It’s another two-parter! With the horrors of the recent Cybermen invasion still fresh in our memories (horrific thanks to the writing, rather than the Cybermen), Russell Davies and his band of motley Welsh cohorts boldly go where no Doctor has been before. Well, at least not in the last two series.
In the past – if that phrase actually means anything when talking about Doctor Who – the Doctor would nip to alien planets and drop in on moon bases fairly frequently. Admittedly, they were made of cardboard, but they were moon bases all the same. But cardboard wouldn’t be good enough for Mr. Davies, oh no. With his expanded second season budget, he’s been able to create the moon base to end all moon bases. As far as Saturday evening telly goes, anyway.
“The Impossible Planet” is a bubbling cauldron of Sci-Fi clichés. There are elements of Event Horizon, Doom, The Abyss, and Alien. It’s a deeply unoriginal concept, but isn’t really damaged by the fact because, quite simply, I’ve not sat down and watched this sort of thing on British television for an age. If ever, to be honest.
And it doesn’t take itself too seriously. On two occasions, the exact same hydraulic “door opening” sound effect as is featured in the original version of Doom can be heard. This episode isn’t even afraid of mocking it’s tentacle mouthed aliens: Rose, when told that the race of slave creatures present on the base are called The Ood entertainingly responds “that’s… oood”.
The script throughout is a joy. The Ood require the use of globular communication device, which is prone to occasional malfunctions (thanks to the whirling psychic vortex present on the planet). At one point, whilst serving Rose a delicious meal of Green in the base canteen (better add The Matrix to that list of references) one matter of factly states “The Beast and His armies will rise from the pit to make war with God”. It’s a fantastic moment. Other highlights include a great Eastenders reference towards the end.
We’re even treated to a comedy pre-credit cliffhanger thanks to the Ood’s malfunctioning device, which brilliantly pokes fun at the nature of Who’s up in the air endings, and introduces the concept of their less than perfect method of communication.
Planet does a good job of building the tension with similar malfunctions. That classic Sci-Fi device “the speaking door” malfunctions and proclaims “He is awake”. Images of a creature not dissimilar to Satan appear on a three dimensional display device. While a characters back is turned, of course.
James Strong’s direction is impeccable. He does a great job of implementing the tension present in the script. It’s particularly impressive given the claustrophobic nature of the fantastic sets. The moon base is great, the monstrous black hole lurking above the planet is superb, and the cavernous underground chamber revealed in the episode’s final moments is one of the finest sights I’ve seen on television.
This episode even gets a good Tennant rating. He’s back in fascinated geek mode, and it works. Billie does a good job too, and it’s a neat indication of how much the character has changed that she’s not that bothered about being marooned. It also occurred to me during this episode that I appear to be incapable of finding her to be annoying. If another character behaved in that way, I think I’d be quite tired of it by now, but Piper some how gets away with it. She jokes about settling down with The Doctor, during which he looks deeply uncomfortable; this is no handholding resignation to a life of happy homing, The Doctor doesn’t appear to relish the thought of settling down with his companion.
Thanks to some great performances (including MyAnna Buring, of Descent and The Omen “fame”, who sadly doesn’t really get enough to do), a brilliantly tense, slow-burning creature in the Ood, and a climax that skillfully jacks up the tension – rather than just dumping the characters in an obviously inescapable predicament – “The Impossible Planet” is my second favourite episode so far this series – after the magnificent “Girl In The Fireplace”.
Next week can’t come soon enough! It’s just a shame we’re now only a handful of episodes from the season finale.