Season 28 Episode 8 – The Impossible Planet, by Matt Jones

May 9, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

A classic base-under-siege scenario in the traditions of Moonbase and The Robots Of Death, this episode was one of the best of the season so far, and was a few minutes away from being brilliant. Thankfully, it took the action properly away from Earth for the first time in a long, long while, which helped to freshen things up a lot, there was a lot less over-concentration on the Doctor’s obsession with Rose, and the story built up the tension and drama at a much better pace, managing to be subtly sinister before gradually becoming overtly scary. There was a serious moral issue addressed in the forms of the Ood; it raised the question of whether manipulation of others becomes justified just because the others are happy to be manipulated. (The manipulation backfired for the crew of the station, when the Ood allowed themselves to become the tool of another being against the crew.)

It must be said that it didn’t start too promisingly with an opening moment of supreme smugness i.e. the Doctor and Rose’s forced laughter at their own feeble jokes, but then the Ood arrived and the story was forced to get to the point in a hurry for a change. It went terrifically well for the next forty minutes or so. But the ending brought the story down a bit, for two reasons.

Firstly, the setting-up of the cliffhanger got just a little bit over-the-top. Scary, yes, but I got the impression with the forced immensity of the music that Murray Gold was trying very hard to boss the audience’s emotions around. “Right, this is the point when you have to be really scared; start gibbering now, or I’ll tell you off for not watching the programme properly.”

I also didn’t like the rather trite identity of the arch-villain. It’s the devil, eh? It’s the embodiment of evil, right? Oh, him again. Sorry, folks, but it’s been done, many times. There were some far more interesting scientific possibilities behind how the planet was able to survive above the black hole, and I would have been more intrigued to find out that it was something more original than just, “‘Tis the divine will of Satan!!!!” It’s even been done in Dr Who once upon a time, and very similarly. In The Three Doctors, a former Time Lord called Omega attacked Gallifrey and Earth from within a black hole. (Given the similarities, for a while I even thought the villain here might have been Omega. Even that would have been more interesting than cliches about the Devil.) My best hope, taken from a hint from the trailer for next week, is that ‘The Beast’ is just a bluffer and that it’s not nearly as powerful/demonic/messianic as it’s trying to make everyone think. (He could still be Omega, it occurs to me.)

I do have a physically-sound theory, by the way – purely scientific – for how the planet managed to avoid falling into the black hole for so long. And again, it would’ve been more satisfying if that had been the answer, but judging by the end of the episode, it doesn’t quite fit so I shan’t bother to explain it here unless someone specifically asks me to.

But let’s be fair. Most of the episode manages to move at an excellent, better-judged pace than usual. The zaniness level has mercifully dipped a good distance again (“Best Christmas in Walford ever” gag aside; and anyway I have to admit I liked that one). And the Ood are very well-designed, and make for creepy aliens.

So for the sake of the first forty minutes, I’ll give this one no less than 9/10. Should be 8, but a bonus point is hereby awarded for avoiding references to that. (I’m not sure it deserves too much credit for that, mind, as there’s no way that I can see that they can fit even a tenuous reference to it into this storyline.) This really sets things up well. Hopefully the second episode will see the pay-off it deserves.

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