Saturday, August 23, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Satan Pit"

If this wasn’t the most elaborate Doctor Who production yet, I’d be shocked to know. Last year around this time we were treated to the two part “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” probably the best episodes of the relaunch so far. I believe “The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” will go down in Whovian lore as topping it. The paranoia, the claustrophobia, the cinematic feel--all perfect and surprising on a BBC budget.

We begin right where we left off last episode. The Ood are advancing on the Sanctuary crew and Rose. Jefferson opens fire, killing them all. Zack announces that the gravity field around the planet is stabilizing again. (The only bad point of the episode. That aspect of the cliffhanger is cheapen for the quick resolution.) Danny reaches the control room and reports the Ood are on their way there. Ammunition is low and there seems to be no way to defend themselves from the Ood advance. Zack decides to initiate something called Strategy # 9. When the Doctor and Ida communicate from 10 miles below the planet’s surface, they report the seal on the crypt has opened, but nothing has emerged. Zack doesn’t much care at this point. He orders the two back to Sanctuary as part of Strategy # 9.

Ida is reluctant to leave without exploring the pit. The Doctor muses the temptation to explore the aby is probably what whatever is down there wants. He sounds retreat--painfully, I might add. It‘s out of character, but the writer is trying to create an unusually ominous feel here and he succeeds. Even the doctor isn‘t going where angels fear to tread. Back on Sanctuary, Jefferson points his gun at Toby. Rose intervenes, saying whatever possessed him before is now inside the Ood. Shooting Toby would be cold blooded murder. Jefferson backs off, seemingly more out of a desire to avoid a confrontation with the newly assertive Rose. Zack reveals Strategy # 9 involves getting everyone safely into the control room, then opening the air locks. The ood will be sucked out into space. Before he can do that, the power fails.

The possessed Ood appear on every view screen as the Beast speaks through them he answers the Doctor‘s question as to who he is by saying he is every evil deity and has existed since before time itself. To prove it, he reveals dark secrets about each one of them, including some foreshowing about Rose: the lost little girl far from home will soon die in battle. Everyone panics, but the doctor takes a skeptical approach. He doesn‘t believe this is the Devil. Presumably in response, the ten mile cable snaps stranding the Doctor and Ida on the planet with no communications.

On Sanctuary, the Ood are trying to break into the control room. Rose takes charge rallying everyone to brainstorm a way out. After a moment or so, Zach figures out a way to restore power by diverting it from their rocket ship. Danny has a flash that he can institute a “virus” into the Ood’s telepathic field, essentially shutting down their brains. To do that, he has to return to Ood Habitation. The only way to get there is through crawl shafts which have no oxygen. Zach stays behind to ventilate each shaft as the rest of the crew and Rose make their way through them. Our heroes soon find themselves being chased through the shafts by Ood. Zack has to shut off one corridor in order to ventilate another and Jefferson trapped in a corridor that is about to be emptied of air. He is advanced upon by ood and killed. The rest make it to Ood Habitation and implement the virus. The ood all collapse into unconsciousness.

Dow below on the planet, the Doctor and Ida decide that since they only have an hour’s worth of oxygen left and no way of escape, they might as well explore the pit. The Doctor insists he be the one to go down. He is lowered as far down as the cable will let him, but notes the pit seems to be bottomless. He informs Ida that she should Rose a message. We were supposed to be on the edge o our seats waiting for a, ‘tell her I lover her,” especially since the brief note in “The Girl in the Fireplace” that her brain and Madame de Pompadour’s, that he has romantic feelings for her. He stutters and says, “Ah, she knows.” If there is to be a Rose death in the near future, they are laying things on terribly thick. Anyway, the Doctor release the cable and falls into nothingness, seemingly forever.

When the crew returns to the control room, they establish communications with Ida. They inform her there is no way to rescue the two of them. Ida understands and informs them the Doctor apparently has fallen to his death. Rose is distraught at first, then in denial. Zack orders everyone to the rocket to escape. Rose declares she is staying. She will not count the Doctor out. Zack order Danny and Toby to sedate Rose and put her on the ship. As they make their way there, the Ood start to awaken. They leave Sabctuary just in time to avoid another rampage.

Below the planet, the Doctor awakens to find the face shield of his helmet broken, yet he can still breathe. He goes exploring the connecting tunnel and discovers and giant, bestial demon chained in a pit. It’s about the best CGI I’ve seen on a television episode period. The Doctor tries to communicate with it, but soo realizes it is just the body. The spirit has gone somewhere else. By examining the drawings on the surrounding walls, he concludes the Beast’s jailer put him here as the perfect prison. If it ever escaped, it would have smashed the controls leading out of the tunnel and eliminated the gravitational field, pulling itself into the black hole. The Doctor grabs a large rock to smash the controls himself, then pauses. He’ll be killing Rose if he does this.

Rose awakens on the rocket furious and demanding to be returned. T’s too late for that, much to “Toby‘s“ delight. The Beast has hitched a ride in his body and I headed to Earth. On the Planet, the Doctor rationalizes that he knows enough about Rose to have faith she’ll she through the ruse and smashes the controls. The Beast writhes in agony, the cavern begins falling apart, and the gravitational fil drops. The planet begins hurtling towards the black hole. The Doctor’s faith is justified. As the rocket gets caught in the pull of the black hole, she ralizes they had been allowed to escape. Toby becomes possessed yet again as the Beast’s spirit rages aganst being trapped. Knowing they are dead anyway, Rose blows a hole in the ship with a nearby gun and unfastens Toby’s seatbelt. He is sucked screaming into the black hole. Zack raises a blast shield as they resign themselves to the same fate.

Alas, ’tis not to be. The Doctor stumbles across the TARDIS in one piece down below, rescues an oxygen starved Ida, and uses the TARDIS’ tractor beam to hall the rocket to safety. Black holes, after all, were invented by Time Lords. He had Rose have their near tearful reunion (at least on her part) and the Doctor playfully warns about human curiosity even though he knows it won’t do the slightest bit of good.

This might very well be my favorite episode of the series. I get a bit uncomfy when shows that are not overtly religious delve into issues of god and evil, faith and reason, but I thought this was engaging. The doctor’s running theme that the idea of the Devil was scary enough to give “him” power, I kept running the famous quote from The Usual Suspects in my mind: “The greatest trick the Devil ever played was convincing people he doesn’t exist.” I liked the idea that the Doctor wasn’t bothered about leaving the Beast’s true identity to faith. He doesn’t know what it was, but if he had all the answers, he’d have to stop traveling. That’s a positive and correct view of faith. When you have all the answers, you are in your final destination, either heaven or…well, you know.

I can’t gush enough about the effects. Somehow I suspect American network executives would never have allowed some a beast like that on television. It conformed to every image of Satan you have plus some. I was impressed they can get away with it in the family hour of the BBC as well. Good stuff.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

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