“The Impossible Planet” – Review: Redux

Ida Scott “There’s no turning back.”

The Doctor “Did you have to say that? ‘There’s no turning back?’ That’s almost as bad as ‘Nothing could possibly go wrong’ or ‘This’ll be the best Christmas Walford’s ever had’.”

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When I first reviewed this second two-parter of Series Two, I had the temerity to say this was “Hands down, this has to be the best example of Doctor Who, in the world, ever”. Looking back at it now, that was quite some claim and probably one that I need to reassess somewhat. Although, the episode begins in the most perfect way: the TARDIS lands, the crew step out, find themselves on a base, make a few gags about flat-pack furniture, see some impossibly old writing and meet the Ood, all within the first 90 seconds. After the opening titles have rolled, newcomer Matt Jones’ script just keeps on at a cracking pace. There is a sense of impending doom that pervades everything, starting with “Welcome to Hell” being graffiti’d on the wall and getting scarier as we go, but it ebbs and flows majestically and builds to its perfectly crafted climax.

It is the twenty-second episode of new Who but the first to be set neither on nor orbiting the Earth and this is one of the aspects that makes the story such a delight. Since the relaunch of Doctor Who last year, some fans had been asking why the stories were so Earth-centric in their settings. The rationale was compelling, i.e. (i) an anchor for the new fans to cling to, (ii) a focus on the companion and how travelling with the Doctor affects her and her home life, and (iii) a simple structural format that limits exposition to a minimum thus allowing the 45-minute format to work. However, it was still getting a little frustrating with everything being so Terran despite many references to off-world adventures. So, we arrived at “The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit” double parter with a even more anticipation than usual.  An anticipation that was justly rewarded as this make-believe setting became a character all of its own, proving that Doctor Who can go to alien worlds again without losing any of its new-found charm.

The Sanctuary Base is built on a planet that is, impossibly, orbiting a black hole. They meet the crew and their Ood workforce and, of course, things start to go wrong pretty soon. The ensemble piece can be a tough trick to pull off successfully because the characters have to be introduced and instantly connect with the audience, so that when a number of them, inevitably, start to get killed off, we can feel the emotional impact along with the rest of the characters. It is testament to these episodes’ success that, seven years after their only Doctor Who appearance, the names of Scooti Mannista, Toby Zed, Ida Scott and the rest all can be recalled with such fondness. People often cite other stories (yet to be reached in this marathon re-watch) when they are asked to name the most frightening episodes of Doctor Who, but when you take a look at this one, it’s bloody terrifying in parts. The takeover of Toby Zed, the death of Scooti, the Ood becoming red-eyed and deadly, and even the just the voice of Gabriel Woolf as The Beast could send shivers down the spine.

So the plot zips along at a gorgeous pace as we get towards the episodes climax. Ida and the Doctor head down the mine shaft to try and find the power source to the planet. Meanwhile the crew up top suddenly discover that one of them is possessed and the Ood slaves turn against their human masters while under the control of the as-yet-unnamed Beast. If that wasn’t enough the planet starts to get sucked in to the black hole too. I’ve spoken about cliff-hangers before and this one is a doozy. As the Doctor and Ida look down in to the pit it begins to dawn on everyone that they have awoken an ancient evil… “The pit is open and I am free” growls the voice, the credits roll and I suddenly remember that it would be a good idea if I started to breathe again.

Highlight: Ood “The Beast and his armies will rise from the pit to make war against God.” … Rose “I’m sorry?” … Ood “Apologies. I said: I hope you enjoy your meal.”

Lowlight: That’s not what a black hole would look like!

Talking Point: Why can’t we go off-world even more?

Demon’s Run Rating: 19 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 3rd June 2006

Marathon Status: 22 of 102

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