Saturday, 28 September 2013

Planet of the Ood

There is one problem with Planet of the Ood, which is that the Doctor’s presence has no impact on events whatsoever. The Ood rebellion was planned long in advance, and succeeds because of the FOTO agents Ood Sigma and Dr Ryder. All the Doctor does is witness the culmination of their scheming. As plot problems go, this is a large and significant one, and it makes this episode is a great disappointment after The Fires of Pompeii, where the Doctor believed he had no ability to influence events, only to discover that it was his job to trigger the eruption of Vesuvius. On the Oodsphere, he is merely an observer, albeit a partial one that somehow manages to get all the credit.

Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a good Doctor Who story to be had where the TARDIS crew must simply survive or escape inevitable events shaped by the forces of history. There’s The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, for example, or (less passively) The Waters of Mars. But, great big CGI crane chase notwithstanding, the Doctor is barely involved here at all.

Thank goodness for Donna. She may not have much of an impact on events, but they definitely have an effect on her. For the second episode in a row, she shoulders the emotional burden of the story. She’s an empathy machine (in a good way) and the scene where she hears the Ood song is crucial to our developing understanding of her character. Rose was brave, but (as RTD himself admitted) selfish. Martha was emotional, but also analytical. Donna feels, she connects with people. Stacy in Partners in Crime, Evelina last week, and now an entire alien race - overcoming her initial shock at the Ood's appearance to empathise with their suffering. With every episode we are watching her develop as she explores the Universe, but at the same time, she refuses to compromise her principles. She continues to prove that she is more than a match for the Doctor, but this leads to an ugly misstep. Although disgusted with the Ood's enslavement, she swats away the Doctor's comparison with 21st century wage slaves and sweatshops as a "cheap shot". It's anything but that and her hypocrisy goes unchallenged - as a result a serious issue is downplayed, and Donna appears to give the audience license to forget about their own complicity.

Tim McInnerny is excellent as Halpen, the latest in a long line of villainous businessmen in Doctor Who. His callous sneering is of a very high quality and it's very satisfying to watch him gradually unravel as his exasperation grows. His denouement, transforming into an Ood, may be bizarre and slightly unbelievable, but it is undoubtedly deserved and utterly memorable. Memories of this middling story's finer details will fade, but a generation of kids will never forget 'the one where the man turned into an Ood and coughed up his brain.'

Although memorable, it caused Chris to knock off a mark. "Nine. Minus one for the whole brain-in-the-hand thing. I just feel that's really gross. But this one was very scary, like when Donna was in the container by herself and the Ood's eyes went red..."

The Ood do very well out of this story, not only emancipated but turned from a one-hit wonder into an important and recurring species with a distinctive culture and biology. It's not just the economics of reusing the costumes either - I think there's some guilt floating around from their first appearance. The Doctor actually comments again that he feels bad about not being able to save the remaining Ood in The Satan Pit, and there's a sense that the show itself had overlooked these underlings and wanted to make amends. If nothing else Planet of the Ood gives everyone's favourite squiggly-faced alien counter-tenors the happy ending they deserve.


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