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The Impossible Planet

Series Two, Episode Eight
Eddy Wolverson

“We’re on a planet that shouldn’t exist underneath a black hole. Yeah… start worrying about me.”

What an episode! “The Impossible Planet” is definitely the creepiest episode of Doctor since its rebirth last year. More than that, it’s just… well, brilliant. The pre-title sequence sums it all up beautifully – the Doctor finds some writing even the TARDIS cannot translate, for they have gone beyond the reach of the TARDIS’ knowledge. Until now, I didn’t know the TARDIS’ knowledge even had limits! This wonderful notion of ‘impossibility’ that runs throughout the episode really heightens the nightmarish scenario. Welcome to Hell.

“The Beast and his armies shall rise from the Pit to make war against God,” says the Dinner Lady-Ood very matter of factly.

In the Ood, the production team have found a race that are really shit scary. They just look absolutely monstrous; they are the pole opposite of human beings’ idea of beauty. Worse, the way they act as willing slaves to humanity; those creepily pleasant, uniform voices – they’re unsettling even before they are taken over by the ‘Beast.’ However, I found the most terrifying aspect of “The Impossible Planet” to be the psychological horror, as opposed to the physical. It is no secret that next week’s episode is called “The Satan Pit,” and with hints like 666 littered throughout the episode, combined with the Ood’s almost biblical quotations - “He is awake. He bathes in the black sun...” – the writer Matt Jones is playing on very primal, human fears. The Devil. Hell. Satan.

On top of this, there is absolutely no way out. These people are trapped inside a black hole. Not just Zack and his crew, but the Doctor and Rose. In classic Hartnell style, the TARDIS crew lose the ship in the first few minutes of the episode, and it this time it really seems like there is no getting it back. Even if they escaped the ‘Beast’, his legion of brainwashed Ood and the black hole that contains them, the Doctor and Rose would still be stranded in the far future (43k 2.1, I believe they said), forced to lead linear lives. I love that little scene between the two of them, where Rose playfully skirts around the idea of them sharing a house. I love the Doctor’s babbling about jobs, mortgages, doors and carpets. In all my reviews this season I don’t think I’ve adequately praised what a fantastic Doctor he is. He has a certain childlike quality a bit like Pat Troughton; I love the way he babbles endlessly and almost ends up stammering when he’s excited… yet he’s still essentially the same man as the ninth Doctor. In fact, I don’t think two contiguous Doctors have ever been so similar before, though I think that has more to do with Russell T. Davies’ vision of the character than the men who have worn his shoes.

“It’s funny ‘cos people back home think space travel is gonna be all whizzing about… teleports… anti-gravity, but it’s not is it? It’s tough.”

Damn right, Rose. In fact, Matt Jones bleak Sanctuary Base makes stuff like the Alien movies look like luxury. This harsh backdrop really emphasises just how grim the situation is, and by the time we first hear Gabriel Woolf’s voice creeping up on Toby, it seems that the situation couldn’t get any scarier. Woolf, of course, famously played the Osirian Sutekh in the classic Tom Baker story “Pyramids of Mars” back in 1976 and here he lends that some sense of malevolence to the ‘Beast,’ who could turn out to be another fallen deity. Having the ‘Beast’ manifest itself in Toby really pushes the fear factor through the roof. The red eyes, the tattoos of that untranslatable language… its all traditional, textbook stuff – but it works, and works brilliantly.

The look of the episode, as well as the soundtrack, is also immensely impressive. The black hole may not be technically realistic, but I doubt your average Joe knows what one looks like and I think this is one of those cases where you just have to go for what looks good… and it does. It’s absolutely beautiful. The score is another triumph for Murray Gold; it ranges from very gentle Celtic strings to very big, very epic ‘event’ music which helps build up probably the second-best cliff-hanger ever in Doctor Who. The pit opens. The Legion of the Beast begins to March, chanting all the Beast’s many names including Satan. The planet starts to fall into the black hole. The Doctor and Ida open the “Trap-Door” and stare down into the Satan Pit…

So is there anything about “The Impossible Planet” that I didn’t like? Yeah, two things. First and foremost, why did they have to kill Scooti, the fit one? And secondly, where did all the random extras come from at the end, only to be killed by the Ood? I thought it was just a skeleton crew! Ah well, you can’t have it all.

Ali Ryland

First off- The impossible Planet. Wow. It’s at the top of my list; along with the Parting of the ways and the Doctor dances. For some reason I always prefer the follow on, whether it’s a 2 parter tv episode or a sequel to a book. So I have high hopes for the Satan Pit!

I noticed the Impossible planet received a 6/5 for fear factor, which was a bit extreme. I’d actually prefer it scarier, with more of those turn-around-and-scream moments with the dramatic, jumpy music. And more blood and gore. The possessed Toby was quite freaky, however, similar to the empty child. I loved his creepy, manic smile- it was somewhat entrancing, as were his red eyes and the ancient script covering him.

Yes, moving swiftly on to Will Thorp. He was fantastic! When I first heard he was going to be in Doctor Who I had my doubts (didn’t we all?). But he was the star of the show (apart from David and Billie who are always on top form). So many different personalities! My favourite is his possession of course. The voice really added to it as well- well done Gabriel Woolf!

The other characters were brilliantly played also. I wasn’t too sure about Danny though. His acting wasn’t the best and he got on my nerves a bit. But I’m like that- I hate all characters trying to flirt with Rose or the Doctor, i.e. Mme de Pompadour (I hated Girl in the fireplace. Monsters I can believe but the Doctor falling in love with someone else after meeting them twice? Give me a break.), Mickey (the idiot), Lynda with a y and Adam. But not Captain Jack; funny, seeing as he was flirting with both of them! But I’m just a stubborn romantic- it’s Rose and the Doctor or nothing!

Talking of Rose and the Doctor, that old chemistry between them has revived itself and the impossible planet was filled with sexual tension. I’d almost given up hope of it ever appearing again, having to be content with watching the end of the Parting of the ways again and again- though all of the 1st series was packed with it. Funny that the Doctor regenerates, comes back funnier and better looking (no offence Chris) and nothing happens- excluding the parts in the Christmas invasion when the Doctor wasn’t lying in bed…er…yes. But now the tenth doctor is demonstrating that he’s just as good at secretly loving Rose as the 9th!

Moving onto the actual plot, it was flawless as usual. I like the idea that there’s something the Doctor can’t explain; he was getting a bit cocky and big-headed! The music was great as per usual, with a new tune that I particularly liked, though I still wish sometimes that they would bring back the bad wolf music. You know, the one that played whenever there was a bad wolf mention, and during the Parting of the ways kiss. All in all, a fantastic episode!

Paul Berry

Being a Doctor Who fan can sometimes be likened to being in a long term relationship. The first introduction to the world of fandom is that rush of intoxication,

an infatuation where everything is fresh and new, over time this peters out into a sense of cosy familiarity, then one day comes a sense of stagnation which causes one to question the very foundation on which that love was built. At this point one can either jump ship and abandon that love for pastures new, or stay and hope the spark which caused that first rush, can one day be rekindled.

Well for me The Impossible Planet was just that spark, a sharp reminder that every so often Doctor Who can reproduce those very feelings which gave it such allure in the first place. Only two weeks earlier Age of Steel had caused me to hang my head in despair and wonder whether I had finally outgrown Doctor who once and for all.

In a nutshell The Impossible Planet was a combination of everything Doctor Who used to do so well, but for all its technical wizardry and characterisation, the new series has often been lacking. Doctor Who for me has always been about a journey into danger and the unknown, and for once Matt Jones script left us in no doubt that this time the Doctor and Rose really were up shit creek. From the opening teaser the episode flowed almost flawlessly: balancing drama, intrigue and exposition perfectly, never rushing into plot developments or drifting off at tangents as some writers are want to do. I must admit to not having experienced any of Matt Jones writing before, but possibly of all the new series writers, he seems the most in tune with the dramatic structure of the show, able to effortlessly create that sense of creeping tension, without it ever feeling forced or hackneyed.

This was of course Doctor Who’s much lauded first journey onto an alien planet and in lesser hands could have been a hamfisted hopelessly studiobound effort, but James Strong’s taut and cinematic direction left us in no doubt that we were really in the farthest flung reaches of the universe. It has to be said that after years of the likes of Star trek portraying a rather homogenous universe where all planets are remarkably hospitable and earth like and and space travel seems the intergalactic equivalent of a smooth bus ride, it is good to see the status quo being shook up. The success of the new Battlestar Galactica owes much to this nuts and bolts approach to sci fi, and it is good to see that Doctor Who is portraying man’s first steps to the stars as a dirty and rather hazardous enterprise.

The new series continues to amaze me with its technical leaps and bounds, and this story moved up a notch further, the fact that on a weekly basis the production team are turning out these episodes which visually are on a level with a lot of modern cinema is frankly astounding. It can be said without doubt that the first new alien planet is a bone fide success, and was not as one may have feared; a CGI nightmare with a funny coloured sky.

This second series has proved much stronger on its monsters and aliens than the first and the Ood once again made a memorable creation, it wasn’t too surprising to find that they weren’t as benign as we may have initially assumed. With a touch of the service droids in the Robots of Death in the voice treatment, it will be interesting to see how they fare as out and out nasties in the second episode.

We are now in the position of being half way through David Tennant’s first series and perhaps now more than ever is time to reflect on how his Doctor has scored. Tennant certainly makes it easy to forget that there ever was such a person as Christopher Eccleston in the lead, he has made it so much his own and continues to have a sense of enthusiasm which seemed to vanish altogether from Eccleston mid run. But to be honest, for me at least Tennant is a good Doctor, but by no means the best, he lacks the sheer physical presence some of his predecessors had, and a bit like Sylvester McCoy used to do, his displays of anger don’t always come across terribly well. One also sometimes gets the impression of the doctor being a bit up himself and a bit of a clever git. Nevertheless the fact that Tennant will be continuing into series 3, will hopefully allow some of the less appealing aspects of his characterisation to be ironed out. Billie Piper’s Rose has also been somewhat less impressive of late and again has suffered from some similarly unappealing traits, it hasn’t helped that in some episodes the charcter has been desperately underwritten, thankfully however this episode marked a return to form. Certainly the scene where both characters believed they had lost the Tardis and may have to settle down to a normal mundane existence reintroduced some strong character dynamics which have often took a back seat this series. The supporting cast provided some strong solid support with thoroughly believable performances.

For once this story was a case where the good far outweighed the bad and any complaints are only minor niggles. Firstly why does Russell T Davies seem to think 21st century earth will be the template for humanity’s future, here once again as in last years future earth stories we have people adorned in modern fashions. I know Russell T Davies shies away from flowing cloaks and jumpsuits, but given some of the liberties he has taken with realism so far, I don’t think it would be too much of a crime to have a stab at futuristic fashions. Also am I the only viewer who is becoming increasingly annoyed with the Doctor’s over familiarity with modern day popular culture. Last week we had him referencing Kylie, this week we are faced with the rather uncomfortable notion that the Doctor sits down for a thrice weekly dose of Eastenders.

Overall though The Impossible Planet gave the new Doctor Who a much needed shot in the arm, introducing a sense of danger and peril which was much needed. This new season has been a lot better than last years, but has at times felt a little comfortable and safe. This was of course only part 1 and for all we know they could screw it up next week, but for me this was the sort of thing the new series should be doing a lot more. As the tension was ramped up till almost breaking point and the new series delivered its finest cliffhanger yet, for possibly the first time since it returned last year 7 days seems much to long to wait.

Ian Larkin

After some fairly cosy fun with 'The Idiot's Lantern' last week, Doctor Who takes a decidedly dark turn in its eighth episode. And it's surprising just how dark things get. Similarities to the 'Alien' movies, 'Event Horizon' and even 'The Omen' have already been mentioned, but hang on a moment, aren't those all 18-certificate scare-fests designed to turn cinema goers into quivering wrecks? Well they're certainly not family friendly tales for seven o'clock of a Saturday evening, sandwiched between 'Strictly Dance Fever' and 'The National Lottery'...

Call me a big girl's blouse, but I can't recall Doctor Who ever being quite this scary. It's difficult to put in perspective, but I think that if I were nearer 10 than, ahem, well a fair bit older than 10, then I might still be suffering from sleepless nights. Maybe it's just me, but the psychological scares provided by Gabriel Woolf's disembodied voice and a man's skin suddenly being covered with arcane symbols are far more terrifying than any number of ranting daleks.

So, what happens then? Well, the Doctor and Rose, as jovial as ever, step out of the TARDIS into a ramshackle space station inhabited by a small group of humans and their willing slaves, the tentacle-faced Ood. They soon discover that the space station is on a small, inhospitable rock which orbits a black hole, thus breaking several laws of physics, apparently, hence the episode's title. How does it do this? It turns out there's a mysterious power source at the core of the planet, and that's why the humans are there - to drill down, discover and hopefully exploit this power source. But it seems the inhospitable rock may not be quite as dead as everyone thinks...

Which brings us onto the villain of the piece. And, well, it's the Devil, isn't it? No beating around the bush with this one, it's pretty definitely the Satanic one. A little bold for that 7pm slot, but there you go. Nice coincidence (or is it?) that 6/6/06 is the Tuesday between episodes... Anyway, the Devil's presence seeps into the space station's technology. Rose's mobile phone impossibly rings to chillingly announce that 'He is awake'. An Ood's translation device states that, 'The beast and his armies shall rise from the pit to make war against God', a moment made all the more scary by the fact that the line is delivered in the Ood's usual pleasant sing-song tones. The Devil's face briefly flickers in the station's holographic imager and, most terrifying of all, science officer Toby gets possessed, his skin covered with strange symbols.

The tension builds wonderfully, helped by strong performances and Murray Gold's best and most cinematic score to date. In fact, the whole episode has a very cinematic feel, with vast images of space and underground caverns, stunning set pieces (Scooti's death being both powerfully emotive and brilliantly realised) and a really gritty, detailed story.

Any negatives? The pre-credit teaser is a cop-out that reeks of someone forgetting to write one until the last minute. And the Doctor's hug seemed like an attempt at quirky and alien but unfortunately just comes across as a bit embarrassing. Still, these minor quibbles can't dent what's been one of my favourite episodes of the new series so far. Here's hoping that whatever was rising out of the pit (and how masterful was it not to show it just yet?) provides a suitably epic conclusion to the story next week.

Angus Gulliver

I've now seen this twice. My first viewing was in the games room of a camp site, where the wife and I were joined by four children. Second viewing was at home for the BBC3 repeat.

Quite simply, the best episode of Doctor Who since the show came back. Yes, even better than "The Empty Child", and if "The Satan Pit" is as good...then this will be one of the all time greats adventures. As a single episode, this will rank already as one of the best.

I knew nothing of Matt Jones' previous writing so went in with an open mind...save that the synopsis I read suggested this might be one to look forward to.

My goodness, if ever there were one episode to show people and say "This is Doctor Who"....then it is this one. It has it all. OK, so the 'base under siege' theme is not new, and the visuals are reminiscent of Alien/Aliens but there is something fresh and new about this.

We have an apparently impossible situation, a planet in orbit around a black hole - kept there by some unknown energy source buried deep beneath the planet's surface. The Doctor and Rose arrive (in a cupboard, brilliant!) and things go further wrong, an earthquake destroys the section of the base where the TARDIS materialised.

On board the base we have a pretty normal bunch of people, who have elected to drill a shaft to investigate the power source. As usual this year, the supporting cast are excellent. And they are aided by the Ood, apparently a slave/heard race who communicate via low level telepathy.

Things go wrong in a sinister way when The Beast, whcih we surmise must be at the bottom of the shaft, awakens and starts sending message to the Ood...and posesses one of the people. This culminates in perhaps one of the most scary scenes ever committed to videotape. And it's so simple..."Toby, I am right behind you"....yet so chilling!

Finally the drill shaft is complete, so the Doctor and one of the workers from the base descend to investigate. They find a 30 foot diameter trap door, which opens revealing......

Cue end credits, a sigh of relief and genuine anticipation as to what comes next Saturday!

Really top notch stuff. 10/10 for all concerned.

Jonathan Crossfield

After the joys of "The Girl In the Fireplace" I didn't expect the series to throw up something else so superb so soon. Yet this episode seems to have slipped under everyone's radar.

Not promoted as a tentpole episode for the season like the Cybermen or K9 episodes I think it's fair to say no one knew what to expect from the new writer director team.

What we got was flawless Doctor Who. From this day on, Star Trek and Stargate fans are on notice - they can no longer ridicule our show as the lesser force in television sci-fi. Quite frankly, the good Doctor kicked the bum of every and all other television sci-fi. In fact, it kicked the bum of quite a few sci-fi movies as well.

The whole episode definitely had a big screen movie feel to it - from the best special effects design the series has ever seen to the gravitas contained in every performance. This ensemble cast was not playing the episode with their tongue in cheek, this was played dead straight and the effects were chilling.

The script moved continually in new and fresh directions - nothing seemed predictable (expect that something is coming out of the pit but that sort of is the point!) and the 45 minutes just seemed to keep twisting and turning with new spectacle. I couldn't look away from the screen and continually felt as if the episode was about to end because so much had been packed in, only for another set piece to begin.

If the second episode disappoints it will be a huge let down but nothing can take away the fact that this episode was amongst the finest the series has ever produced.