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04 June 2014 @ 08:26 pm
The Randomizer: Planet of the Ood  
Planet of the Ood is something of an odd story. It is very nearly almost the kind of strange and wonderful thing Doctor Who intermittently serves up (often, you get the impression, as much to the show's surprise as everyone else's) but at the end of the day it is in the "big dumb" half of its season.

The first half of most of NuWho's seasons (at least until the BBC started messing around with the scheduling), in my opinion, generally heavily favour spectacle to the detriment of anything even slightly intellectually demanding and are typified by the "big dumb two parter" which generally occurs three or four episodes in. Planet of the Ood occurs just before its seasons Big Dumb Two Parter. It is still working on establishing Donna as the new companion in the Tardis whereas, if memory serves, the team is much more secure once the Big Dumb Two Parter has passed. So there is interesting stuff going on here which focuses on the Doctor and Donna's relationship and, in particular, on the way Donna copes with the more ugly side of life on different worlds and in different times. There is also the strangeness of the Ood themselves, their communal intelligence, their song; the way their frustrations develop as something that appears, to external observers, to be a communicable illness, and their ability to transform humans into Ood. The relationship between Tim Mckinnerny's Halpen and Odd Sigma is neatly drawn. Halpen is almost entirely dismissive of his Ood thoughout the story, and yet comments fondly and sadly on his loyalty as chaos breaks out at Ood Operations. There is also a potentially interesting look at the way people fool themselves into overlooking the horror on which their lives are built. We see the spin that presents the Ood as grateful servants, but the show shies away from drawing any direct parallels with our own society - when the Doctor brings it up, Donna shoots him down and he apologies.

However, at the end of the day, this is in the dumb half of the season and most of those ideas are subsumed in favour of running around, fighting, and heavy-handed "slavery is wrong" messages. To be honest, I preferred the more nuanced approach to Ood status we got in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit though I can see why the production team may have wanted to distance themselves from anything that could be interpreted as an apologia for slavery but it is a shame they didn't feel able to do more than hint at the more complex issues the story's set-up raises.

I went back and looked at my review at the time of transmission and note that I was both approaching the story with a greater interest in nit-picking the science, but also with less of a sense of missed opportunities. "I suspect it might not stand up so well on repeated viewing when the stylistic flourishes are forced to compete more heavily with the comparatively light-weight plot and the moral message may begin to appear rather facile and heavy-handed." I said, and I think the repeat viewing bears that opinion out. I kept thinking it was a shame this story didn't appear later in the season when the production team often appeared more prepared to go out on a bit of a limb and be more difficult, more strange and more different.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/116956.html.
telperion_15: Gallifreyantelperion_15 on June 5th, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
I rather like this episode - not least because I think it's the one that finally convinced me that Donna wasn't just going to be the annoying shouty companion I'd feared she was...
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on June 6th, 2014 09:02 am (UTC)
Yes, it's easy to forget how much suspicion there was of the Donna character - and to be honest tame layman still doesn't like her.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on June 6th, 2014 03:28 pm (UTC)
Granted I haven't seen an episode with her for some time, but I never really warmed to her, though she was quite good in Turn Left. I found her too one-note and lacking in subtlety, both in writing and performance and never really believed in her as a rounded character, even by the standards of Doctor Who characters.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on June 5th, 2014 10:25 pm (UTC)
I actually liked this one on broadcast, but it seemed an atypically good episode at a time when I had more or less entirely lost my confidence in the production team. That said, the main thing I remember about it in retrospect is the coincidence of a story about freedom from slavery being broadcast during the Jewish festival of Pesach with its emphasis on the redemption of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. That and the horrible bit about Donna's clothes being from sweatshops - introducing a real world parallel, then realizing it was too big to handle (or too close for comfort) and quickly dropping it, which seemed worse than not drawing the parallel in the first place.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on June 6th, 2014 09:03 am (UTC)
I think you are correct that raising and then dropping the sweatshop parallel was clumsy. It would have been better to leave the parallel to be drawn by the intelligent viewer rather than raise it and then rather explicitly sweep it under the carpet.