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3RD JUNE 2006







Different people are scared by different things. Ghosts, monsters, beards; you name it. Personally I can’t stand the thought of Whales. Nevertheless, whatever your tipple when it comes to scares, I can guarantee that there is something within The Impossible Planet’s forty-five minutes that will leave you feeling deeply unsettled. Indeed, any children fortunate enough to be allowed to watch this brazen fear-fest shouldn’t expect to be getting any sleep over the next few nights.


The scares in Matt Jones’ (Bad Therapy) eerie script work on several different levels. Most overtly, through the repulsive Ood, the viewer is presented with creatures that fly directly in the face of most human beings’ idea of aesthetics. No doubt the very sight of an Ood would have rendered my five year-old self housebound for a week, and so I shudder to think how the nation’s children reacted once the Ood set off on their murderous spree, possessed by the consciousness of ‘the Beast’.


“The Beast and his armies shall rise from the Pit to make war against God.”


But even though I’m no longer five years old,

I still find the Ood rather disturbing. There’s

something inherently sinister in the way that

they act as willing slaves to humanity, and th-

ose creepily pleasant, uniform voices are utterly

disquieting. In fact, I found the most terrifying aspect of The Impossible Planet to be its psychological horror, as opposed to its physical. It’s no secret that next week’s episode is called The Satan Pit, and with a flood of sledge-hammer hints like “666” littered throughout the episode, combined with quasi-biblical quot-ations - “He is awake. He bathes in the black sun...” – Jones is certainly taking us back to basics: the Devil. Hell. Satan. And the wonderful notion of ‘impossibility’ that runs throughout the episode only heightens the nightmarish feel engendered.


What’s more, The Impossible Planet plays upon our primal fear of being trapped. There is absolutely no way out of the black hole, and that goes just as much for the Doctor and Rose as it does for Zack and his crew. In classic William Hartnell style, the TARDIS is lost within the first few minutes of the episode, and this time (if we didn’t know better) it really does feel like there is no getting it back. Even if our heroes were to escape the Beast, his legion of brainwashed Ood, and the black hole that contains them all, the Doctor and Rose would

still be stranded in the far future (43k 2.1, I believe they said), forced to lead linear lives.


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


I love the little scene between the Doctor and Rose, where Rose playfully skirts around the idea of them sharing a house as the Doctor histrionically babbles about jobs, mortgages, doors and carpets. In all my reviews this season I don’t think that I’ve adequately praised what a fantastic Doctor David Tennant is. He has a definite childlike quality to him, a bit like Pat Troughton; I love the way in which he jabbers endlessly, and almost ends up stammering when he’s excited. All the same, he is still very much the same incredible man that the ninth Doctor was, perhaps just a little less angsty. In fact, I don’t think that two adjacent Doctors have ever been this similar before, although this probably has more to do with showrunner Russell T Davies’ interpretation of the character than it does the two great men that have worn his shoes.


“...people back home think space travel is gonna be all whizzing about... but it’s not, is it? It’s tough.”


Moreover, the desolate and dour Sanctuary Base setting makes the future depicted in the Alien movies look like luxury; the harsh backdrop emphasising just how bleak the situation

is for the protagonists. And by the time that we first hear Gabriel Woolf’s thunderous voice creeping up on Toby, the situation really could not get any more disturbing. The fear factor then goes through the roof as the Beast manifests itself within Toby; the red eyes and the tattoos of that ancient, untranslatable language painting a marvellously chilling picture.



I have to take my hat off to the supporting cast too. Of course, Woolf famously played the Osirian Sutekh in the classic Tom Baker serial Pyramids of Mars back in 1976, and here

he lends the same sense of malevolence to the Beast, who may well turn out to be another fallen deity the way things appear to be headed. Shaun Parkes’ Zack also impressed me too, as did Claire Rushbrook’s Ida and particularly Will Thorp’s Toby. The mild-mannered human archaeologist could not be any farther away from Satan incarnate, yet Thorp makes both thoroughly believable.



The look of this episode is also immensely impressive; director James Strong and the folks at the Mill really must be applauded. The black hole might not be technically realistic, but I doubt that your average Joe knows what one looks like. This is certainly one of those cases where you just have to go with what looks good, and look good it certainly does. In fact, it’s absolutely inspiring.


And the stirring score is another triumph for Murray Gold, ranging from very gentle Celtic strings to very big, very epic ‘event’ music which ultimately builds up to one of the best cliff-hangers in Doctor Who history. The pit opens. The planet starts to fall into the black hole. The Legion of the Beast begins to March, chanting all the Beast’s many names, including Satan. The Doctor and Ida open the “Trap-Door” and stare down into the Satan Pit…



And so to sum up, “scariest episode EVER” may be one hell of a claim to make in a series

as long-lived as Doctor Who is, but the shoe certainly fits here. I only hope that next week’s Satan Pit can live up to the promise of its magnificent title and sustain this unparalleled level of terror…


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


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