Monday, April 28, 2008

4:3 "Planet of the Ood"

There is a vicious and unfounded rumour going around that I don't like new Doctor Who. In order to counter this libel, I shall concentrate on what I liked about "Planet of the Ood".

1: It was recognizably a Doctor Who story. The final scene, in which the underdogs who the Doctor has liberated gather round the TARDIS and promise never to forget him veered towards pastiche. (The title of the story felt so retro that I was afraid the story was going to be a parody.)

2: Come to that, it was recognizably a story. It had a beginning, a middle and and end, more or less in that order. It introduced a conflict (slave owners vs oppressed slave caste); set an objective (free the slaves); placed some obstacles in the Doctor's way and more or less resolved everything by the end of the episode. On the way, there was physical conflict (the Doctor chased around the warehouse by the mechanical grabber) and emotional conflict (the tour-guide almost seeing that what she culpable for the slaves' oppression.) There was an element of Mystery: how do the Ood's communication balls work? what's in the warehouse? what doe "The circle must be broken" mean? -- with a pretty satisfactory solution.

3: It had some emotional resonance. The scene in which the slave driver beats the Ood slave was a little corny, but the scene in which the Doctor and Not-Not-Rose find the Ood dying in the snow was really quite affecting.

4: The Ood felt like olden-days Doctor Who monsters; but they showed signs of having been thought up as fun aliens for the Doctor to meet; not simply as a collection of plot device to join some scenes together. The Big Reveal about the contents of the mysterious warehouse made some sort of sense on its own terms, and went some way to explaining the behaviour of the Ood in "The Satan Pit".

5: Finally, finally, finally a story set on an alien planet -- see, Russell, we are not too stupid to deal with the planet Zod, and the Non Wobbly Special Effects department did a good job at creating a convincing backdrop. The giant ice-bridge was particularly cool. (Do you see what I did there?)

6: The story was only slightly rushed. I felt "That could have done with being a full hour" rather than "That could have done with being a two parter."

(The morality of the story was pretty trite. It is clear in the first three minutes that the humans are all bastards and the Ood are gentle and harmless, so it's just as much about Good vs Evil as if the Daleks had been trying to wipe out the human race. Again. For the story to have actually been about something, you'd have needed to have added a wrinkle, say

a: Despite their obvious cruelty, Donna feels she should side with the humans because they are her people

b: There is a predator on the Oodsphere and, if not for the humans, the Ood would have long ago become extinct

c: Freeing the Ood will deprive the humans of their workforce, bringing about the collapse of the Great and Bootiful Human Empire and ensuring that the Daleks rule the galaxy for years to come.

As it was, the ethical issue served only to illustrate -- I would not use such a strong word as develop -- the relationship between the Doctor and Prima. The Doctor makes the valid observation that the 21st century humans use wage-slaves to make their clothes, but this scene is "about" the Doctor's self-righteousness and Donna's reaction to it. The Strange Interlude in which the Doctor uses the Vulcan Mind Meld to enable Donna to hear the Ood's telepathic singing is "about" Donna discovering what it's like to be the Doctor. He, apparently, can hear the Songs of of Captivity (wasn't that by Bob Marley?) all the time. The more Donna learns about the Doctor, the more she sees that what she thought was callousness is actually The Burden of the Time Lords. (But the most wonderful thing about Time Lords is I'm the only one). This doesn't, so far as I can see, change anything about their relationship. )

But I'm really happy for my criticisms to be parenthetical. This episode represents a much needed step from appallingeness towards good, solid, entertaining mediocrity.


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TM said...

I felt as though suggestion C, or something like it, was pretty strongly implied. Maybe I was just imagining it.

I also liked the PR woman's story, with her decision to call the guards coming just as I was thinking "oh right, yeah, she see the light and helps the Doct--oh. Huh."

Nice to see Captain Darling getting work, too.

Louise H said...

I did find myself wondering at the end what it was that the Doctor actually did, or at least did that couldn't have been done equally well by anyone else.

As far as I could see, the Ood with the help of their Friends seemed to successfully free themselves. Which is probably good for their future psychological development, anyway.

Katherine said...

I liked the story but there was surely one big fault in it.

At one point the Doctor says that a species could not have evolved simply to serve. Well, it could. I can think of all sorts of ways that that could have happened.

But I cannot think of any way in which a species could have evolved to carry its brain in its hands. That is just ridiculous. Mechanisms as complicated as hands used only to carry a brain? An organ as important as a brain carried outside a body without any protection?

It just did not work and I could not suspend my disbelief. A little more effort should have gone into this story.

Andrew Stevens said...

I can easily conceive of a species evolving to serve (how about dogs?), but there does rather have to be some species it was serving, even if that species is now extinct and it's become a general-service species.

The brain in hands thing was ridiculous and don't forget the GIANT BRAIN that just sits there. (How does that thing reproduce exactly? I have to assume some sort of cellular division.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

I think you may all be taking it a little bit too seriously.

Mark Goodacre said...

Good; pleased to see that you like some elements of new Who. I thought this was an excellent episode. Not the best ever, but great stuff.