Split-Personality Demons: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Four

We’re back, with our New Doctor Who rewatch! Last time, we reviewed Series Two’s Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, which reintroduced classic villains the Cybermen to the series, and The Idiot’s Lantern, which laid the groundwork for several future episodes. This week, we’re looking at another two-parter, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, and finishing up with one of Doctor Who’s most reviled episodes, Love and Monsters! We’ll also look at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which served as preview teasers. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

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TARDISode 08 gives us some background on the episode and its secondary villains. We see the captain of the episode’s expedition receiving his orders, which include an ancient book. The book contains a map of sorts, drawings of a black hole, and strange writing in rune-like characters. We see an alien called an Ood standing by to serve him, and hear it issue a morbid comment about a Beast rising from a pit. This is the first appearance of the Ood in the series, kicking off a loose arc that will continue all the way to the very death of the Tenth Doctor in The End of Time.

The TARDIS lands inside a sealed base on a distant planet. Rose and the Doctor are immediately disturbed when they see the words “Welcome to Hell” written on a bulkhead, underscored by strange characters that the TARDIS won’t (or can’t) translate. They are met by several Ood, and a misunderstanding briefly results, but is quickly sorted out; then they meet the crew of the station. The Doctor recognizes the Ood, but doesn’t seem to have actually encountered them before. The crew’s captain (from the TARDISode) is dead, replaced by Acting Captain Zachary Cross Flane; also present are Science Officer Ida Scott, Security Chief Jefferson, Maintenance Officer Scooti Manista, and Archaeologist Toby Zed; a few unnamed crew also appear, mostly as security guards. An earthquake briefly interrupts them; then the crew reveals that they are orbiting a planet called Krop Tor, which should not exist. It is orbiting an enormous black hole at a distance that should have seen it fall into the gravity well long ago. There is a power source below the surface, placed there by a lost civilization, which keeps it orbiting—and the humans want it. Hence they are drilling a shaft down to it.

The Doctor and Rose wants to leave, but find that the earthquake collapsed the storage area where the TARDIS was parked—it is now lost inside the planet. With no alternative, they join the crew. Meanwhile, Toby is hearing a malevolent voice; others are hearing similar things, including Rose when an Ood tells her that “The Beast will rise”. After hearing the voice, Toby finds the ancient runes all over his skin. Rose then gets a similar voice over her phone, saying “He is awake”. The Ood then start to say similar things. It is revealed that they are a low-level telepathic race; their telepathic field usually sits at a reading of Basic 5, but now it has risen to Basic 30.

Toby, now possessed, goes out onto the surface, which has no atmosphere. Covered in the symbols, and possessed by something, he breaks a window, causing Scooti to be sucked out and killed. He returns inside, just in time for another quake. The group sees Scooti floating overhead, being pulled toward the black hole; Zach enters her death into the log.

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The drill has reached the core, which seems hollow. The Ood are confined for the next phase of the mission, and the Doctor volunteers for the expedition down the shaft, along with Ida. The lift takes them down to an enormous, ornately carved cavern. Inside, they locate a large disk in the floor, which seems to be a door—but it is sealed.

The telepathic field has reached Basic 100, which should kill the Ood, but doesn’t. The Doctor asks Toby if he has translated the symbols, which are repeated on the door in the cavern. Toby’s possession manifests again, and he says they are the words of the Beast. The symbols leave his face and enter the Ood, whose eyes turn red, and they advance on the humans. Toby passes out and is dragged along. The Ood call themselves the legion of the Beast. They kill one guard via electrocution, and the others run. Underground, another quake occurs, and the door opens. The planet begins to fall toward the black hole, and the crew is backed against a sealed door, with the Ood approaching. The Doctor and Ida hear a voice proclaim “The pit is open, and I am free!”

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TARDISode 09 gives us an early scene from the expedition. An unidentified crewmember sorts the dead captain’s belongings, and finds the book with the ancient runes. It burns to ash in his hands, and then hears lines about the Beast rising. He is then found by another crewmember, possibly dying, but with a few symbols on his face. Neither person is seen in the episodes, so presumably both die offscreen.

The Satan Pit opens with the crew killing the three Ood that are advancing on them. In the control room, Zack discovers that the orbit has stabilized. The rest of the Ood continue to advance, killing another guard on the way. Some approach the control room; Zack has no weapons, only a bolt gun with a single bolt. He orders “Strategy 9”, which involves gathering everyone in a safe place, and opening all the airlocks, sucking the Ood out of the base. Accordingly, he orders the Doctor and Ida back to the station; they return to the lift. Rose saves Toby from execution, as the possession seems to have left him for the Ood. The power fails briefly, and the Beast speaks through the Ood and the displays. It claims to be the source of all devil myths, and says it was imprisoned before this universe by the Disciples of the Light; it brings up everyone’s hidden fears to try to weaken them. It breaks the ten-mile-long lift cable, stranding Ida and the Doctor and cutting off their communications, leaving them with just 55 minutes of air. With no options, they rig the cable to abseil into the pit, and the Doctor insists on going down.

With no power, Strategy 9 won’t work. Zack borrows power from the station’s rocket, and approves a plan to disable the Ood with a telepathic flare from their control monitor; but the monitor is in the Ood habitat unit. He sends the others through the airless service tunnels to get there, using emergency bulkheads to pump atmosphere into the successive sections. Along the way, they lose Jefferson when he is cut off. The Ood follow, and nearly get Toby, but he shows them that he is still possessed, and he escapes with Rose and Danny. The Ood nearly get Zack, but are disabled when Danny activates the flare. Zack joins the others.

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The Doctor reaches the bottom of the cable, and—to Ida’s horror—disconnects himself and falls.

The crew and Rose head for the rocket. They cannot save the Doctor or Ida now, and intend to escape and make sure no one can come here again. Down below, the Doctor has survived his fall; he finds a record of the Beast’s history, and decides its claims are true. He then finds the Beast itself, chained to a wall. However, he realizes that it’s only the body—the mind has gone somewhere else. He finds two jars that not only maintain the atmosphere in the pit, but maintain the gravity field keeping the planet in orbit. Unaware that the crew is escaping, he doesn’t want to destroy them, as it would let the planet be destroyed with Rose on it. However, he decides that Rose is no victim, and he believes in her—and he smashes the jars.

The planet begins to fall in, and the Beast’s body bursts into flames. However, the rocket begins to be pulled in too. Toby is fully possessed by the Beast. Rose grabs the bolt gun, tells the Beast to go to hell, and shoots out the cockpit glass, then unclips Toby’s harness. He is sucked out, toward the black hole. Zack raises the emergency shield, saving the rest of them—but they are still being pulled in.

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But all is not lost. The Doctor returns to the cavern to find it collapsing—and finds the TARDIS, which has fallen this far. He rescues Ida, then tows the rocket to safety, and reclaims Rose. The episode ends with Zack recording the final log entry, with the names of all the dead—including the Ood.

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This two-parter is a great story, in my opinion. It’s one of the earliest episodes of the new series that I saw, and it’s probably the first one that I took seriously (The Girl in the Fireplace, my first episode, is a bit on the fluffy side, and I didn’t see the Cybermen two-parter until later). The idea of a historical source for demonic ideology is not new; we’ve had it as far back as The Daemons, and in other places as well; but rarely is it done this convincingly. If New Earth was Doctor Who’s take on a zombie story, and Tooth and Claw was its werewolf, this is its take on the entire horror genre, complete with jump scares and possessions. The horror-movie tropes are actually a bit overplayed here, almost to the point of parody, but there’s good reason for that: it makes the twist near the end, where the Beast is seen to be split into two entities, that much more brilliant. You think you have it all figured out, but then you find out just how wrong you are. I know nothing about Matt Jones, the writer of the episode, but I give him credit for that.

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We are introduced to the Ood here, or rather, in TARDISode 08. Their appearance is rather bizarre; and I can’t help wondering how much of their future arc was planned in advance, as their spheres would eventually be revealed to be artificial second brains. They’re quite different as both villains and allies; as individuals they are all much the same, but as a species they exhibit a lot of variety in characterization over the course of the series. They appear in a number of Tenth Doctor episodes, and get a mention in the audio Babblesphere, which I reviewed yesterday, when the Eleventh Doctor lists them with other villains. They will eventually be revealed to hail from the same planetary system as the Sensorites from the serial of the same name; they appear to be somewhat related, as there are definite similarities in appearance, abilities (both are telepathic), and even planet name (Ood-Sphere versus Sense-Sphere).

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman - dvdbash.com

 

The Beast could easily have been a stock villain (aside from its split nature, as I mentioned); but it is distinguished by its technique of turning its victims’ own internal doubts and guilt against them. It’s brief and unsuccessful here, but it goes a long way toward making this villain frightening indeed. A similar thing occurs in the audio The Shadow of the Scourge, which I reviewed on Monday (I promise the timing was not planned, but it seems to be a good week for it).

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Some references: Rose mentions having been a dinner lady, seen in School Reunion. The Doctor refers to the TARDIS suffering indigestion, mirroring a line from the television movie. The Beast has a son, Abaddon, which appears in Cardiff in the Torchwood episode End of Days. The Beast itself returns in the comic story The Beast is Back in Town. Draconia gets a mention; the Third Doctor visited it in Frontier in Space, and it has been referenced often since. Daemos is mentioned, having been referenced in The Daemons. The Kaled God of War is mentioned as well. The TARDIS tractor beam appeared twice in the classic series (The Creature from the Pit, Delta and the Bannermen). The Doctor claims the Time Lords invented black holes, echoing claims in The Three Doctors and other classic stories. There’s a reference to the Beast being from a time before this universe, along with its ancient enemies the Disciples of Light. The more references I get to that time, the more fascinating it gets; eventually I’ll compile a list of pre-universe entities, both verified and possible. This also gives me my only complaint about this story, and it’s a logical one: Why would the Disciples of Light go to the trouble of creating such an elaborate trap, when they could have just let the Beast fall into the black hole and ended it? Also, when did they do this—before the universe? Then how did the planet and black hole exist? But then again, who can predict the logic of pre-universal beings?

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TARDISode 10 shows us a glimpse of the villain of the upcoming episode, as he researches the Doctor, and finds the minor detective group called LINDA. He then is interrupted by his secretary, who brings him tea—and catches him at a very bad time. She appears to be killed offscreen.

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Welcome to Love and Monsters, one of the most hated and reviled episodes in all of Doctor Who! We’ll take a look at why—but first, the plot.

We meet a young man named Elton Pope, who is in the middle of a life-changing event: He sees the TARDIS, then meets the Doctor and Rose Tyler. They are pursuing a monster called a Hoix; and the Doctor seems to recognize Elton. Elton runs away.

A scene cut reveals the frame story of this episode: Elton is recording a series of videos, narrating his story. He met the Doctor once before, while a child; the Doctor appeared in his house on the night his mother died. He then recounts other strange happenings; he recalls the Autons, the crash of the Slitheen ship into Big Ben, and the Sycorax ship over London last Christmas. The one common thread is the Doctor. His investigations introduce him to other people who are intrigued by the Doctor: Ursula Blake, her friend Bliss, Bridget Sinclair, and Colin Skinner. They form a group, with regular meetings, and call themselves “LINDA” (London Investigation ‘n’ Detective Agency). Eventually, with their investigation tapering off, they transform into a social group, exploring other interests.

They are interrupted by Victor Kennedy, a strange man with an aversion to physical contact. He muscles in and takes over, calling them back to their quest for the Doctor; he makes them work harder toward that goal. After their first meeting with Kennedy, Bliss disappears.

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Elton finds the Doctor—in the encounter from the beginning of the episode—but runs away. Kennedy changes tactics; now, they will search for Rose instead, as she is associated with the Doctor. Elton is able to do so with ease, and meets Jackie Tyler, who quickly takes a liking to him. Over several visits, he learns more about Rose, and Jackie begins to flirt with him. This brings out his love for Ursula; but he is exposed when Jackie finds a picture of Rose in his coat, and throws him out. Meanwhile, Bridget has vanished.

Elton confronts Kennedy, saying he has destroyed the group; he also asks Ursula out. They leave, but Skinner, concerned about Bridget, stays behind; he then disappears too. However, Ursula has forgotten her phone, so they return to the meeting room. Inside, they find that Skinner has disappeared, and Kennedy has transformed.

He is revealed as an unsightly monster, who is responsible for the disappearances; he has absorbed the others, leaving only their minds and their faces on his skin. Elton calls him an Absorbaloff, which he likes. He wants to absorb the Doctor, in order to gain access to his mind and memories. He absorbs Ursula, and chases Elton into the street.

In an alley, he is about to kill Elton; but the TARDIS appears. The Doctor and Rose emerge, and—ignoring the alien—Rose confronts Elton for upsetting her mother. The Absorbaloff demands that the Doctor sacrifice himself to free Elton, but the Doctor refuses; he offhandedly remarks that the others might have something to say about that. The victims throw their effort into stopping the Absorbaloff, and he drops his cane; Elton breaks it. The Absorbaloff collapses into slime. The Doctor reveals that the cane was emitting a field that held him together; now the absorber is being absorbed into the earth.

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The Doctor explains about his first meeting with Elton; he was hunting an elemental shade, and caught it, but not before it could kill Elton’s mother.

Later, Elton tells the camera that meeting the Doctor is dangerous; but he credits the Doctor with saving Ursula, sort of. He was able to separate her from the dying Absorbaloff, but not from the paving stone in which she was absorbed. Her face remains, and she now “lives” with Elton, in the best relationship they can manage. Elton is a bit depressed in the end, but reflects that the world, with all its problems, is better than he thought.

Few episodes have been as maligned as this one (though we’ll get another next week!). It’s hated mostly for its silly and ridiculous monster, as well as other humorous aspects. I’ll go ahead and say up front: I actually love this episode. However, that’s because I’m fine with occasional humorous stories, even if they are ridiculous. Such stories haven’t been entirely unheard of throughout the show’s history, and in all media; they’re usually a breath of fresh air to me, and a nice change. It’s mocked, as well, because the show had begun to take a more serious turn in Series Two; this story would have been at home in Series One, which is often derided for its silliness. I’m okay with that, though. I don’t particularly enjoy very grim stories, and more so in Doctor Who; if you think at all about the implications of the Doctor’s actions, you’ll find there’s enough darkness already built in without adding any.

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That brings me to the theme of this episode (and yes, it does have one!). It asks the question: What’s it like for the Doctor’s bystanders? The answer appears to be “terrible”. LINDA was composed of innocent people, but their association with the Doctor, however tangential, got most of them killed. No one was untouched, not even Elton, who just had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and at an age when he could hardly be responsible, too. However, his summary at the end says what we as fans often say: that no matter how difficult the universe may be, and even when the Doctor is part of the difficulty, it’s better with him in it. It’s a theme we’ll see again and again; but this was, as far as I can tell, the first time it appeared on television. (We’ve had similar ideas from companions—Tegan, in particular, left because of the death she kept witnessing—but rarely if ever from a bystander.)

This episode introduced two concepts that continue to this day: The “Doctor-lite” and “Companion-lite” episodes. (This episode qualifies as both.) The idea was conceived to increase the number of episodes that can be produced; with the Doctor and/or companion mostly absent, two episodes could be filmed at once. While this episode is not considered great, it was successful enough to continue the concept, giving us future masterpieces such as Blink, Midnight, Turn Left, and Heaven Sent.

For an episode that is mostly disconnected from the series arc, there are a surprising number of references. Elton remembers the Auton attack (Rose), the Slitheen spaceship crash (Aliens of London), and the Sycorax ship (The Christmas Invasion). Kennedy mentions the Bad Wolf virus, which the Doctor gave to Mickey (though not by name) in World War Three, and which subsequently corrupted Torchwood’s files. The Hoix would later appear in Torchwood’s episode Exit Wounds. Jackie mentions Mickey Smith, and says that he is gone now (The Age of Steel). The Absorbaloff hails from Clom, the sister planet of Raxicoricofallapatorious, which is one of the stolen planets in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. He is therefore similar to the Slitheen, in much the same way as the Ood are similar to the Sensorites; even Rose comments on it (although: why would he know them as the Slitheen, given that that is a family name?). And, most interestingly to me, LINDA will in the future be referenced…by the Fifth Doctor, in *Time Crash, indicating that other incarnations were aware of them (although they only ever encountered Ten). Though that minisode was played for a little humor, I’m fine with accepting it as canon.

I personally don’t have any complaints, but it’s worth mentioning some of the things for which others have complained. The scene with the Hoix has a door-running scene reminiscent of Scooby-Doo, which is rather silly. There are a number of pop culture references, sometimes accomplished with momentary cutscenes. The dialogue can be silly at times, especially from Elton and Ursula; and the veiled reference to their sex life at the end is just creepy. And of course, the Absorbaloff itself is truly ridiculous, though again, I’m okay with occasional forays into ridiculousness.

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Next time: We’ll look at another oft-hated episode, Fear Her; and we’ll finish out the season—and say goodbye to Rose Tyler—with Army of Ghosts and Doomsday! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

TARDISode 08

The Impossible Planet

TARDISode 09

The Satan Pit

TARDISode 10

Love and Monsters

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