Monday, January 24, 2011

"The Satan Pit"

I forgot to mention in the review for "The Impossible Planet" that I consider elements of this story to be a rip-off of the infinitely superior Fourth Doctor serial "The Robots of Death". That notwithstanding, "The Satan Pit" is probably the better of the two episodes in this two-parter but like everything it diminishes its artistic integrity with needless action and silliness. It's interesting to see the Doctor ruminating on the nature of the unknown, and for at least a while Tennant provides a reasonably restrained performance which is a good deal more palatable to watch than his usual frenetic pace. Nonetheless it continues to irk me that the villain in the story is this unknowable supernatural force, and while it's used to explore the Doctor's scientific rationality it still evokes the kind of needless mystery-for-its-own-sake which is overused in this era. No attempt is really made to explain the Beast and while it gives a lot of dark hints about the characters and about itself there are no answers given. Perhaps the point is to raise questions rather than provide answers but it's insufficiently explored.
There's some guff uttered about how it was trapped before the Universe and so on and the fact that there is some kind of rationale makes it harder to believe that it's meant to be supernatural and unknowable, and the concept that it could be destroyed by a black hole certainly diminishes the sense of an evil transcending physical reality. Of course the Doctor admits that an idea can't be destroyed but he also admits that he doesn't know everything. The message is, ultimately, a little confused and the story at times seems unable to decide whether it wants to permit a scientific or supernatural explanation to hold sway over the nature of this villain.
It's not helped by the fact that a lot of time's wasted in a typical Hollywood-style airduct chase with the Ood complete with noble sacrifices and the Beast chasing them onto the rocket by selectively possessing Toby. Toby himself is given a second chance but ends up having to be killed, and the Ood are all left to die but you don't really care, and while the episode gains a lot of its momentum from anticipation and thrills it's all a lot of sound and fury without a great deal of meaning.
One thing I did note is that the scenes with the Tenth Doctor in the space suit, especially when he's hanging in the darkness, seem evocative of classic Science Fiction like 2001: A Space Odyssey and I kind of wish they could utilise that kind of imagery more often than they do. The Beast also is very nicely animated although it's a little generic as they go. It's odd to think that he considers the Beast as possible inspiration for the Devil, though, since I thought that was already revealed to have been the Daemons in the Third Doctor serial "The Daemons". They were definitely aliens, so it makes this appearance of a demonic creature seem weirdly vague.
There's something off about the Doctor's almost wilful ignorance regarding the creature that seems to contradict the message. He says he believes that he hasn't seen everything, and that he travels to learn, but he doesn't seem too interested in learning about this and even though its claims contradict his belief system it's not entirely clear that he intends to change or expand his views at all. I suppose you don't generally follow the advice of a demonic creature intent on your destruction but I nonetheless feel like the message somehow gets lost between the action and the Doctor's boggle-eyed ranting in the Pit. I'm not sure what else there is to say about this episode; it feels like it's trying desperately to make a statement but that it is itself confused about what it's trying to say and ends up as a tangle of corridor chases and unexplained mystery, leaving you relieved but dissatisfied. Its questions are inconsistent and it's scared of making statements and in the end it doesn't really work.

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