Thursday, May 22, 2008

12-29-06 "The Satan Pit"

"That’s why I keep traveling—to be proved wrong." --The Doctor

Usually I’ve noticed that when we’ve had two-parters on the new series, the second episode is always the better of the two—ie, in subsequent viewings, it’s always the more fun to watch. However, I can’t really say in the case of this story which is the better episode—they’re both quite good—making it a very strong story arc. Well-done, Matt Jones.

Taking off right from our cliffhanger, Jefferson opens fire on the attacking Ood and he, Rose, Danny, and Toby escape. They confer with Zach, who has only "a bolt gun with one bolt" to his name. And the Ood are going to break down the doors. Zach tells Mr. Jefferson to enact "Plan Nine." Rose frantically tries to get in touch with the Doctor who, in a very Fourth Doctor-like bit of cheekiness, is silent for awhile, only to pipe up, "No, sorry, I’m fine." The trap door has opened revealing "this . . . chasm." Zach orders Ida and the Doctor to return to the base. Ida acknowledges the order, but then says to the Doctor, "yeah, but what do you think?" The Doctor admires human courage and curiosity ("indomitable . . . indomitable"): ". . . where angels fear to tread . . ." (a nice reference to "Girl in the Fireplace," whether intentional or not). He notes that there’s always "that mad little voice that says go on," which really typifies the Doctor’s character overall. Then he says, "for once in my life I’m going to say retreat." So they get back into the elevator shaft to bring them up. By the way, I really must commend the lighting director in this story. The helmets that Ida and the Doctor wear light their faces beautifully, especially considering the amount of ECUs they get, and yet remain alien and claustrophobic-looking.

Meanwhile, Rose’s compassion gets the better of her yet again, when she prevents Jefferson from nailing Toby. Instead, she comforts him and insists Scooty’s death wasn’t his fault. Meanwhile, something—"It was the Devil"—starts talking through the Ood and at the same time prevents Ida and the Doctor’s ascent. "This is the darkness," it says. I love how the Doctor stands up to the Beast—it’s not that the Doctor isn’t afraid of anything, but he isn’t easily intimidated by rhetoric and superstition. "If you’re the Devil, which one? There have been a lot of religions in the last thousands of years . . ." (including "Church of the Tin Vagabond," though he doesn’t mention the pirate church that worships the great spaghetti monster, which is a shame). "This one knows me," says the Beast, "as I know him, killer of his own kind." I’m glad the Doctor doesn’t let this get to him—"what does ‘before time’ mean?" The Beast next identifies apparently deeply personal summaries about each of the characters, calling Rose "the little lost girl, so far away from home," who will "die in battle." The Doctor tells her not to listen. The crew starts arguing with each other on what to do next. They’re scared. The Doctor—bless him—keeps his head. "He’s playing on very basic fears! . . . The Beast is alone—we’re not."

With the Doctor’s pep talk, Rose motivates the crew to start figuring out how to escape. Zach can operate buttons for the rest of the crew to join him so they can get onto the rocket. The tunnels through which they can go weren’t designed for humans, so they have no oxygen, but Zach can aerate them as they go. They just have to watch out for the Ood. Meanwhile, the cable breaks so the Doctor and Ida are back on the surface. They’re stuck, and they only have a limited oxygen supply. What’s there to do other than investigate the chasm? "Even if it’s the last thing we ever achieve," says courageous Ida. At this point my mom suggests maybe they’ll find the TARDIS. Smart cookie, my mom. Now we get a bunch of corridor-running, with a twist: it’s claustrophobic tunnel-scooting. Murray Gold whips up some exciting, rather Bond-ian music, and as the Ood keep coming, it’s a pretty animated sequence. Zach has to open and shut the doors and aerate, making urgency difficult to come by. There’s still time for a little levity—"Not your best side, Danny," Rose says. Then there’s a shot of Billie Piper’s butt for those who care: "could be worse," says Toby, who’s behind her. When they’re cornered at a tunnel, there’s a bit of juvenile telephone-game-gone-awry, which fortunately ends quickly. This time it’s Mr. Jefferson who gets to make the tried-and-true secondary character sacrifice by fighting off the Ood in order to give the others time to escape. "He saved our lives," Danny says solemnly.

Meanwhile, Ida has lowered the Doctor into the pit via cable. They’ve got a com-link, fortunately, and the Doctor is doing what he does best, talking. He notes that there have been depictions of the horned beast on almost every world, and I’m thrilled he mentions Daemnos and Draconia, two old-skool Doctor Who adventures. "They all had to come from somewhere. Maybe they came from here." "If this is the original," Ida asks, hesitantly, "does that make it real?" I’m glad that the Doctor is neither dismissive nor fearful in his response. Next, the cable runs out, and there’s no way of telling how far down the pit extends. The Doctor wants to keep going; Ida wants to pull him out. "I don’t want to die on my own," she says. In The English Patient, Katharine Clifton writes her last words by dying torchlight, trapped alone in a cave in the desert while her lover tries desperately to get back to her—and I’ve always thought that was one of the most lonely ways to die. Ida and the Doctor are looking at something even bleaker. The Doctor’s response is, "I know," so softly said it reminds you that the Doctor is alone. The "Bad Wolf" theme starts to play, and the Doctor says haltingly, "Tell Rose . . . oh, she knows." This is nice—it’s so much more powerful this way. I’m glad they held back on this particular count. He acknowledges that his faith is in his knowledge of the universe. As he falls into the pit, he admits that there may be possibilities other than the ones he clings to—which is quite a big admission for a Gallifreyan, I think.

With the crew ready to get on board the rocket, Zach contacts Ida. There’s no way to come and collect them. Rose frantically asks what happened to the Doctor. "It’s all right—just go," Ida says. Rose, of course, won’t accept that the Doctor is dead and is not coming back. "You don’t know him! I’m waiting for him . . . just like he would do for me." We know she’s in the right, of course, but it doesn’t look that way to the crew. "I’ve lost too many people," says Zach and has Danny tranquilize her. The Doctor’s fallen face-first to the bottom of the bit, but he no longer needs his helmet because somehow he is breathing air. That’s a stroke of luck. Rose wakes up, strapped into the rocket, and Danny suggests, "We may have a problem passenger." Rose threatens Zach with the bolt gun: "Take me back!" "Or what?" "Or I’ll shoot!" "Would you really? Is that what your Doctor would have wanted?" Rose surrenders. I have to say I think this story has the best music of the season, so far.

Down in the pit, the Doctor figures that Man imprisoned the Beast on the planet. In fact, he comes face-to-face with the Beast—and it all gets a little Middle-Earth from here, down to the (crap CGI) design of the Beast as a Balrog. It’s "a perfect prison." The Doctor realizes that the Beast’s mind has escaped with Toby on the rocket. He’s in a position to break the gravity, thereby pulling the planet and the rocket into the black hole, but to do that he’d have to sacrifice Rose. A bunch of weird camera angles coupled with the ECUs follow, which I find somewhat distracting. The Doctor picks up a big rock, à la "Survival." However, there’s one chink in the Beast’s plan—"that implies she’s a victim. If I believe in anything, I believe in her." (A happy parallel with "Virginia believes in him, and I believe in Virginia," from The 10th Kingdom, though that’s neither here nor there.) The Doctor proceeds to bellow and breaks the gravity hold. The rocket heads for the black hole. On the surface, Ida collapses from oxygen starvation. "What is he doing?" Toby demands, transforming into the Beast. "Go to hell," Rose says, cheesily, as she shoots the bolt gun into the glass of the rocket and releasing Toby into space. One problem: how are they still breathing?

The impact throws the Doctor against . . . the TARDIS! Hooray. The rocket is still heading for the black hole—"at least we stopped him," Rose says. "We’re the first human beings to fall inside a black hole," Zach offers. "This is the good ship TARDIS," the Doctor says and wants to trade Rose for Ida. The TARDIS is towing the rocket out of the black hole (why didn’t he just materialize the TARDIS around the rocket?). The Ood are worth a short obituary, the Doctor mildly regretful that he couldn’t save them. "My people practically invented black holes, actually they did," he says, and that makes me happy, obviously. When Rose arrives, the great music plays and they hug. "Ida—maybe we’ll meet again," he says. "I hope so," she replies. "But Doctor—you two . . . who are you?" "The stuff of legend," he says. Awesome.

A good adventure, and while I’m not keen on the involvement of Satan—as the Doctor hints, we’ve had plenty of Satan stories in the past—I think it worked out. Anyway, it’s a hell of a lot better than the episode that follows.

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