This past weekend, The Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) landed on a planet destined for doom – the evil in question? A black hole. Not so bad actually, just pop in the TARDIS and go, right? Well, not really. The TARDIS, The Doctor’s only other friend, was gone. Did I mention that there was a satanic evil waiting deep below the earth’s surface?
All of this danger should have made for a great start to this two-parter from Matt Jones, but instead gets weighed down by erratic tones in the script and too many supporting characters.
The start of the episode, like some of them this season, began with a bad attempt at humor by Rose (“If you think there’s gonna be trouble, we could just go back in and go somewhere else”), followed by The Doctor babbling about “Space Base, Moonbase.” Of course, they discover ancient writing with the heading overstating the obvious (“Welcome to Hell”), which is followed up by the introduction to the Ood, a race of people who communicate through small strobe-lights that could have been stolen from Studio 54. The Ood also carry the same dialogue as the Daleks (“Exterminate!”) and The Cybermen (“Delete!”). In their case it’s “We Must Feed”, which suggests that by the end of the opening sequence credits, they will be running from cannibals. Instead, they are shown as slaves who wanted to “feed” The Doctor and Rose. WTF?
After that misfire of tension, we meet the crew who run the base that sat on top of the planet. Of course, as a cliché, they are explorers who mine various planets so that they can claim their resources (a la “The Pirate Planet”). Most of the members of the crew seemed one-dimensional given the dumb-founded “people” dialogue (“I can’t believe they are real people.” “Wow! Real people!”). One word of the title of the episode also got a mention ad nasuem (“Impossible”), which by the end of the episode really took all the mystery out of it.
And then there’s the satanic evil lurking around.
Toby (played with great slyness by Will Throp) wasn’t given a lot of character development and was mostly used to discover the meaning behind the writings. He does, however, get one of the greatest “Don’t look back” scenes in TV history; the writer also did the right thing of not showing whatever was there behind him at the last moment. When he became taken over, he inhabited the very writings he was researching on his skin, which could have been exploited more. Instead, the Ood are given the same job of carrying out the plan of the spirit inside the planet, which seems the easy way of carrying suspense in sci-fi. If John Carpenter could pull that off with The Thing, they could have easily pulled that off in Doctor Who.
Having lost the TARDIS to space, The Doctor and Rose make small talk about their future without his time machine. They speak of living together and possibly being a couple; a yucky idea indeed. I believe that “School Reunion” earlier this year already established that it wouldn’t make sense for the Doctor to be in a relationship. Yet here, the romance cliché is in full effect. This was especially true as Rose pined for the Doctor to return from the bottom of the Earth (which he goes to investigate). To be honest, this would have been a great last hurrah for Elizabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith — the smack in the face situation that would have reminded her how dangerous life was for her with the Doctor (she originally was on the show in the 70s with Jon Pertwee, and then later with Tom Baker).
Despite my issues with the supporting characters and the increased cheese factor, one cannot deny the scenery of this episode. The civilization within the planet actually looks like it could fit, especially when they go down into the center of the planet (which is something they couldn’t completely do with “The Pirate Planet” in the 70s). The base also looked good; even though it looked like it had been borrowed from the set of another movie. One thing I couldn’t quite get into was the shaking style during the quakes; they didn’t seem to shake as violently. The Enterprise on Star Trek felt more real in that instance when they got hit.
This episode may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the writing is what ultimately spoke for itself in this case. Several Doctor Who fans tend not to be fans of the “base under siege” genre of Sci-Fi, especially since a lot of early Doctor Who tended to rely on this. I can say I understand their issues with that format, but perhaps it’s a matter of which episode they are watching. From my own memory, “The Robots Of Death” was about the same, but kept the interest by making it a mystery. “Planet of Evil” was helped because the monster in question never had a real physical form. Again, it’s more in how you write the episode.
Let’s see if the quality follows into next week’s “The Satan Pit”.