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10TH JUNE 2006







This has to be one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who to date. In forty-five minutes it showcases everything that is fantastic about the series today, and even gives us

a fleeting glimpse of what it may be like in the future.


“Doctor, tell me there’s no such thing.”


It’s fast – so very fast – as the Ood rampage through the Sanctuary Base on their crazed killing spree. And it’s scary – so very scary. How on Earth the children on the BBC website rated this episode a mere “Fear Factor 5” after last week’s episode actually broke the “Fear Factor” barrier I don’t know. Perhaps it’s that old X-Files chestnut about what you don’t see being scarier than what you do. Then again, whilst I think that there is some truth in that old adage, seeing ‘the Beast’ in the flesh certainly had me second-guessing it.


The Satan Pit picks up directly where The Impossible Planet left off. The pit is open and Satan is apparently free, yet there’s no sign of him. The Ood chase Rose and the surviving members of the Sanctuary Base’s crew through the jeffries tubes in a thrilling sequence that could have been cut and pasted from a classic series serial. The tension then reaches fever pitch when in one, fleeting moment Toby turns to the Ood and says “shh” – the Devil is still in him.


“The valiant child who will die in battle so very soon”.


Will Thorp gives a mesmeric performance as the poor soul infested with the consciousness of the Beast. He manages to portray Toby as a likeable but slightly pathetic character; a bit of a doormat, even. But then suddenly his eyes go red, the tattoos appear out of nowhere, and he is the Devil incarnate. The force and the power that comes out of his scrawny frame is extraordinarily intense.



And the rest of the supporting cast are almost

as impressive. Shaun Parkes’ Zack, the Base’s makeshift captain, is really down to Earth - just

a normal bloke thrown into a mad situation -

whilst Danny Webb’s Mr Jefferson very nearly

steals the show at times; his death scene is

especially moving. We then have Ida (Claire Rushbrook), who spends much of this episode

trapped in the Pit with the Doctor, and Danny (Ronny Jhutti), who again both come across as

very real people with their own hopes and fears, making the Beast’s little précis of them all

the more disturbing.


Last week, much of the fear came from the hype surrounding this Beast, but even though this week it’s actually out there on loose, the fear is again mainly psychological as it plays on the “basic fears” of the humans, gleefully revealing their darkest secrets, and even hinting at their possible futures. Whether this is the Devil or not is anybody’s guess, but it can certainly see straight through our heroes here. “The little boy who lied. The virgin…” and, most disturbingly of all, “the valiant child who will die in battle so very soon”. The public announcement of Billie Piper’s leaving the show at the end of the series really couldn’t have been timed any better – surely they wouldn’t ‘do an Adric?’


“For once in my life… I’m going to say retreat.”


On balance though, I think the reason that I like this story so much is that it focuses on our lead man. It’s not a story where the Doctor shows up and saves the world, or teaches his young companion some lesson about the universe; it’s a story about him directly, and his having to come to terms with the fact that there are things out there that even he does not, and probably never will, ever understand.


The Beast claims to come from  “…before time and light and space and matter, before this universe was created” which the Doctor just can’t accept. It contradicts all of his core beliefs - “Science, not sorcery Miss Hawthorne” – as his faith is science. This gives David Tennant the rare opportunity to explore facets of the character seldom seen, and to do so with astoni-shing flair. I love how the Doctor visibly goes from reticence to recklessness within the space of just a few scenes; it shows just how desperately this situation is affecting him, making for some truly outstanding drama.


“Just tell her… Tell her… Oh, she knows.”


The scene where the Doctor descends into the nothingness of the Pit is one of my favourites in the revived series to date. As he abseils down into the void he puts a smile on a lot of fans faces with a few well-chosen words about Draconians, Dæmons, and even Kaleds. All these races have a Devil, but the Devil is just an idea, surely? One way to find out, he reckons. The Doctor unfastens his harness.  “Just tell her… Tell her… Oh, she knows” he sighs resignedly, and with that falls silently and gracefully into the Pit.


When the Doctor wakes up his space helmet is smashed but he’s still breathing. Impossible, surely? The Satan consciousness may have fled to Toby, but the Doctor finds himself looking up at the gargantuan figure of the Devil.



Whoever designed and animated the Beast really needs some sort of award. Before seeing this episode, I’d have thought that pulling off a CG animation like that on a television budget would be every bit as impossible as a planet enduring inside a black hole. Without exagger-ation, you wouldn’t see a better realisation of the Devil in a megabucks Hollywood picture. In fact, of anything that I’ve seen in the cinema over the last few years, the Beast probably looks most like the Balrog from The Fellowship of the Ring… only better.


On a finale note, the story’s climax is absolute thrilling: Rose is trapped with Zack, Danny and Toby/Satan on board a very small rocket trying to escape the pull of the black hole. At the same time, the Doctor has to face the old “I could save the world but lose you” moment

of truth again, only this time without Harriet Jones to bail him out. It’s thoroughly tense stuff, spectacularly brought to life by the story’s stellar cast.


“The stuff of legend.”


All told then, this Satan Pit two-parter is not only Doctor Who’s scariest story ever, but truly “the stuff of legend”. As such it comes highly recommend indeed (so long as you remember to put the women and children to bed first!)


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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