Season 30 Episode 3 – Planet Of The Ood, by Keith Temple

May 11, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

Now that’s more like it! For the first time in a long while – probably since Blink last year in fact – we have a decent episode of Dr Who. Still short of great by a furlong, nevertheless we got a plot for a change (what will they think of next?), and the moral themes were explored in a far less heavy-handed manner than last week. They were also fresher.

It always helps to have an episode set on a planet other than Earth for a change, and I must admit I do like the Ood. I think they’re easily more interesting than any other monster introduced in new Who to date. It was good finally seeing a follow-up to the moral issue that was rather skated over in The Satan Pit two years ago (read, an omission that the Doctor himself effectively admitted to in a virtual break of the fourth wall in the dialogue here. Properly understanding the true nature of their enslavement is important, especially as it is now revealed just why the Ood always appeared happy with being slaves. It wasn’t because they were naturally submissive, but because they were brainwashed into forgetting the whole concept of freedom. It makes them some of the most poignant monsters – if monsters they truly are – ever to feature in Dr Who, and I hope to see them again in the near future. Big credit to Keith Temple for identifying a very rich vein of story potential (and I don’t just say that because I identified it myself several years ago).

Mucho credit also to Tim McInerney for his performance as the Mr Halpen, the villainous corporate officer; it was clearly written to be another lazy, whimsical caricature, and he triumphs above it by refusing to play up the sillier lines and running gags in the self-conscious, zany way most other actors have gone for in similar roles over the last couple of years. Instead he keeps the gags suitably understated, and concentrates far more on conveying the inner tension and turmoil of a man in a position of responsibility, under too much corporate pressure to bother with issues such as morality. He made for quite a strong villain, but also a more sympathetic one than the run-of-the-mill bad guys who have littered many recent stories.

The resolution was far better work than normal too, with no sorcery get-outs or lazy technobabble with which the writer could save himself the bother of thinking. Feeding drugs into the villain to cause him to change into an Ood was… well, different certainly, and while the loyal-butler-who-turns-assassin-to-slay-his-own-master is not exactly a new idea, at least there was a fresh angle in its motivations. And the transformation, while a little implausible, was genuinely creepy to see. Hey, I was eating my dinner just in time to see a new Ood cough up its tentacles and sneeze out a new brain! Delightful… (that is a genuine compliment!)

It’s not all smiles though. The opening scenes with more of the usual fabricated excited squealing from Donna were slightly painful, doubly so with the Doctor giving another of his unsubtle, recycled lectures about how boring conventional human lives are. And that Simpsons gag was another jarring pop-culture reference in a story set far too far into the future to sound at all natural or plausible. Meanwhile, the info-dump scene with the activist-traitor revealing himself and announcing his activities of the last few years for no apparent reason was exposition of a very amateurish order.

More seriously, there was very much a sense of the Doctor and Donna simply being along for the ride. The whole conflict would have resolved itself in much the same way had they not been there at all, as they spent most of the story observing and reacting and getting captured, while the Ood effected their own rebellion without need for outside help at all. Indeed, it was the Ood who rescued the Doctor and Donna at the end and not the other way round. Refreshing in one sense, but it’s hard to escape the impression that Doc’n’Don were a bit superfluous. You do wonder why the Ood expressed such adoring gratitude at the end.

All right, so the Doctor did have a useful role to play in defusing the explosives at the last moment, but even that was just another case of simply hitting the off-switch. Anyone could have done that.

These flaws are not major, and the far greater depth and measured plot-advancement comfortably made up for them. No, it’s not a classic episode, but it’s the only decent one we’ve had since Blink, and that alone makes for a source of some relief. I give it 7/10.

Next the return of the Sontarans for the first time since The Two Doctors. Might be interesting, if their return is handled differently from the overhyped way the Daleks’ and the Cybermen’s were handled in seasons past.

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