...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 06, 2006



Q: What do you call an alien with no clothes on?
A: A nude Ood!

Q: What do you call an alien that looks at an alien with no clothes on?
A: A rude Ood!

Q: What do you call an Alien who DOESN'T look at an alien with no clothes on?
A: A prude Ood!

We would have got away with it too, if it hadn't been for those meddling alien kids
- Scooby-Dooby-Dood Ood!

(Daddy Alex may have helped with some of my jokes.)

Now over to Daddy Richard:

There are a lot of sixes to be had in this story. The Doctor explicitly mentions "six to the sixth power every six seconds" and this is Sanctuary Base Six and the TARDIS lands in Storage Six. I guess that the re-makers of the Omen weren't the only ones to notice.

No doubt in the same vein, later this month will see the release of Jon Twerpee classic serial "Inferno" wherein the Doctor travels to a parallel Earth and a drilling project reaches penetration zero to release an impossibly destructive power and its army of monsters. Instead of using those concepts in one seven part story the 2006 production team have gone for two double-length two-parters instead. A couple of weeks ago we had the parallel world of the Cybermen; now we have the mission to excavate "the Pit".

I think it's important to flag up that the real strength of "The Impossible Planet" is in performance, because I'm going to rave about the special effects too and it would be too easy to think this was all flash and no substance.

The Doctor is much calmer than of late, more intense and less jumping about even when chasing after the lost TARDIS, which is good; and Rose is less sulky and bitchy than she has been occasionally – possibly she's over Mickey at last – and much more her concerned and curious self from the first season: her reaction to the Ood's slavery being a good point. She's still a bit too confident, even if the Doctor isn't, and there's a lovely moment over dinner in Habitat 3 where she lays out her idea that they'll get a house and a mortgage together and the Doctor shuts the conversation down very fast. Clearly he's happy for her to come into his world, but the idea of him staying in hers is a big turn off for him.

But never mind the regulars, the guest cast are terrific: captain Zack, Ida, Danny the ethics committee, Mr Jefferson all put in solid believable performances of people stuck in a, pardon me, hellish situation and coping under pressure. But special kudos goes to Will Thorp as Toby Zed for the way he flips from revelling in insane glee to collapsing under guilt and horror. His grin at Scootie from the planet's surface was truly chilling. He'd be the most terrifying thing in it, if it wasn't for one thing.

Gabriel Woolf. The voice of Sutekh. The voice of the Beast.

It's hard to pin down what it is that he actually does, whether it's a total void of emotion or perhaps a sense of world weary cynicism or just an absolute confidence that every single living thing in the universe is his inferior. The script and the actor work perfectly together to create an utterly terrifying dread of the Beast even though he remains unseen even at the cliff-hanger.

Look, it's not Sutekh who's about to emerge from that Pit. It can't be. Though, obviously, I'd be deliriously chuffed if it was. But it isn't.

Alex points out that Steven Thorne played the diabolical horned beast Azal in "The Dæmons" and then went on to play the fallen god of the Time Lord pantheon Omega in "The Three Doctors". So it's certainly not unprecedented for an actor to create two similar but different characters for the series. And it has been thirty-one years since "Pyramids of Mars". It certainly didn't look like Sutekh in that brief flash of interference that appeared on the hologram set when Captain Zack's back was turned.

But then the Doctor did explicitly name Sutekh as Satan: "You name is abominated in every culture, Sutekh, whether it be Set, Satan, Sados…"

Nahh, can't be.

Obviously, the horrible fear now is that the actual realisation of Satan will be disappointing (i.e. not Sutekh, um sorry, I didn't say that) what with Gabriel Woolf being just absolutely terrifyingly perfect by voice alone, how could ANY CGI muppet top that?

But then, as I said, the effects have been terrific so far.

I was particularly impressed with the filming of characters around and through the base's hologram – very Graham Harper, that. Having the CGI hologram properly interact with the actors flipping switches is a tiny but very pleasing touch. And was it just me or was the graphic of the planet and its "gravity funnel" a sign that someone had been playing with the "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" tool kit?

Scooti's "floating dead in space" homage to Katarina (was that an oblique nod to "The Daleks' Master Plan: Devil's Planet"?) was very impressive - certainly memorable enough to be worth the time and money that went into filming it specially.

The scenes shot in the "Pit" (in a QUARRY, hooray!) had the most fantastic, cinematic quality: Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" was the comparison that I thought of at the time - the effects were certainly up to that (exceptionally high) quality level! The Mill have really done the series proud – they've been brilliant every week, obviously – but this just really stands out: the vast, dare I say Cyclopean caverns with their alien sphinxes and the light tricking off the stone bridges off into the distance gave a feeling of the ancient and the places where man is not meant to tread.

It's probably not going to be possible to consider this two-parter without reference to H.P. Lovecraft. The ruins of a lost civilisation older than mankind out on the limits of human exploration are easily "At the Mountains of Madness" enough even without people being driven insane just by the presence of the Black Hole in the sky and ancient and nameless terrors rising from their eternal sleep. Even the stars are right. And then there's that Cthuloid look to the alien Ood.

And the Ood were a marvellous alien species in their own right, really good and creepy. A terrific double bluff as well: first they're a threat; then no, it was all a mistake with their translation globes; then, no, the thing that's affecting the translation globes is what turns them into a threat! Their wilful slavery was an interesting and unexpected characteristic to add, though I confess I was already worried at the idea of bringing a bunch of aliens that want to be given orders into the orbit of the Devil.

The other reference that might be totally insignificant was the voice of the computer to Scootie at airlock 42 saying "he bathes in the black sun". "The Black Sun" was the name of a faction who were rivals to the Time Lords in the Doctor Who Weekly comic strip "The 4-D War" penned by Alan Moore and referenced extensively, if never directly, during the "War in Heaven" arc of the BBC Books. No doubt it would only add to Lawrence Miles' list of grievances if Satan turned out to be the enemy of the Time Lords. Mind you, after his recent – and excellent – Faction Paradox audio adventure "The Ship of a Billion Years" he'd have good reason to be teed off if it's Sutekh too!

There's been some questioning of the physics involved here. Yes, of course it is possible to orbit a black hole - we're kind of doing it right now, since the sun is orbiting the massive hole at the centre of the Milky Way - because orbiting is just a question of being at the right distance so that the gravity slings you round in a circle (or ellipse) rather than spiralling you in. On the other hand, that black disc in the planet's sky – and it's not unreasonable to assume that that represents the event horizon from which no light can return – that disc does look a lot larger in the sky than the sun does in our own, suggesting that they are as close or closer to the hole as the Earth is to the sun. Maybe Dr Science could have added just one line or even just three words, so that the Doctor says "we can't be, not this close, THAT'S impossible!"

But really, it does pretty much what it says on the time. It's black. It's a hole. You fall in. You're dead.

Actually, I thought the bit about the planet being perfectly balanced against the gravity of the black hole was a sly nod to "The Deadly Assassin" and the description of the Eye of Harmony: is Krop Tor in fact the burnt cinder of Gallifrey?

And is that in any way linked to the strange behaviour of the TARDIS: even before she got dropped down a chasm into the core of the planet she was wheezing and groaning and complaining of indigestion. Did she sense the presence of the Beast, or is there something more serious and long term wrong with her – perhaps the same cause as had her crashing through a rip in time into the parallel universe two stories ago? Earlier than that, was the TARDIS herself damaged by the events of "The Parting of the Ways"? This is the second time this season that the Doctor has "lost" his TARDIS and had to consider what that means to him; is this another developing theme?

The only disappointment is that the glorious sunshine contributed to making this one of the least watched stories of the show so far, even if the big increase in audience share shows that ITV were hit even harder by the unexpected summer.

Increasingly I find myself drawn to the camp who say: "it should be shown in Autumn with the nights drawing in". Not because I'm some paranoiac "the BBC are going to cancel my show" worrier. The ratings are fine for this time of year, and the audience share is tremendous, especially among the children where it tops 50%. No, it's because this was a great story with a great cliff-hanger and it really deserved to have a whole nation of children terrified yet desperate to see who or what emerges from the Satan Pit.

One last hurrah: we couldn't be sure with "Rise of the Cybermen" but now we can. They have learned (from Steven Moffat) to put the "next time…" trailer AFTER the title sequence when there's a cliff-hanger. Perfect.

Next time: the Beast and his armies will rise from the pit and make war on god.

I'm sorry, I mean: enjoy your meal.

1 comment:

Joe Otten said...

I just hope part 2 answers my kids questions.

Sam: How can they move the energy source without the gravity funnel collapsing?

Phoebe: Why don't the Ood do the laundry?