Monday, January 24, 2011

"The Impossible Planet"

Someone clearly hasn't been doing their astronomy homework, because there's nothing 'Impossible' about a body orbiting a black hole. In fact, it's generally accepted that our entire galaxy revolves around a very large, very dense black hole. Let's also mention that a 'geostationary orbit' specifically refers to bodies in orbit around the Earth, not other astronomical features. Of course that kind of scientific realism would contradict the magical thinking which dominates this era of Doctor Who, and while it's normally disguised behind some incredibly bad pretense at science, here it's completely blatant. It's the Devil, and the goings-on are the work of the supernatural. Why? I have no idea. This is Doctor Who, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural. Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Buffy, but there's a reason why a plot like this works in a show like Buffy and doesn't in Doctor Who, and it's a question of genre. Buffy is a fantasy/horror TV show. Doctor Who is science fiction, as I seem to be endlessly repeating. Just because the Devil is trapped on an alien planet in space doesn't make it not supernatural or the work of fantasy. I'll delve further into the ambiguity and the dissatisfaction and pointlessness of deliberate and never-explained mystery in sci-fi in my review of "The Satan Pit" but needless to say it's highly incongruous and for an episode (the first of two) which is regarded by card-carrying fans of this era as some kind of masterpiece I think it only exemplifies the notion that people enjoy this series and those around it with a kind of bad faith as to what Doctor Who is meant to be about.
So as I mentioned, it's an alien planet. That's exciting, isn't it? For the first time in twenty-two episodes since the series was revived we're somewhere that isn't Earth, New Earth, Parallel Earth or a space station orbiting Earth. But wait, all the characters are human explorers from Earth and the only aliens are the personality-deficient slave race, the Ood. Speaking of personality deficient, as overused as I realise this term is becoming the humans are all complete cyphers who exist mostly to provide massive information dumps to the Doctor and get killed. Most of the information is imparted with horribly abrupt, wide-eyed clunkiness by the disturbingly smooth-faced Ida, such as the tedious 'myth' about the planet being the "bitter pill". which was spat out by the "demon mouth" of the black hole. There's always something discomfortingly fake-sounding about made up myths or invented fairy tales because they inevitably reek of bad pastiche, sort of like RTD's purple prose, and this one is a particularly awkward example. It's actually quite ironic that Rose suggests Toby is the "chief dramatist" for uttering this kind of hammy dialogue when she does it all the time in this episode and many others, and in fact this episode is more or less Rose's turn to be incredibly smug and irritating, describing the rocket's entry as 'like a rollercoaster' for absolutely no reason, making jokes about the Ood and life in the future and generally being especially full of herself. The bit where she and Tennant crack up after leaving the TARDIS is particularly cringe-inducing to watch and is only topped by the bit, probably the absolute nadir of his entire acting career, where the Doctor hugs Jake because he loves humans such a huge bunch or whatever. It's cloyingly revolting and exemplifies how particularly tiresome, pretentious and self-involved the Tenth Doctor is a lot of the time.
As you will hear if I ever talk to anyone about this story, I always found it a cop-out that it ends up being the Doctor and humans versus the Ood and that if they had really wanted to be clever, they would have had the Ood as the good guys and more of the humans being possessed than just Toby. That would probably be too unconventional for the thickies at home to handle though. In fact, considering the semi-important role which the Ood would go on to play as allies of the Doctor I actually think they're rather poorly introduced in this story and I was surprised upon rewatch how little time and explanation they get considering how essential they're meant to be. You could argue that the story takes them for granted to reinforce how humans do the same but the idea of a slave race being turned against its masters by the power of evil rather than good seems to rather broadcast the wrong message in my opinion.
Speaking of the power of evil, as much as the concept itself annoys me Toby is pretty well performed and menacing as the host for the Beast and the shot of him standing outside in the vacuum unprotected viewing the black hole is a nice image. The violin music, used here and elsewhere, is also much more subtle than we're used to and is good for evoking the loneliness and isolation of the story but unfortunately it does feel a lot like a rip-off of the music used in Joss Whedon's Firefly series from 2002. Gabriel Woolf, most notable as the voice of Sutekh the Destroyer in all-time favourite Classic serial "The Pyramids of Mars" is very chilling as the Beast and his delivery is diabolically masterful. It's a shame, then, that the rest of the episode is so mediocre, especially with the uninteresting human characters. It's odd that they're all introduced in the command centre scene, yet later there are some other unintroduced and unspeaking redshirts with guns to get killed by the Ood. How many people are there on this base again? It certainly diminishes the sense of isolation and claustrophobia when there are background characters and I'm not sure why they exist. The alien planet setting feels wasted on the story and the slave-race thing with the Ood is both a massive cliché and virtually unexplored. Also, I find it difficult to watch the Head of Security because he looks so much but not quite like Bill Nighy that it's kind of hard to focus on him. That's not a criticism so much as a weird quibble, but I've always found it weird. Regardless, in spite of all the Devil stuff it's still astoundingly unambitious and safe, and apart from that one scene with Toby outside, and maybe the bit where the Beast is whispering to him, it's mediocre and overrated.
Oh, and the Doctor tells Rose that TARDISes are grown, not built. Well I watched "Arc of Infinity" the other day and Omega said he was going to build a new TARDIS, and I'm pretty sure Omega knows his stuff.

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