THIS EPISODE TAKES
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THE DOCTOR TAKES
19TH APRIL 2008
Planet of the Ood is an episode that suffers due to its place in the season. Whilst Keith Temple’s story delivers on just about every level, coming as it does, hot on the heels of two truly outstanding episodes, an episode that is merely ‘alright’ was always going to seem lacking. Objectively though, Planet of the Ood is an all fours with offerings the calibre of The Long Game and New Earth. Whilst it isn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, it is a good, solid Doctor Who story nonetheless.
For starters, I’m pleased to see that the production team have now cast off their fear of alien planets. Christopher Eccleston’s short reign as the ninth Doctor (on television, at least) was notable for the lack of any stories set outside Earth’s solar system and I think that it suffered as a result of this restriction. The Ood-Sphere serves as a staggering example of just how convincingly an alien vista can be realised on the show’s budget – it is simple, beautiful and utterly believable. There’s no need to have a screen filled to bursting with deft little touches
of CGI - a couple of exotic planets in the sky and one convincing rocket ship are perfectly sufficient to establish the episode’s extra-terrestrial setting.
Above: The Sensorites - distant cousins of the Ood?
planet not seen on television since William Hartnell’s
first season in the role. When you think about it, the fact
that the Ood share a solar system with the Sensorites
makes a lot of sense, particularly when you consider
just how visually alike they are. In fact, I’m just surprised
that The Sensorites wasn’t dusted down and given a
DVD release to tie-in with the airing of this episode –
2 Entertain have certainly missed a trick there, which
really isn’t like them.
However, I think it’s fair to say that - for the third week in
a row - it is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble that maketh
the episode. As Russell T Davies promised, we are
learning that there is far more to Donna than attitude;
indeed, she’s got soul. In last week’s episode, Donna
learned just how painful travelling with the Doctor could
be, and in Planet of the Ood it’s a lesson that she has
to endure once again.
“Are there any free Ood?”
It’s interesting to watch how, over the course of the episode, Donna’s feelings towards the Ood turn from fear and ignorance into compassion. Her initial reaction to the dying Ood that she discovers in the snow – “…it’s face…” – is predictably human, and even her amusing gaffe with the translator ball only goes to show just how different she is to an Ood. Yet within twenty minutes of screen time she’s shedding a tear for the Ood and their song of captivity.
And, just like she did in Pompeii, Donna’s constant and grinding battle with the Time Lord’s often quite callous philosophy influences him for the better. When the Doctor encountered
the Ood in Matt Jones’ outstanding “Satan Pit” two-parter, he was far too busy dancing with the Devil to spare the servile Ood a thought (“Last time I met the Ood I never thought. I never asked”). Here though, with some cajoling from Donna, the Doctor is given the opportunity to make up for his neglect.
“They’re born with their brains in their hands. Don’t you see, that makes them peaceful!”
As for the Ood themselves, I have to say that I love what Temple does with them here. Not only does Planet of the Ood give them a home, but it also gives them a history and even a unique biology; we learn far more about them in this one episode than we did in two back in 2006. The notion of this secondary “hind brain” – a brain that they have to carry around with them in their hands – is an astonishing science-fiction concept, as is the idea of this third, communal brain that somehow ties all the Ood together. The real beauty of the idea though is that in effectively cutting off the Ood’s hind brain and isolating them from the Ood master brain, the humans of 4126 are proving themselves to be every bit as self-interested and as cruel as, say, the Pyrovile or the Adipose. There really is something to be said about stories where the Doctor has to lock horns with humanity as opposed to simply trying to save the Earth. He is still trying to save the humans here, of course. Just in a different way.
I was also very impressed with the little “Ood gimmicks” littered throughout the episode. The Ood commercial that opened the story, not to mention the glut of psychedelic artwork, really helped to get over the notion of Ood as property to be packaged and sold, and I absolutely loved the comical scene demonstrating the Ood’s translator ball settings – “doh!” -, though I did feel that the production team really missed out by not having a Robin Ood setting.
The above notwithstanding, I didn’t find the Ood of this episode anywhere near as creepy
as those found in The Satan Pit. Clearly the Ood work well as out-and-out monsters when they are rabid or suffering from “red eye”, but what really set them apart originally was the fact that they were being controlled by Satan. Hordes of Ood muttering in unison that “the circle must be broken” may still be disquieting in a cryptic sort of way, but I’m afraid that it isn’t even in the same league as “the Beast and his armies shall rise from the Pit to make war against God”. Without the biblical slant, the Ood aren’t half as effective.
But of course, the Ood are not the monsters here; that particular honour falls to Mr Halpen and his unscrupulous corporation. Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) gives a delightfully heartless performance as the vile, malting slave-trader, but the characters of Solana (Ayesha Dharker)
and Roger Griffiths’ thoroughly vile security chief (“My pleasure, sir”, he says, meaning every word) are every bit his match. Solana in particular is frighteningly real – the quintessence of a modern saleswoman – and I really like how Temple has her almost convinced to help the Doctor, only to chicken out at the last minute. Lovely writing.
“We do not just breed the Ood. We make them better.
Because at heart, what is an Ood, but a reflection of ourselves?”
Nevertheless, of all the humans, it was Dr Ryder (Adrian Rawlins) that surprised me the most. In the episode of Doctor Who Confidential that followed this episode’s broadcast, Davies noted that Dr Ryder seems to blend into the background, making his eventual face-turn all the more shocking, and he’s right on the money. Rawlins unassuming performance was so subtle that I barely acknowledged the character’s existence, let alone assumed him to be of any import. In fact, the only thing that I found remarkable about him prior to the big reveal was that I thought he looked a bit like a nerdy version of Torchwood’s Captain John Hart.
“I think your song must end soon.”
The ending of the episode is somewhat perplexing. From Ood Sigma’s ominous comments, it would be reasonable to infer that the tenth Doctor hasn’t got much distance left to run. Now on the one hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Tennant bowed out at the end of this series – three years, after all, is a long time to be playing the Doctor, particularly these days. On the other hand though, I’d assumed that the impending hiatus had come about so that Tennant’s reign could be extended for at least a handful of feature-length specials. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens. If Tennant is leaving though, I sincerely hope that the press don’t get wind and spoil it – I would love, just for once, to be taken by surprise by a regeneration.
On a final note, it should be recognised that this episode features some terrific set pieces such as ‘the claw chase scene’, the Ood revolution, and Halpen becoming an Ood to name but a few. On balance though, I don’t think that Planet of the Ood is going to go down as one of the revived series’ better episodes. Whilst without doubt it’s a brilliant bit of telly, this one simply doesn’t stand out in the way that many, if not most, new episodes do. I suppose they can’t all be classics.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
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