...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, June 12, 2006

Day 1985: DOCTOR WHO: The Satan Pit


The lovely people from KALDOR CITY are hosting an interview with scary voiced Mr Satan himself, Gabriel Woolf, if you are BRAVE enough to read it!

Here is Daddy Richard again with his thoughts for the week:

The thing that I noticed after watching this is that although the two-part "Rise of the Cybermen" had the huge scope, with thousands of people affected and "an" entire Earth at risk and in comparison "The Satan Pit" was played out on a planet at the edge of the universe and took in no more than a dozen people, but it was this story, "The Satan Pit", that felt huge and epic.

Part two, this week, was good but not great in the way that part one was great. In part, this is no doubt due to the usual let down of "how do you follow that?" but there was also a slight sense that the story lost its focus towards the end. It builds to a huge confrontation between the Doctor and the Devil, but by the time he finds Satan in the pit, the Beast's mind has scarpered and we are deprived of the kind of face off that, well, "Pyramids of Mars" delivered. I would have preferred it for the Doctor to have had that big show down only to realise after a while that the Beast was just keeping him talking, as so long as Toby got away he would let the Beast's live free without ever having to leave his prison.

Because this week, the Beast felt somehow less powerful, less like a genuine threat to the entire universe. Last week, wearing Toby's body he could walk unprotected on the surface of Krop Tor and kill Scooti by shattering a window with a gesture. This week, he played a few mind games courtesy of simple telepathic trickery. I remember (again) Sutekh holding back an explosion by the power of his mind: surely the Beast could have shown some similar enormous power – holding the planet against the Black Hole by the force of his will alone, perhaps. Until Rose blasts him/Toby into space.

It was also just a little bit too easy to recover the TARDIS. As in the Doctor literally stumbles upon it just as he needs to escape. Obviously, we all KNEW that the old girl was going to be safe and well at the bottom of the pit, but there didn't seem to be any reason for it to have got there in particular: why not lodge at a higher level within the ruins rather than in the pit which is obviously dug deeper than the old city. Perhaps something could have been added to suggest that she was brought there by the same prison-builders who arranged for the Doctor's soft-landing so that he could throw the Beast into the Black Hole.

Or, perhaps we would kill two birds with one diabolical stone, and have the Beast see the TARDIS in the Doctor's mind and show his power by drawing it to him through the planet as it presents itself as an alternative escape route.

It was a shame because this needed just something to suggest that the Beast really was something SO nigh on omnipotent that it could be the greater form on which the Daemons modelled themselves that it could have been the dark design that inspired Sutekh. As it was, we were left with the distinct possibility – and I appreciate that the story did call for open questions to be left at the end – the possibility that this was just a large monster. There were other questions that could have been left open: who chained him in the first place, and were they really light to his darkness? The chained titan can be Prometheus as easily as Beelzebub, after all.

I'm just sure that there was room for MORE in this story.

On the other hand, this episode excelled in its quieter moments, such as the Doctor's contemplation on belief while hanging alone in the dark of the Pit. Or Ida left on the planet and at the lip of the pit with only the recollection of her plea: "I don't want to die alone".

And what a brilliant episode for Rose. When she takes command of the crew to save them all from the Ood she really grew to a new level, an interesting counter-echo of "The Christmas Invasion" where she goes to pieces under much less critical circumstances. Obviously, the difference here is that the Ood are an obstacle to recovering the Doctor and this drives her to be creative, whereas at Christmas she had the Doctor but he was left directionless.

And then she does it again in the rocket, justifying the Doctor's one belief: in her.

Alex has often pointed out that Russell T Davies has three very favourite stories from the classic era: "City of Death", "Pyramids of Mars" and "The Ark in Space". (I'll let him expound on the evidence for why.) Obviously, there is much that informs "The Satan Pit" from "Pyramids of Mars" but there is also plenty of homage to "Ark in Space" here too: from drawing the power from the rocket's independent motors and being given remote directions to crawl through the access tunnels – even the CGI rocket is reminiscent of the optional CGI from the "Ark in Space" DVD.

"Doctor Who" has encountered an elemental evil from the dawn of time before, of course, in the form of Fenric from "The Curse of Fenric", and I wonder a little how this story and that quite sit together. It's not an actual contradiction: the Doctor accepts Fenric as a primeval evil but doesn't say he is from "before" the universe, just the very beginning.

Except, of course, in the novels, starting with the New Adventures – in particular "White Darkness" but many other follow from there – where it is suggested that Fenric and many of the gods/demi-gods that the Doctor has previously encountered – the Great Intelligence, the Animus, the Celestial Toymaker, the Nestene, the Gods of Ragnarok – are all "Great Old Ones" (yes, as in H.P. Lovecraft) who are really beings from "the universe before ours". Well, this story draws heavily on those concepts while at the same time stating baldly that the Doctor doesn't believe a word of them!

Actually, I'd much rather buy into this series version of the mythology as too many of the books authors used that explanation to tie things down pat. The demi-gods of the Doctor Who universe should remain mysterious.

Having said that, it does occur to me that an obvious way to tie Fenric to the Beast would have been to suggest that humans were not the first to come here, and Toby was not the first vessel that the Beast had used to try to escape and walk the universe. Yes, last week I wanted the Beast to be Sutekh; this week I'm implying that the mind of the Beast could have been Fenric.

We're entering the closing weeks of the second season now, but unlike last years there isn't quite the same sense of momentum. I suspect that that's because last year had a solid story to it: the Doctor's slow and painful recovery from the trauma of the Time War and the gathering of events around him as directed by the Daleks and ultimately the Bad Wolf. Despite Torchwood cropping up all over the place this year it has less of a sense of impending doom to it not least because there seems to be no sense that Torchwood is "out to get the Doctor" in the way that the Bad Wolf seemed to be (even if she was turned on her head in the end). How much of the form of last year's story only really becomes apparent with hindsight, though? Perhaps we will see this year more clearly by the end of July.

In the meantime, it seems to be a season of good to excellent stand-alone stories, with – so far – this one, "Tooth and Claw" and "The Girl in the Fireplace" ranking as the class acts. Great stuff.

And it WAS a REALLY good Satan.

Next week: a Blue Peter competition winner

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