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17 March 2012 @ 04:05 pm
The Randomizer: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit  
In my memory this pair of episodes were among the weaker offerings from the second season of NuWho. I was surprised therefore to find they seemed much stronger on a rewatch, though I'm possibly still reacting to my disappointment with Logopolis

The structure of the episodes harks back quite strongly to the classic series. The first episode consists mostly of set-up, building tension and hints of disaster to come. The second episode consists of a lot of running down corridors and then the resolution. The only oddity, perhaps, is that the Doctor has so little to do, especially in the second episode where he's stuck at the bottom of a hole and able to influence the events above only via a radio link. Nevertheless the episodes don't feel particularly padded or slow, and its only in retrospect that I've noticed that the Doctor has so little to do.

It's very interesting to play compare and contrast to the Doctor and Rose's relationship here, and that of the Doctor and Sarah in The Masque of Mandragora. They actually come across as pretty similar. Rose's interest in the Doctor is more explicitly romantic than Sarah's but I suspect that is more a reflection of the times than anything else. In particular both relationships have an element of exclusivity to them - Sarah seems entirely oblivious in The Masque of Mandragora to the way Guiliano follows her around looking hopeful, dashing off after the Doctor at every opportunity instead. I'm not sure Sarah would have needed to be sedated, in the way Rose is, in order to get her on board the escape ship but it definitely wouldn't have been easy to get her to leave him behind. Rose has been much criticised for being overly clingy and dependent upon the Doctor in this season, but she's actually pretty awesome here. In particular, it is Rose who picks up on the Doctor's hint that the crew of the Sanctuary base can think their way out of the situation, and it is she who organises them all to come up with some kind of a plan to deal with the Ood.

Where the episodes arguably fail is over what they are actually trying to say about the devil and/or temptation. Although the story, rightfully I think, remains agnostic about exactly what the beast in the pit was, it is clearly riffing on these themes. The Doctor has a fairly long speech about temptation and giving into it, as he stands on the edge of the pit about to abseil into the depths. This calls to mind the Fautian trope, in which individuals are tempted to sell their soul. Tales about the devil tend to be ones in which people's weaknesses undermine them and ultimately lead to their possession and/or destruction. But that really isn't the case here. In fact I think the script is deliberately trying to undercut that expectation. There are a couple of moments when the Doctor appears about to launch into a condemnatory speech about humans meddling with forces they don't understand only to transform it into a "Brilliant!". The beast invokes the fears and insecurities of the characters, but none of them are undone by this. Poor old Toby, becomes possessed not, it seems, because he gives in to temptation, but because he does his job - reading the ancient texts found on the impossible planet. The Ood are overcome because of their telepathy, or possibly because of their desire to serve (I do like the detail that Danny is the "Ethics Officer" though - it speaks volumes in two words about the uneasy relationship humanity has with its slave race). However neither the fate of Toby, nor the Ood, fit particularly well into a narrative that is playing with the concepts of insecurity and temptation. The only time in the whole story in which someone gives in to temptation is when the Doctor chooses to fall from the end of his rope* - and that leads not only to a soft and safe landing, but his ability to resolve matters and save all the humans, if not the Ood**. The problem is that if this is not a story about human weakness and temptation, it's not clear what it is about? Maybe it is simply saying that temptation is not always a bad thing, that man is not always doomed to succumb and that our insecurities do not need to be fatal. But if it is, it is not saying this particularly forcefully.

*Not quite the only time. Toby also gives in to the temptation to look behind him. However, all things considered, that scene is most obviously read as the beast playing with Toby. It isn't the act of looking over his shoulder that leads to his possession.
**I'm in two minds about the way the Ood are abandoned at the end, though the ending would, dramatically speaking, have been horribly cluttered if the Doctor had rescued them. Obviously the show was to return to the Ood and their situation and examine it more thoughtfully in season 4. I did like the way the story closes with the Captain listing the names of the fallen Ood, again emphasising that humanity does not take them entirely for granted.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/63284.html.
reggietatereggietate on March 17th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
I remember rather enjoying this adventure when I watched it, partly because it got the TARDIS crew away from contemporary Earth and back off into the far reaches of the galaxy (and because it was pretty epic in a lot of ways). Probably the biggest complaint I have about the Who revamp is the way it hangs about on Earth a lot more, rather than having random adventures on alien planets in obscure parts of the Universe.

I suspect you're right about the whole devil/temptation theme, but I don't think it detracted much from my enjoyment. I liked the doomy atmosphere of the whole thing.

Did the Doctor ever try to save the Ood, or did he just not have time to attempt it? I can't remember offhand. Haven't watched it for a few years, I really must dig it out sometime. It fell victim to my obsession with Primeval, like a lot of other shows I keep meaning to rewatch :-D
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 17th, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
The Doctor says he only had time to save one person and he saved Ida (which is fair enough, he knew her well and didn't know the Ood at all). I'm not sure if we're meant to feel slightly uncomfortable about the Ood and their situation, in the way the story makes us, because although the humans and the Doctor clearly do care what happens to the Ood, it is also clear they are not really a priority. But I certainly think that by the time Planet of the Ood came around Davies was aware of the vibe that was created here and had decided to run with it - in some ways its a shame he did so by making the Ood much more obviously exploited, rather than just kind of taken for granted as they are here.
reggietatereggietate on March 17th, 2012 05:34 pm (UTC)
Is PoftheO meant to be later than IP? Because if it was, it would kind of fit in a way - the more overt exploitation could have arisen gradually as time passed. And I suppose overt exploitation and the results of a rebellion are rather more dramatic, which is possibly why RTD went for it.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 18th, 2012 10:24 am (UTC)
I think it must be intended to be later, though I couldn't say for sure. Yes, I don't think the sort of complicated and uneasy relationship that is hinted at here was one you could easily explore in a Dr Who context - a much straightforward exploitation/rebellion story is really the best you could hope for.