2.8 & 2.9 – “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit”
The Doctor and Rose travel to a space station close to a planet called Krop Tor, which is orbiting around a black hole. An expedition crew are drilling into the planet in an effort to understand the peculiar “gravity funnel” that’s stopping Krop Tor from being sucked into the hole. However, the deeper the crew drill into the surface of the planet, the stranger things get. And when a quake hits and the TARDIS falls, it looks like The Doctor and Rose have no choice but to stick around and find out exactly what is lurking below the surface…
The cool thing about “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” is that it unashamedly hones in on a pretty scary subject. The concept of a “devil” is one we’re all familiar with and both episodes are littered with references to the number of the beast and other religious overtones. I can remember watching it for the first time and thinking: “Really? The actual devil? Are we going there?!” I was torn between thinking it was one heck of a way to potentially alienate viewers (and piss off Christians) and deciding it was a rather brave thing to do. Brave or insane. I never fully decided.
In my eyes, episodes in which we meet a group of new characters all at once can be a little hit and miss. If the writing isn’t done well and there’s no chemistry between the actors, you can find yourself not caring about the gang The Doctor has encountered. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen here and the crew of the base at Krop Tor are a believable team. It’s a good job, because you need people you can believe in if you’re being told to accept the idea of a “gravity funnel” and a planet magically not disappearing into a black hole.
This story introduces one of my favourite New Who aliens, the Ood. I feel a bit sorry for them; not only are they essentially a slave race, but considering they’re “good guys” they certainly spend a lot of screen time (and not just in this episode) becoming evil in one way or another. Poor tentacle-faced things must spend their lives not knowing whether they’re coming or going! So I’m saying it right now; if the Ood feature in any future stories, can we please decide whether we want them to be nice or nasty and stick to it? That said, I do like the idea of the Ood being a race that are linked to one another telepathically and that does obviously make them rather open to telepathic control by an evil entity. Damn, those Ood and their whole, being possessed schtick. Major design flaw, if you ask me.
The suspense built up by suggesting that the devil is lurking deep below the surface of the planet helps push the episode along nicely and little hints, such as the “impossibly old” writing that the TARDIS is unable to translate help to encourage the viewer into thinking that yes, we’re genuinely talking about the horned beast from the biblical stories. When one of the space station crew, Toby, becomes possessed by the Beast and begins to change, the suspense builds further. The menacing whisper of Toby’s name by the Beast as he fights his possession is pleasingly scary and I can imagine a few younger viewers looking at the back of the sofa as an inviting place to be! Will Thorp does a great range of facial contortions as he fights his possession and eventually gives in to it, going on to murder his colleague Scooti (why, by the way, do futuristic characters on this show have to have such silly names? She sounds like an intergalactic children’s TV presenter). Being possessed by the devil is probably not the easiest task for an actor, so credit here to Will for doing it with alarming realism.
Meanwhile, when the drill can go no further, The Doctor offers to go down to the planet with another crew member, Science Officer Ida Scott (see, a sensible name!), because of course he does. I mean, the TARDIS has fallen down there, but also OF COURSE HE DOES. He’s The Doctor! They discover the large, circular door of “The Satan Pit,” covered in yet more ancient writing. We’re set up for a cliffhanger as the pit opens, the Beast supposedly releasing Toby and possessing a whole legion of Ood instead and, just for added fun, the planet begins to fall into the black hole…
“The Satan Pit” then starts right at the same moment, which is always a tricky thing for a double-episode to do, as it means fighting to keep the same level of suspense from the word go. As the remaining crew members on the base attempt to stay alive in the face of the possessed Ood (seriously, give those poor guys a break!), Rose finds herself having to persuade everyone not to harm Toby, now that he’s no longer possessed by the Beast. Unfortunately, this never worked for me. Maybe I’m just exceptionally clever, but more likely this was far too obvious a red-herring. Because spoilers, sweetie; he’s still possessed and he won’t make it out of this episode alive. It’s a shame that it wasn’t all that believable, as it would’ve been a cool twist to have Toby’s demonic side revealed as a shock at the end, after we genuinely thought he was back to normal. But like I said, I saw through this right away and spent the rest of the episode waiting for the inevitable “revelation.”
Meanwhile, the much meatier and more enjoyable part of this episode for me should have been the revelation of what the Beast really is (and if he finds love before the last petal falls from the magic rose – will he become a prince again?! Oh, wait…). As The Doctor and Ida prepare to return to base, the Beast declares from within his pit that he was sealed in there at the very birth of the universe and is now ready to break free. He describes himself as the epitome of evil across all religions…again, I really like that the show went there with this theme. Some will definitely have the opposite view and see the idea of a “devil” as incredibly cheesy and trite, but I like how instantly identifiable it is and it’s a well-known thing to be scared of. What I really love is the way the Beast communicates with the crew, playing on their individual fears and weaknesses. It’s a classic tactic and it works, even foreshadowing Rose’s death “in battle, so very soon.” The Doctor makes one of his speeches, insisting to the crew that they can be far stronger together than the Beast is alone. The Beast gets pretty narked about that and snaps the cable to the lift carrying The Doctor and Ida back to base, trapping them underground.
Whilst things are getting ever more chasey and deathy up on the base (with crew member Jefferson sacrificing himself to buy the rest of the gang time to escape), The Doctor decides to enter the pit itself to confront the Beast. He finds two jars on pedestals at the bottom of the pit and the light from these conjures up his physical form. For me, this was a bit of a let-down. The CGI isn’t brilliant and I felt as though The Beast did an awful lot of tongue-poking for my liking. You’re the devil, mate, not a six year old in the playground. Anyway, The Doctor deduces that the Beast’s conscious mind has long left his body and that the planet of Krop Tor has been used for thousands of years as the perfect prison for his physical form. The Doctor realises that destroying the two jars that conjure up the Beast’s form will kill him, by plunging the planet into the black hole, taking the Beast’s conscious mind with it. The Doctor realises that smashing the jars will put the entire crew back on base at risk, as it’ll destroy the gravity field and potentially send them into the black hole, too. However, it’s a risk he’s willing to take and he does it anyway, before conveniently finding his TARDIS as he’s making his escape. A bit too conveniently, to be honest…
Meanwhile, as the rocket containing the crew struggles to get away from the pull of the black hole (and as the “surprise” of Toby still being possessed is revealed and he’s shot out of a window and sucked into the hole), there is an about-turn and the rocket begins to fly safely out of harm’s way. How? The TARDIS, of course. All’s well that ends well. Unless you’re an Ood, because The Doctor apparently couldn’t save them. I’m telling you, guys, those dudes get such a bad time of it on this show!
The episode ends with the crew’s captain listing the names of his deceased colleagues “with honours.” He does at least include the Ood, so they’ve got that going for them.
It’s a hard one for me, this. I really like the suspense and the idea of using the devil, because it’s so instantly recognisable and so instantly scary. But I feel like everything was resolved far too easily and the actual appearance of the Beast just didn’t really do it for me. That and the obviousness of Toby’s ongoing possession let this episode down for me and takes it from a 7/10 to a 6/10. And for the love of all I hold dear, someone give the Ood a break!
Written and edited by Emma Tofi