Saturday 11 February 2017

Story 174 - The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

In which the TARDIS materialises in a storage bay, and the Doctor is worried that something may be wrong with it. Emerging, he and Rose find that they are in a Sanctuary Base - structures designed for hazardous regions. This is Sanctuary Base 6. In one of the main rooms they see graffiti scrawled on a wall - the words "Welcome to Hell" and a language which even the TARDIS cannot translate. The Doctor deduces that it must be incredibly ancient. They are confronted by a group of Ood. These are bipedal aliens with large bald heads and a mass of fleshy tendrils where their mouths should be. They communicate using hand-held spheres, which appear to be grafted onto their faces. The base security chief, Jefferson, arrives with his team, and they are shocked to see the new arrivals. They are taken to the central command area, where they meet the rest of the crew. This comprises science officer Ida Scott, archaeologist Toby Zed, ethics officer Danny Bartock, and trainee engineer Scooti Manista. In charge is Zachary Cross Flane. All are shocked to see them. Rose queries the howling gale she can hear outside, so Ida opens the roof panel. It is the Doctor's turn to be shocked, as they appear to be on a planet that it is in a fixed geostationary orbit close to a black hole.

Ida explains that the planet has no name, but legend calls it Krop Tor - the bitter pill. It was claimed that the black hole - K37 Gem 5 - was a demon, and it spat out the planet as it was toxic. Zach tells them that they discovered a funnel of stable space reaching out from the planet to a region beyond the black hole's influence, and used this to land here. A number of the crew died in the process - including the original commander. A power source of great magnitude has been detected, and they have come to drill down into Krop Tor to locate it. The base is struck by an earth tremor, and part of it collapses into a ravine. This includes the storage bay where the TARDIS had landed. The Doctor and Rose are trapped here. That night, Toby is alone in his room studying ancient pottery sherds when he hears a sinister voice addressing him. The entity possesses him. His eyes turn scarlet, and the script on the pottery appears on his skin. Scooti is making sure the base is secure when she hears someone exit through an airlock. Looking outside, she sees Toby standing unprotected on the surface. He motions for her to join him. When she refuses, he breaks the window with the power of his mind. The breach alerts everyone, and they find Toby in a corridor, claiming not to know what has happened. When they search for Scooti, they see her lifeless body floating outside towards the black hole.

A number of strange things have been happening. Rose hears a voice on her phone, and Danny hears the computer state "He is awake" instead of its normal door access wording. One of the Ood had also said something similar. The Doctor and Rose learn from Danny that the Ood are a subservient species, who thrive on being told what to do. They are telepathic, and monitors suggest that something is shouting in their heads. The drill reaches its destination, and the Doctor insists on joining Ida on the descent. Donning spacesuits, they travel down the shaft and emerge in a vast cavern, which shows signs of the ancient civilisation which once lived here. There is a huge metal hatch in the ground, covered in the ancient language. Toby becomes possessed once more - witnessed by Jefferson and Rose - whilst the same force takes over the Ood. Their eyes glow red, and they start to attack the crew. They claim that the Beast has arisen, and in the cavern the hatch begins to open...

The lift cable snaps, leaving Ida and the Doctor trapped. In the base, the crew have to defend themselves against the Ood, whose translator globes have the power to electrocute. Toby seems to have been freed of the malevolent presence. Zach is isolated in the command area. Danny comes up with a means of disabling the Ood, but he can only use it from Ood Control. He, Rose, Toby and Jefferson must get across the base whilst avoiding the Ood. They take to the airducts. Zach must aerate these section by section to allow their progress. The Doctor decides to descend into the pit which has been revealed by the opening of the hatch, using the lift cable. In the airducts, Jefferson sacrifices himself to hold back the pursuing Ood - dying when Zach removes the oxygen. Unbeknownst to the others, Toby has remained possessed all the time. Danny's plan - to broadcast a psychic flare that will disable the Ood - works. Zach announces the evacuation of the base using their shuttle rocket.

When the cable runs out, the Doctor decides to drop into the darkness. He falls and lands on a shelf of rock. There are two ornate vases on plinths, and on the walls are drawings that depict a huge red devil and the black hole. He discovers that the beast is close by - a massive, horned being with skull-like features - which is chained up. Rose refuses to leave the Doctor, and the others are forced to drug her. She wakes in the cabin of the shuttle. She threatens Zach with a nail gun, but he refuses to let her go. He has lost too many people already. The Doctor hears the rocket take off. He has heard the Beast speak through the Ood, and knows it to be highly intelligent, and yet what he sees in the pit is pure animal. He realises that this is only the shell, and that the Beast's mind is elsewhere. If he smashes the vases, the planet will tumble into the black hole - but so will the rocket. He elects to do this. In the rocket, the creature manifests itself once more in Toby. Rose fires the nail gun at the cockpit window, and unlocks his safety belt. He is sucked out into space, to fall into the black hole. The Doctor finds the TARDIS as the planet begins to fall out of its orbit. As the rocket crew prepare to die in the black hole, the ship is seized by a tractor beam generated from the TARDIS and pulled towards safe space. The Doctor calls to say that he was able to rescue Ida, but did not have time to save the Ood. After returning Ida to her colleagues, he and Rose continue on their travels.

This two part adventure was written by Matt Jones, and was first broadcast on 3rd and 10th June, 2006. Jones was a long time fan of Doctor Who and had written a number of New Adventures novels and short stories. He was best known at the time of his commissioning for the Channel 4 series Shameless, and the ITV series P.O.W. He had also worked on Children's Ward, as had a number of new series writers. To date, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit are his only Doctor Who TV episodes, though he would go on to write a Series 2 episode of Torchwood after this.
These episodes see the first visit to a wholly alien planet in the revived series. One of the cliches that the series had hoped to avoid was the "all alien planets look like quarries", but here they embrace that. The cavern sequences were filmed in a Welsh quarry, but the use of establishing CGI vistas, plus night filming, allowed them to get away with it.
It will probably surprise you to learn that these episodes were supposed to be quite cheap ones, as a lot of money was going to be held back for a later story. This is why we have the small cast. The alien servitors were going to be the Slitheen, so recycling existing costumes. The Beast wasn't going to be a CGI devil. That later story was shelved, and its replacement became the cheap one, so more cash could go into this. Russell T Davies insisted that the Doctor's relationship with Rose would be pivotal to the defeat of the Beast. It's his belief in her - after all the talk throughout of belief systems - which prompts him to smash the vases that hold the Beast captive.

The cast might be a small one, but it's a good one. Jefferson is Danny Webb, who is rarely off UK TV screens. He was the sole survivor of the penal planet in Alien 3. Zach is Shaun Parkes, who had appeared alongside David Tennant in Casanova, and would go on to work with Matt Smith on police series Moses Jones. Ida is Claire Rushbrook. Toby is Will Thorpe - a regular on Casualty. Scooti is MyAnna Buring, and Danny is Ronny Jhutti. Paul Kasey is the lead Ood, who are all voiced by Silas Carson (Star Wars Episodes 1 - 111, and the Adherents of the Repeated Meme in the previous season). Voicing the Beast is Gabriel Woolf, who had been Sutekh in The Pyramids of Mars back in 1976). His presence in the cast list led many to believe that the last of the Osirans would be back in this, and in a way he was - as the Fourth Doctor names him using some of the Beast's aliases.

Story Arc: The expedition is said to have been sent by the Torchwood Archive, and the Beast claims that Rose will die in battle very, very soon...
  1. Captain Walker is given his mission to find the power source on the planet orbiting black hole K37 Gem 5. He is shown a notebook full of some ancient writing and informed of many superstitions surrounding the planet. He passes the notebook to an Ood as he leaves, and it says "And the Beast will rise from the pit...".
  2. On a spaceship, an Ood hands a case to a man named Curt. It contains the personal effects of the late Captain Walker - including the notebook from the previous prequel piece. As he leafs through it, a monitor flashes up the message "The Beast is awake. He shall rise from the Pit". Controls move by themselves and the book bursts into flames. When a colleague arrives she finds Curt deranged, with the strange alien script on his skin.

Overall, a very good two-parter that builds well, and goes at a gallop in the second half. A great cast and some fine VFX. We'll be seeing more of those Ood soon - as well as one of the Beast's relatives.
Things you might like to know:
  • In creating the Ood, Davies was influenced by the Sensorites, from the 1964 Hartnell story - hence the telepathy, big bald heads, and the tendrils here replace their fluffy beards. The influence will be reinforced in their next outing.
  • As a pre-existing monster, using the Slitheen costumes might have been cheap, but Davies felt that they might take over the story.
  • Ideas for the Beast when this was still an inexpensive show - a young girl or a little old man. The former idea was dropped when the expensive Episode 11 was ditched, and Fear Her was brought forward from Series 3 to replace it.
  • VFX firm The Mill came up with a black hole that was based on how scientists think they might actually look. This was deemed not quite visual enough, so something more akin to what Disney's The Black Hole had shown was created instead.
  • As you will see from the Tardisodes, both were prequels, and show that there were two commanders before Zach got the job. The Beast also seems to be able to influence things over a very great distance - all the way to Earth - which the episodes themselves don't seem to suggest. Some dialogue referring to the second Tardisode was cut from the broadcast episooes.
  • Rose picks up on the slave status of the Ood straight away, but the Doctor doesn't even comment on it. Ordinarily, this would have been the thrust of the whole story. Davies was troubled by this from the outset, which is why he started planning a follow up in which these issues would be raised.
  • In Canada, The Impossible Planet was followed by a three month break before The Satan Pit was broadcast - acting as a mid-season cliffhanger.
  • When the second episode's title was announced, a small number of people - the kind who ban their kids from reading Harry Potter in case it inspires them to sacrifice the family cat to Beelzebub and take up Black Magic - voiced their concerns. Back when Victor Pemberton had wanted to call his story "Colony of Devils" the title got vetoed for fear of offending the religiously sensitive - becoming Fury From The Deep instead. Move ahead a little and they can get away with Daemons, but the Master's coven isn't allowed to gather in a church crypt - it has to be a cavern under the church. The very next year, "Devils" is allowed, so long as they're "Sea" ones. Chris Boucher, however, won't be able to call his first story "The Day God Went Mad". It gets stuck with Face of Evil. Thankfully, Doctor Who can now happily have Satan Pits and God Complexes.
  • Mind you, The Satan Pit was broadcast in the week containing the 6th of the 6th, 2006...
  • Horned demons mentioned on screen - those of the Draconians, Daemons and Kaleds. The Tin Vagabonds get another mention in the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, where Sarah states that she has encountered them.
  • The closing TARDIS scene - the "stuff of legends" bit - was the last thing Billie Piper recorded before her departure from the series. There was a wrap party for the series after this. David Tennant had to sneak out of this to film a secret scene to be added at the end of the season - Donna Noble's sudden appearance in the TARDIS. Will Thorp and MyAnna Buring had to get up early the next day to jump into a swimming pool - to film their floating in space sequences.
  • The Sanctuary Base corridor set was used throughout the Series Two junior "making of" series - Totally Doctor Who. One of the presenters of this will get a crowd scene role in the next story, as well as having to perform at one of the Doctor Who Proms as part of his Blue Peter duties.     

No comments:

Post a Comment