The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

Tardisodes: First, a tough-looking space captain receives a mission, from an astonishingly unconvincing corporate official, to retrieve a mysterious power source from a distant planet. He accepts, and then an Ood makes a sarcastic-sounding comment about The Beast rising from the pit. Secondly, a scene that’s set after the first Tardisode but before the first episode, where a book full of those symbols burns up, transferring the symbols to some poor sod in the process. It’s slightly quirky in terms of chronology when you watch it all in order, but I guess it’s hard to do a prequel that sits well in the middle of a two-parter.

* I liked that the pre-titles to the first episode introduced the Ood with a mini-cliffhanger that turned out to be a red herring – in the old days, those couple of minutes would have been 25. I do like the Odd, with their sing-song demonic threats that always sound slightly sassy. Of course, this is the first time I’ve clapped eyes on an Ood since I watched The Sensorites, so now I can see that they’re so clearly cut from the same cloth.

* What a guest cast. Danny Webb from off of Alien³ and Humans! Claire Rushbrook, who interviews Daisy Steiner for a magazine job! The guy with all the writing on his face who I now know best as a man in Corrie who tried to steal Craig Charles’s girlfriend by pretending he had brain cancer! Pretty much all the crew are famous telly faces, and they play a big part in this story’s success.

* Having said that, it’s weird that there’s two extra crew members who don’t speak and who nobody ever refers to. A bloke with a gun who turns up when The Doctor goes down the mineshaft, and a woman with a gun who’s caught up in the initial Ood attack. Unless I missed something, neither are mentioned early on when they go through the crew roster, and nobody seems to care too much about their deaths, considering the fuss they (rightly) make when the more senior crew members snuff it.

*  There’s lots of little hints about the society the crew are from. They’re the type of people who would happily keep slaves without questioning the morality, and who talk of “the empire”, which all sounds a bit Brexit in retrospect. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s a level of detail that would be reminiscent of an old Robert Holmes serial if there was just a little bit more of it.

* There’s a sound effect on the crew’s communicators that Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe used to use for transitions. This is most distracting.

* There’s a lovely build up of tension and drama leading to the cliffhanger, where your man gets possessed and properly scary, and absolutely everything goes to shit. But cutting when the pit opened, before we’d seen what was inside, wasn’t particularly satisfying, and it left it feeling a little like clickbait – you won’t believe what’s in there, tune in next week to find out.

* But the second part is all very exciting, and so I have far fewer notes for it. I remembered liking it the first time around, but couldn’t recall much about it. The details of what happens are perhaps not that memorable because the various components – base under siege, power failures, dwindling oxygen supplies, crawling around in the air ducts – are not particularly original, but as an action-adventure romp, it’s a very decent one. Jefferson’s sacrifice is very sad, and the little hint that Toby was still possessed added an extra dimension – you knew he’d go bad and ruin everything, you just didn’t know when.

* Rose is apparently “the valiant child who will die in battle so very soon”. Or just get stranded on a parallel world for a couple of series, but whatevs. Those words obviously stirred something in her, as she does an absolutely sterling job of taking command in The Doctor’s absence soon after. In a series where she’s been far harder to take seriously than she was last time, this is an undoubted high point for the character.

* The Doctor’s side of the story was much slower paced, but no less interesting. It’s always intriguing to see what he does when he thinks that he’s lost everything. The TARDIS is gone, they’re trapped down a ten mile mineshaft and he’s got less than an hour’s worth of oxygen, so fuck it, let’s jump down a totally deep hole. As he falls, he stops short of saying that he loves Rose, which is more galling when you know what happens at the end of the series.

* Throughout, I got a vague Alien series vibe, which is obviously right up my street. Maybe it was just the presence of Danny Webb, but also the design of the base and the fact that the crew were designed to be identifiably ordinary people. But that ending, with the highest ranking survivor logging a roll call of the deceased, confirmed to me that it was a deliberate homage. Fine by me, no wonder I enjoyed it so much.

RATING: 9

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