Thursday, May 22, 2008

view from the panopticon- the impossible planet

12-28-06 "The Impossible Planet"

"But at least I’m stuck with you, that’s not so bad." --Rose

I didn’t realize this was a two-parter with "The Satan Pit." It’s shaping up to be a good ‘un. I’m impressed with Matt Jones’ ambition in this story: he’s crammed in a lot of characters, an intriguing set up, and a lot of suspense. Like "Age of Steel," it feels somewhat old-fashioned, in a good way. I sort of get a late-Davison feel from this, like "Resurrection of the Daleks"/ "Frontios." And you know what else it reminds me of? Earth 2. Did you ever see that show? It ran for a couple seasons on Fox, I believe. Humans colonizing a new planet that may or may not already have intelligent life on it, a similar command structure to the one at Century Base, and the same sort of organic, roughing-it sets that you see in this episode. (Plus, it was filmed in New Mexico.) In any case, this story has a completely different flavor from anything we’ve seen thus far (plus, I even like the title).

The TARDIS appears to have indigestion. The Doctor and Rose step out and start laughing, though I don’t really understand why. They’ve landed way out in space, according to the Doctor. And the set is really cool. Someone’s written on the wall, "Welcome to Hell," followed by a bunch of indecipherable writing. If the TARDIS can’t translate it, it must be "impossibly ancient." Uh oh. Next, some aliens appear with sort of squid-like heads, holding glowing orb thingees. The design is classic Doctor Who monster. They start to descend on the Doctor and Rose, chanting, "We must feed," in a cliffhanger so perfect you know it must be a fake-out.

So it is. "We must feed . . . you, if you are hungry." Next, the human occupants of Century Base show up. They’re shocked, shocked and amazed, to see real-live people appear. "That’s us, hooray," the Doctor announces. Meet Zach, acting Captain; Mr. Jefferson, security; Ida, science officer; Danny, budget; Toby, archaeologist; and Scooty, ethics. Like I said, it’s a lot of characters. It’s a testament to the writer and the actors, who are all worth their salt, that the characters manage to be individuals rather than just glomping together as "the crew." The only one I’m not so sure about is Toby, who acts more and more like Turlough in "Enlightenment" as this thing goes on. With a bit of Jedi mind trick magic, the Doctor manages to deflect questions about how he and Rose arrived. The crew’s purpose is explained: they’re investigating a planet that’s somehow in orbit around a black hole. Not only that, it has a gravity funnel that allowed their ship to fly down, like a "roller coaster." There’s an amazing source of energy they’re investigating, but it’s way below the surface, so they have to drill. Ida opens up the viewing dome, and the sight is spectacular. The Doctor and Rose are suitably impressed (actors reacting to green screen, but you don’t think about that at the time because it is a well-integrated scene). "That impossible," declares the Doctor. "Beyond the laws of physics."

It’s nice that we’re putting the science back into science fiction, even if I am pretty poor in understanding that sort of stuff. I’m reminded of the disparity between this and the rather fun "Three Doctors," in which Omega is introduced as the creator of Time Lord mastery over time by harnessing a black hole’s energy—and the funny anti-matter-land wrestling match between Pertwee and Omega’s champion. Anyway, the planet is known as "the Bitter Pill" because it was spit out by an ancient demon, so the stories go. The Doctor puts on his glasses again, and I have to say I’m thrilled how much he wears them in the show. The gift that keeps on giving. Anyway, Rose asks about the squid-faced aliens, who are called the Ood. Her bleedin’ heart flares up as she bristles at their being "a basic slave race." Danny confirms that their only purpose in life is to attend to the needs of others.

While she’s being all S.P.E.W., the Doctor questions why the crew is interested in the power source. "To fuel our empire," says Jefferson. "Or to start a war," the Doctor observes. Toby indicates that it’s been "waiting" to be discovered, and Rose accuses him of being "chief dramatist." The Doctor asks why the crew would take such huge risks to investigate. "Because it was there," says Zach, paraphrasing Hillary. The Doctor wants to know if he can hug him. (Cute! Reminiscent of "The Long Game.") He hugs him, he loves humans so much, and then there’s an earthquake. The Doctor realizes, in an oh-sh*it moment, that the TARDIS was in the section that collapsed. "The TARDIS is gone." Oh gosh, really? Again, for the sake of the episode, we play along. "It’s all I’ve got," he says sadly, "literally." He wants to drill into the planet to get it back; Zach says no. The Doctor looks bleakly numb. "I’ve trapped you here," he says to Rose. There’s no way out, other than with the crew whenever the heck they leave. They hug. The Doctor looks worried up into space.

Ravel’s "Bolero" briefly plays, I’ve no idea why (though Isao Tomita once wrote a version of it that sounded like it belonged on "Seeds of Doom"). Toby is working on deciphering his weird untranslatable gobbledy-gook, and someone keeps whispering his name. He thinks it’s Danny playing a trick on him, but Danny is eating with everyone else. The creepy voice keeps talking to Toby, telling him not to turn around, that he’ll die if he does. (Orpheus in the underworld reference?) Toby wants to know who the heck it is. "I have so many names" (which eerily reminds me of the Doctor, for some reason). Toby finally gets majorly creeped out and turns around. No one is there. But he starts getting the weird symbols all over his skin and his eyes turn red. It’s going a bit overboard for my tastes. Meanwhile, Rose is advised by Scooty to "avoid the green, avoid the blue" at the canteen. She tries to strike up a conversation with the Ood, noting that she was once a dinner lady. "Not that you’re a lady . . . though you might be." The Ood gives the greatest Freudian slip of all time—"The Beast has risen from the Pit"—then slaps its translation orb thingee and amends, "I hope you enjoy your meal."

The Doctor wants to see the black hole again. "I promise I won’t go mad," he tells Ida. "How would you know?" she asks. And he gives this totally cute look. Okay, I’m done. Rose sits down next to him, and for once, her jiggery-pokery phone has no signal. She suggests that the glum Doctor can rebuild the TARDIS. In a brief foray to Eighth Doctor Land, the Doctor says, "They were grown, not built." No, he’ll "have to settle down." They’ll both have to get jobs and live like normal people. He’s terrified of having to get carpet. He hates having to live the settled life—it’s why he left Gallifrey in the first place. "We could share [a house]," Rose suggests. And the Doctor’s like, "ewww, no." So she lets it go. Still, there are worse people to be stuck with. The phone rings and someone tells Rose, "He is awake."

Zach tells Danny to go investigate the Ood. Rose wants to know how the Ood communicate amongst themselves. They’re "low-level empaths," staying on basic 5. The Doctor notes that they’re up to basic 30, meaning they’re screaming—or something is screaming at them. Rose tells Danny about the Freudian slip. He’s singularly unimpressed: "an odd Ood." When he says that "they’re so stupid," I’m reminded of my time on the farm in Shropshire when I was told the exact same thing about sheep. Anyway, while the Ood are starting to act up, Scooty goes to find Toby. He isn’t in his room, and one of the doors has been opened, but the computer won’t identify who walked out of it. It says that no one’s taken out a spaceship. Then she notices that Toby is outside in the anti-gravity, anti-oxygen, lack of atmosphere surface, laughing. It’s a strangely beautiful moment, augmented by music that seems lifted from Loreena McKennitt’s The Book of Secrets (when Murray Gold is good, he’s really good). But when Scooty realizes that Toby is beckoning her out into the void, she resists. He breaks the glass, and she goes whooshing out into space. The Doctor discovers her body floating around. It’s pretty horrifying.

Drilling’s stopped at the same moment as they seal off the breach. Ida is going to go investigate, and the Doctor insists that he go, too. "This is breaking every single protocol," Zach says. But he trusts the Doctor, doesn’t he? The Doctor and Ida take the shaft down to the drill site—the integration between set and FX is really good—but before he goes, Rose kisses his helmet. That’s to get him back for saying he doesn’t want to live with her, nyeh. Zach tells Rose to get off the com—"Breathing’s good," she tells the Doctor. When Ida and the Doctor land, in their garish orange Firefly-reminiscent space suits, Ida throws a "gravity globe," and the FX continue to be amazing. Danny’s getting a little nervous about the Ood, who have stood up and keep repeating "He is awake." "You’re a big boy, Danny," Zach says. "Think you can take being stared at?" The Doctor and Ida have found a big circular thingee—"tell Toby we think we’ve found his civilization"—which the Doctor thinks is a trap door. The Ood get to Basic 100, which means they should be dead, and start descending on the crew. Not a bad cliffhanger.

This is more of a plot summary than a review, though in this, plot seems to be all. It’s tightly-written and so far enjoyable.

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