levels! Last episode, you may recall, ended with Jefferson's team of armed guards being menaced by the Ood. Yes, I said armed guards. So guess how they get out of that one? Clue: it involves guns.

Then you've got Zack's claim that the planet is drifting into the black hole. Oh no! How will they get out of this one? Er, by just waiting for it to go back into orbit without explanation, apparently. Yup, who needs cause and effect when you can just have the effect? But the biggest disappointment is the revelation that the invisible entity zooming up the pit towards The Doctor and Ida was... nothing. At all. Well, it was a cameraman if you want to break the fourth wall, but in-story there was nothing about to eat their faces. What a gyp! And a total cheat on the part of the director.

These moments aside, The Satan Pit proves to be just as much fun as last week's installment, if not more. There's plenty of action all the way through, a decent atmosphere of impending doom and some spectacular special effects. Oh, that monster! Seeing wee Davey Tennant in front of a 100-foot flayed, horned demon is genuinely thrilling, especially compared to the small-scale baddies seen in the rest of the series. And the rest of the effects are equally good, turning a potentially ridiculous and derivative concept into something that's genuinely eerie.

I can't really fault scripting, either - there are no massive errors like there were last week and everyone gets their chance to shine. The characters that were sketched out last week are fleshed out a little here (not too much, though - the days of six-part Who stories are long gone). Okay so the actual logic behind The Beast's imprisonment is shaky, but at least it makes sense on a pulpy level. And the idea of it wanting to escape the planet as much as the rest of the crew is a nice idea and a good way to avoid having an incredibly powerful baddie who doesn't kill the good guys for no real reason.

The supporting cast all put in a good effort as well - while some of the scenes in last week's episode felt a little bit off (Danny's line readings in particular sometimes seemed to fall flat now and again), this episode is uniformly sound. Werdly, as fellow e2 Who viewer bol pointed out to me, the dullest perfomance in these two episodes is from Billie Piper herself. She's not bad - at least I don't think so - but her performance lacks its usual spark.

It's a shame, because this episode probably gives Rose more to do than any other in the season. Sure, "School Reunion" gave her a bit more emotional range, but she was playing third fiddle to Sarah Jane and the Krillitanes. And "New Earth" had plenty of Piper, but she was Cassandra for most of that. Whereas The Satan Pit lets Rose step into the leader role quite plausibly and reminds all of us exactly what it was The Doctor saw in her in the first place. She even gets a decent emotional bit when she's dragged away from The Doctor (and she actually does this scene pretty well, although not as well as she will later in the season).

All in all a cracking episode and a wonderful amalgamation of old-Who settings and atmosphere with new-Who effects and action.

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

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