Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Works of The Devil


The two part The Impossible Planet Parts I & II (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit) introduce a new alien species, the Ood, and to my memory this is the first NuWho story where the aliens are actually memorable.  We've had monsters and villains in NuWho (The Lady Cassandra comes quickly to mind), but in many respects the Ood are different.  The Ood are not just one of the best NuWho aliens/monsters to originate with the revived series.  The Impossible Planet Parts I & II is also the first great story of David Tennant's tenure, a breathless, fast-paced story that reminds me of Classic Doctor Who at its most inventive.  It has the requisite terror aspects, incredible performances from both regular and guest stars, and tension that isn't relieved until the end.  The Impossible Planet Parts I & II surprised me at how much I got into the story.  It's been several years since I've seen it, and at least for this one bright shining moment I found myself doing something I have not done in a long time: love NuWho and think that it truly has achieved par with some of the best stories of the Classic Era. 

The Doctor (David Tennant) and his Companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) arrive on a mysterious space station.  It is a sanctuary station, one manned by the Ood, a slave race that does so willingly.  The humans here are a motley crew, but one which wants to discover the secret of the world they are in.  The planet  is K37 Gem5 or Krop Tor, The Bitter Pill.  What makes this such an 'impossible' world is that the planet is suspended within a black hole.  Instead of being taken within the black hole, Krop Tor maintains itself there.  The kind of power to hold itself in place without being swallowed by it apparently is so great it would take the power of six to the power of six every six seconds.  As they deal with the crew: acting Captain Zachary Flane (Shaun Parkes), Ethics Commander Danny Bartock (Ronny Jhutti), archaeologist Toby Zed (Will Thorp), science officer Ida Scott (Claire Rushbrook), Security Head Mr. Jefferson (Danny Webb), and Mechanical Trainee Scooti Manista (MyAnna Buring), the Doctor and Rose realize they are now trapped there, the TARDIS having been swallowed up by the planet into the pits.

Oddly, the TARDIS going down is the least of their worries.  The Ood, a docile group who communicate via orbs that allow them to speak, soon begin muttering very frightening things.  "The Beast and his armies shall rise from the Pit to make war against God."  Toby is soon possessed by a mysterious entity, and the Ood soon go from docile to dangerous.  They tell the horrified Doctor and crew that the one who has taken them goes by many names: Abbadon, Krop Tor, Satan or Lucifer, the King of Despair, The Deathless Prince, The Bringer of Night, the Devil.  The Ood have now gone mad and are besieging the base.  Under the possession of this force, Toby kills Scooti, and perhaps literally all Hell is breaking loose.

Marks of The Beast
With everything devolving into chaos it now is up to the Doctor and Rose to work separately to save themselves and everyone.  The Doctor and Scott had gone down to the depths of the planet prior to the Ood uprising and found the Pit, which has now opened.  Rose, left behind and temporarily cut off from the Doctor, takes charge.  The Captain, however, has authorized Strategy Nine: total evacuation of the planet and escape via a field that comes from the black hole which can hold gravity and not be dragged down.  The Beast, the being that has taken over the Ood, wants to break free from his imprisonment, and the Doctor now believes that the Beast is an ancient being who has spread evil across time, and has entered into myths and legends of all faiths (such as the Arkiphets, the Church of the Tin Vagabond, Christianity, and Neo-Judaism among others). 

Rose believes that the Doctor would have urged them to not give into despair but to think their way out of their situation.  With the Captain, besieged but still in control of the power, he guides Rose, Mr. Jefferson, Toby and Danny away from the rampaging Ood, though Mr. Jefferson falls behind protecting them and dies when the Captain is forced to cut his oxygen off to save the others.  Unbeknown to them all, Toby is still possessed by the Beast, and he escapes with the others.  Rose is determined to wait for the Doctor to return, but Strategy Nine won't allow anyone to stay behind, so the crew grab her and force her to the rocket. 

Scott, contemplating her own impending death, helps the Doctor go down to the Pit, where he meets the monsters.  He realizes that the Beast wants to escape but that now it is only the body that remains.  The mind of the Beast is now free, and if the Doctor tries to destroy the body he risks killing everyone.  Despite this, the Doctor does strike at the Beast, knowing that if there is one thing he believes in, it's Rose Tyler.  The body is destroyed, but a horrified crew discover that Toby is still possessed, and he now is going to use the ship to escape as Krop Tor is slowly going into the black hole.  The Doctor, who now has found the TARDIS, gives Rose hope, and with that she quickly manages to fling Toby/Beast into space, and with Scott rescued the Doctor now helps the rocket escape the black hole's pull.  Sadly, the Ood cannot be rescued, but Captain Flane recognizes their sacrifice by noting in the record each Ood's death, with honors, along with Toby's.

The Impossible Planet Parts I & II astonished me in its inventiveness, its fast pace, its terror quality, and in how good everything was.  Let's start with the two lead performances.  From the moment Tennant and Piper appear, literally laughing at the thought of danger, we see the rapport they have as Doctor and Companion.  Tennant is allowed to make great speeches about what The Beast is, and his declarations of "Brilliant!" are not words of praise but astonishment, which an attribute that can be applied to Tennant himself in the two-part story.  He moves so easily from calm to manic, courageous to thoughtful, that he runs through so many emotions without missing a beat.  Piper's Rose can be a bit clingy, but here at least we see that the stakes are terribly, terribly high and her fierce loyalty to the Doctor is not done out of erotic love but of genuine affection for her friend. 

The guest stars all fill their roles so well you'd think the odds of one of them stumbling would take, but none of them go wrong.  Thorp's Toby Zed (curiously, Zed is the non-American way of pronouncing the letter 'Z', so could there be something there?) goes from frightened to frightening with ease, where one feels sympathy and horror in quick succession.  Seeing his final end made me a little sad, given that Toby was another victim of the Beast.   Parkes' Captain was all business, and he did command the screen whenever he was on.  Webb's Mr. Jefferson was also excellent as the strong security chief, Jhutti's Danny lent lightness and/or fear when needed.  While Buring had a smaller role her final moments of terror sent chills down the spine, and Rushbrook's Ida Scott served as a great candidate for Companion if things had turned out differently.  She went from inquisitive to resigned so well. 

I can't find one performance that was bad or off, and this is not just credit to the individual actors but also to James Strong's apt directing, which kept things moving but which allowed for moments of rest when required.  The pacing was incredible, where the story flowed fantastically without feeling rushed or padded, and there are some beautiful visual moments (such as when in Part II the Doctor is suspended in total darkness, just him in the center). 

I think there is also something subliminal, perhaps accidentally so but still visually striking. Whenever we see the Doctor and Scott walking around in the dark with their space suits, is it me or do they look like Death, skulls moving about?  It adds another element in the 'chilling' aspect of The Impossible Planet I & II, which appears to borrow heavily from Aliens in not just the space station but in the story of having to do battle with a monster that devours all.  The story also appears to echo Dante's Inferno from The Divine Comedy, where in the lowest level of Hell Satan is bound rather than serving as Ruler of the Underworld (though if memory serves correct Shaitan, the Islamic term for Satan, was frozen rather than chained). 

Matt Jones' screenplay uses the motifs of Judeo-Christian theology (the idea itself of the Devil, the subtle quoting of Scripture when the possessed Ood say "We are the Legion of the Beast", the opening moments where the Doctor and Rose are greeted with a 'Welcome to Hell' written on the walls) and trusts his audience to understand what he is referring to.  Moreover, the idea of religion and faith is treated with respect.  The Doctor is not presented as an atheist or a believer of a specific theology.  Rather, when the Doctor states the various faiths that exist in the universe (which does raise the question of how Christianity spread throughout the universe or what Neo-Judaism looks like), he is stating a fact.  He does not pass judgment, he does not ridicule faith itself (in fact, he asks Scott if she has any particular faith, and she says she was brought up Neo-Classic Congregational.  These elements make things familiar without being specific, as if this world could exist. 

The score for The Impossible Planet I & II works so well (deliberately creepy with the elongated violin notes, mournful when at Scott's farewell to the Doctor there is a solitary violin) and the visual effects also work excellently. 

If I were to have any caveats about The Impossible Planet I & II is that we are constantly told how something is 'impossible'.  I counted at least eight uses of 'impossible' in the two episodes.  It was soon becoming silly how nearly everything was 'impossible'. 

As a side note, what I find bizarre is the Matt Jones has never written another Doctor Who story after The Impossible Planet Parts I & II.  While he wrote one Torchwood story (Dead Man Walking), Jones has yet to write again for the Doctor.  Given a.) how good this two-part story was, and b.) how awful repeat Who writers like Toby Whithouse, Gareth Roberts, and yes, Steven Moffat have been, I can find no reason why Jones has not returned for more adventures.

The Impossible Planet Parts I & II left me breathless, excited, totally involved in the story.  It had a fantastic performance by David Tennant, who held our attention and commanded the screen as The Doctor.  It had an equally great performance by Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, who reminded us of why so many fell in love with her as a Companion, mixing strength with compassion.  The guest stars are brilliant.  The story moved and felt epic, worthy of a two-parter.  I truly can't find fault in it. At least in this case, I give the Devil his due.


Next Story: Love & Monsters

1 comment:

  1. Even though I have not seen the episode in its entirety in several years, it is still one of the most memorable episodes for me. I can't disagree with your rating because it definitely deserves a 10/10.



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