Monday, 20 February 2017

Story 175 - Love & Monsters

In which a young man whose life has intersected with that of the Doctor records on his video diary his experiences of love - and of monsters. Thinking about who might one day watch his diary, Elton Pope first recalls an encounter with the Doctor and Rose in an abandoned warehouse, where he was confronted by an alien creature. He first saw the Doctor, looking exactly the same, when he was a child, and has been obsessed with him ever since. He has other passions - like football, a beer, and the music of the Electric Light Orchestra.
He was a witness to the attempted Nestene invasion of London in March 2005, getting caught up in an Auton attack whilst out shopping. He was in Whitehall a year later when the Slitheen spaceship crashed into Big Ben, and his windows were blown in when the Sycorax spaceship arrived over London on Christmas Day, 2006. Scanning the internet after this latest alien encounter, he found a blog about the Doctor, with a photo of him taken in Trafalgar Square. The blog writer lived locally - Ursula Blake. He met her, and she introduced him to a number of other people who were keen to learn more about the Doctor. These were Mr Skinner, a girl named Bliss, and a woman named Bridget. They would all meet up in a derelict library basement one evening a week to discuss their obsession. It was Elton who came up with a name for their little group - the London Investigation 'N' Detective Agency, or L.I.N.D.A.

Over time, they began to talk about other things. Bridget revealed that she had an ulterior motive for her weekly visits to London - the search for her drug-addicted daughter. Mr Skinner wrote pulp fiction, and Bliss created sculpture and poetry. They brought in their home cooking, and even formed a band. ELO covers were regularly featured. Then one day a new arrival entered the frame. A man named Victor Kennedy turned up at their meeting. He had information about the Doctor, and pointed out that they had lost sight of their initial purpose. He urged them to concentrate their efforts in locating the Doctor, using structured and methodical means. A sighting of the TARDIS in an industrial area led Elton to the encounter which he used to open his video diary. Elton ran away, and Kennedy was furious with him. One week, Bliss did not come to the meetings - nor any of the following weeks. Kennedy claimed that she had found a boyfriend and gone off to get married. He decided that they should pursue Rose Tyler instead of the Doctor. Elton met a woman, Mrs Croot, who recognised her, and shortly afterwards he encountered Jackie. He befriended her, in order to learn more about Rose.
She was heartbroken to learn that he was not interested in her at all, but was simply trying to get to the Doctor and her daughter. This had been Elton's initial intention, but he had formed a genuine affection for her. Bridget stopped coming to the meetings.

When Kennedy was angered by Elton's failure with Jackie, the group rebelled against him. He had sucked all the fun out of their meetings with his obsession to find the Doctor, and they felt he had caused Bliss and Bridget to stop coming. They staged a walk-out. Mr Skinner stayed back as Kennedy claimed to have an address for Bridget. Ursula realised that she had left her phone behind and so she and Elton went back. Mr Skinner was nowhere to be seen, but Kennedy was still there, hidden behind his newspaper. His voice seemed to have changed, and then Ursula saw his hands - now large green claws. He was really an obese, green alien. The missing members of the group were merged with his corpulent body. Kennedy had always shunned physical contact, and now they knew why. He absorbed people into himself - like some kind of Abzorbaloff. Ursula fell victim, and Elton ran for his life. He was chased to an alleyway which proved to be a dead end. He was saved by the sudden arrival of the TARDIS. Rose was furious with Elton for having upset her mother. The Abzorbaloff wanted to consume the Doctor, to take on all his knowledge and experience. He revealed that he came from the sister world to Raxacoricofallapatorius - Clom. Elton's friends had influence over the creature, and disabled him long enough for Elton to break Kennedy's walking cane - which housed a mechanism which limited his absorption. Without it, he couldn't stop and was absorbed himself into the earth. Elton revealed that he had first met the Doctor on the night his mother had died. He had come to stop an elemental shade but had been too late to save her. The Doctor was able to partially save the Abzorbaloff's final victim - the love of Elton's life. Ursula's face was preserved in a paving slab, her mind and memory intact.

Love & Monsters was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on 17th June, 2006.
The idea of a story about the Doctor as he is seen by an ordinary person was an old one for Davies, and he had suggested it as a DWM comic strip. Series 2 of the programme had to accommodate 14 episodes instead of the previous year's 13, due to the addition of the first Christmas Special. It was necessary to "double-bank" a couple of stories - meaning that two adventures would be filmed at the same time. This would mean that the Doctor and Rose could only feature briefly. Tennant and Piper were making the Impossible Planet / Satan Pit two-parter when this was made. Davies could concentrate on the everyman character of Elton Pope and his brief encounters with the Doctor. A group of friends were built up around him. Davies looked to local Doctor Who fan groups for inspiration - something which would lead to some criticism of this story.
Many fans would often start off obsessing over the programme, but then would begin to share other interests and become much more of a social group - but there was always the odd member who didn't like this move away from talking exclusively about Doctor Who. Victor Kennedy was the real fan-obsessive, who could suck all the joy out of the gatherings.

Davies held back writing this script until after Blue Peter had run a design-a-monster competition, as he was going to use the winning design. The Abzorbaloff was created by nine year old William Grantham. His only criticism of the finished costume was that he had intended the creature to be the size of a double-decker bus - but his winning drawing hadn't given any sense of this scale. To play Kennedy / the Abzorbaloff, the production team turned to the hugely popular comedian Peter Kay. He had previously written a massive fan letter to Davies. It was Kay who decided on using his natural Lancashire accent for the creature, whilst Kennedy spoke in more RP tones. It was also his idea to mispronounce Eczema, to make it sound like he had a more exotic disease.
Kay's performance, and the Abzorbaloff in general, garnered more criticism for this story. Some of the humour was also frowned upon - in particular Elton's assertion that he and the disembodied Ursula had a love life of sorts...
The main guest artist is Marc Warren as Elton. At the time he was best known for BBC TV's Hustle. Making up the rest of L.I.N.D.A. are Shirley Henderson as Ursula, Simon Greenall as Mr Skinner, Moya Brady as Bridget, and Kathryn Drysdale as Bliss. Henderson was famous for a role in the Harry Potter movies, but had appeared in many successful dramas, initially in her native Scotland. Greenall was best known for his appearances alongside Alan Partridge. Drysdale was in comedy Two Pints of Lager..., which BBC3 used to show on a perpetual loop.

Tardisode: An unseen figure is using a computer to search for references to the Doctor. He comes across a homepage for a group called L.I.N.D.A. He uses this to track them to where they meet, on Maccateer Street. An old woman enters the room with a tea tray, and she is suddenly bathed in a green light. She cries out and we hear horrible slurping sounds...

Story Arc: 
  • Kennedy's computer is unable to get any more information about Rose due to a block by Torchwood. and he mentions a Bad Wolf virus.
  • Kennedy's newspaper tells of someone named Saxon being ahead in the polls.

Overall, it is the Marmite of Doctor Who stories. You either get it or you don't. You either love it or you hate it. Personally, I find it funny, clever, and moving. The material with Camille Coduri is fantastic, especially the way Jackie preempts each of Elton's various stages of establishing contact.
The DWM 50th Anniversary poll had it at 220nd out of 241. There are clearly a lot of Victor Kennedys out there.
Things you might like to know:
  • Davies originally intended that Elton would have experienced more of the Doctor's adventures throughout his life - including events from the Classic Series. A birthday party would have been interrupted by the Dalek incursion at Coal Hill School, his mother would have been killed by a Nestene daffodil, and he would have seen the Skarasen surface on the Thames.
  • Elton's alien experiences make use of footage from the episodes Rose, Aliens of London, and The Christmas Invasion. The Auton attack was intercut with new footage featuring Warren, and some people find it more exciting than the original material.
  • Davies had used the acronym L.I.N.D.A. in a previous writing job. The children's series Why Don't You...? had featured the Liverpool Investigation 'N' Detective Agency.
  • Mrs Croot is played by Bella Emberg, for many years a foil to comedian Russ Abbott - such as Blunder Woman to his Cooperman (a cross between Superman and comic magician Tommy Cooper, for those lucky enough not to be in the know). She featured in the Classic series on a couple of occasions - as a nurse outside the hospital in The Silurians when Major Baker dies, and as one of the kitchen wenches in The Time Warrior. She was supposed to reappear in The Runaway Bride, but the sequence on a London bus was cut.
  • Further inspirations for this story from Davies, knowing that the Doctor and Rose would be largely absent, were episodes of Buffy and Star Trek: TNG, in which the main characters were only briefly seen whilst the plot focused on minor characters observing them from a distance.
  • Peter Kay did not feature in the Tardisode. In the actual episode, there is no green glow when the Abzorbaloff attacks, but it may occur when he transforms from his Kennedy disguise.
  • First mention of what will be Series Three's story arc - mention of the politician Mr Saxon in Kennedy's newspaper. Torchwood will also prefigure this, with "Vote Saxon" posters visible in the latter couple of episodes.
  • The alien creature in the abandoned building has come to be known as the Hoix. It was made up of miscellaneous bits and pieces created by monster maker Neil Gorton's team. It was producer Phil Collinson who insisted that it be given a name. The name only appears in the credits, and it won't get called a Hoix on screen until the finale of Torchwood's second series, when Owen Harper encounters one. We'll see it again as part of the Pandorica Alliance.
  • A lot of people criticise the blue bucket / red bucket Hoix sequence, as it looks silly. The whole point is that this is how Elton is remembering it for his video diary. It isn't necessarily what actually happened. Besides, if it's good enough for Scooby Doo...
  • The scene where Elton describes having to devise a rudimentary pulley system to get out of bed after the Sycorax spaceship blasts in his windows was going to be cut, but Executive Producer Julie Gardner insisted it be kept in.
  • At one point Elton was going to be female. The role was then offered to Peter Kay, but he had just played an "anorak" character on Coronation Street and thought the roles too similar. Besides, he wanted to play a villainous role.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

B is for... Bennett (4)

Mason Bennett was a geologist who was part of the crew of the Drum, an underwater base situated on the floor of a flooded valley in Caithness, in the north of Scotland, in the year 2119.
This was a mining operation, run by Vector Petroleum. Investigating a village that had been submerged when the valley flooded over a century before, the crew had discovered an alien spacecraft and brought it aboard the Drum. The commander, Moran, was killed when its engines fired. He appeared soon after in ghostly form, and began to kill off other members of the crew.
When the TARDIS arrived, the Doctor decided to investigate the spacecraft's initial landing. He travelled back to 1980, taking Bennett and colleague Alice O'Donnell with him. She was killed by the occupant of the craft - which was really an alien hearse. This was the Fisher King, who was creating the ghosts in order to transmit a psychic signal to his kind to come and rescue him - and to take over the planet.
The Doctor sent Bennett back to 2119 in the TARDIS using an emergency protocol, whilst he remained in 1980.
Bennett later admitted that he had loved O'Donnell, but had never told her - so he made sure that colleague Lunn didn't make the same mistake as he, and would tell fellow survivor Cass that he loved her.

Played by: Arsher Ali. Appearances: Under The Lake / Before The Flood (2015).

B is for... Bennett (3)

Mia Bennett was one of the crew of the doomed first human settlement on Mars - Bowie Base One. Mia hailed from Houston, Texas, and was a geologist like her father. She hoped to demonstrate that Earth plants could be grown in Martian soil. The Doctor met her, and her colleagues, on January 21st, 2059 - the date he knew would witness the destruction of the base with all hands.
As the last of the Time Lords, he decided to change this fixed point in time and save the crew. Mia was one of those he was able to return to Earth in the TARDIS - changing her history. Traumatised by events at the base, she ran off into the night. Fellow survivor Yuri Kerenski went after her to console her. It is unknown what impact her survival would have made to future history.

Played by: Gemma Chan. Appearances: The Waters of Mars (2009).

B is for... Bennett (2)

Jarvis Bennett was the commander of Space Wheel W3. He was a rigid, unimaginative man, who found it increasingly difficult to cope when his ordered domain came under attack. The crew had noticed small drops in air pressure, soon after an abandoned spaceship - the Silver Carrier - drifted close to the Wheel. Jarvis decided to blow the craft up, as it posed a collision risk. He was stopped when someone on the ship signaled to them. This proved to be Jamie McCrimmon. He and the comatose Doctor were brought on board the station. Some time later, one of the crew discovered a new lifeform - small metal creatures. These destroyed the Bernalium supplies, which were needed to power the station's X-Ray laser - its only defence. Jamie had disabled the weapon to prevent the station personnel from destroying the Silver Carrier, as the TARDIS was still aboard. Jarvis accused him of being a saboteur belonging to a group who were opposed to space exploration. The station was then threatened by a meteor shower.
Jarvis refused to connect the strange sequence of events - even when urged to do so by Dr Gemma Corwyn, whose opinion he normally accepted without fail.
It soon became clear that the Wheel was under attack from the Cybermen. As events escalated, Jarvis' mental state deteriorated. He finally broke on learning of Corwyn's death, and left the command area to challenge the Cybermen single-handed. They killed him.

Played by: Michael Turner. Appearances: The Wheel In Space (1968).

  • Jarvis Bennett is just one in a long line of seemingly unsuitable commanders of bases, usually picked on by Cybermen. His society has all manner of safeguards designed to monitor, analyse and protect people's mental wellbeing - and yet they put him in charge...

B is for... Bennett (1)

One of two survivors from a spaceship crash, marooned on the planet Dido. The ship had left Earth for the planet Astra in 2493. A number of crew and passengers survived, including Bennett, a girl named Vicki and her father. One night, whilst Vicki lay ill in bed, a great feast was arranged by the people of Dido. There was a massive explosion and everyone at the feast was killed - except for Bennett, who was left barely able to walk. When Vicki recovered, Bennett had to tell her of her father's death. He claimed that the natives had killed the Earth people, but one of them - Koquillion - would protect them both until a rescue ship arrived. Koquillion would visit the crashed ship and converse with Bennett in private.
When the TARDIS arrived on Dido, the Doctor recognised the planet as he had been here before. Hearing of the explosion he was shocked, as he had found the natives to be a peace-loving people. His suspicions were aroused when he learned of Koquillion's monstrous description - a spiny insectoid being. On going to Bennett's room he found it to be empty. A tape recorder played back his voice - ordering anyone who tried the door to go away. The Doctor then located a hidden trap door, and followed a passage to the Dido Hall of Justice. When Koquillion arrived, the Doctor saw through the disguise. Koquillion was really Bennett, wearing ceremonial robes. Didonians were similar to humans in appearance. Bennett revealed that he had committed a murder on the space flight. He engineered the crash, then caused the explosion which not only killed the other humans but seemingly all of the natives as well. Vicki was left alive to provide him with an alibi when the rescue craft arrived.
Bennett attacked the Doctor, but was stopped by the sudden appearance of two Didonians. Seeing them, he backed away in terror and fell to his death.

Played by: Ray Barrett. Appearances: The Rescue (1965).

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Inspirations - The Edge of Destruction

AKA Inside the Spaceship...
... Because the whole story takes place within the confines of the TARDIS. This two part story, written by Story Editor David Whitaker, owes its origins to the fact that Doctor Who almost got axed after just 13 episodes. The cost of the TARDIS set, amongst other things, gave the BBC cold feet.
As we had already been given one story going into the past, and another going into the future, this potentially final slot would go to a "sideways" story. There was no money for additional sets, nor monster costumes, nor guest artists.
As it was. a further 13 episodes were agreed, but the historical epic of Marco Polo was still a couple of weeks away from readiness. Whitaker stepped in to write a story featuring just the four regular characters They would be faced with a puzzle that would lead to them learning more about themselves - and the Doctor would learn more than he knew about his own ship.

When last we saw them, the travellers were leaving Skaro. There was an explosion, and they were thrown to the floor as the ship was plunged into darkness.
Edge of Destruction opens with the aftermath. First Barbara wakes up - seemingly in a daze and unsure of where she is. She sees Susan, who is standing groggily by the console. It's when Ian gets to his feet that things seem oddest. He recognises Barbara, and then recalls Susan - but speaks as if they are still at Coal Hill School and quite unfamiliar with each other. He talks in a strange, almost mechanical way - as though he is not himself.
Later, the TARDIS crew will speculate that something has gotten inside the ship - some alien presence - and we, the audience, start to think that maybe one of them has become possessed. This is why reviewers of this story often mention "Who Goes There?", by John W Campbell Jnr. It's the novella, first published in "Astounding Science-Fiction" magazine in 1938, that was filmed three times as The Thing / The Thing From Another World. This tells of an isolated scientific outpost which discovers a crashed UFO. The occupant is not dead, and it has the power to imitate people and animals.
If we thought that it was Ian who had become possessed, just wait until you see what happens to Susan. She goes totally out of character. She becomes moody and withdrawn, openly hostile towards the two teachers, and at one point comes close to attacking Ian with a pair of scissors. She'll hold these threateningly when speaking to Barbara also. The teachers are scared, but she is homicidally paranoid.
The Doctor finally picks himself up off the floor, but he is having none of this alien possession nonsense. Quite simply the teachers have sabotaged his ship, to force him to take them back to the London of 1963. He seems to be quite lacking in the imagination exhibited by the others.

Each of the two episodes comprising this story is directed by a different person. Episode One is by Richard Martin. He makes great use of lighting, and the TARDIS console room - almost always described as "brightly lit" - becomes filled with ominous shadows. It becomes a haunted house, with ghosts potentially lurking close by.

Strange things then start to happen, and the supernatural elements of the first half episode get pushed down in the mix. The TARDIS decides to make itself known as the fifth character in this drama. People get a shock when they approach certain parts of the console. The scanner shows what seems to be a random selection of images - a nice forest, a nasty looking jungle, then a sequence moving out from a planet to its solar system and beyond, until there is a blinding flash. The doors open when there's a nice picture, and close when the jungle is shown. Later, a clock face will melt, as will the dials on everyone's watches.
Whitaker is now looking at the nature of time, and it's a good bet that he has read or seen on stage or screen some J B Priestley. He wrote a number of plays about the nature of time - most famous being An Inspector Calls (1945). In this, the said police inspector arrives unannounced at a rich family's home, investigating the suicide of a destitute young woman. He shows how each member of the family knew her, and contributed in some way to her sad demise. It then transpires that the woman has been found and has died only after the inspector had called. He appears to have visited them from out of the future.
Priestley was influenced by a number of writers who argued against the straightforward linear movement of time - one moment following inexorably after another. They posited that time was more fluid, and ran at different speeds for different people in different places. These writers included French philosopher Henri Bergson (try "Time and Free Will", 1889, for starters). You might also want to have a go at John William Dunne's "An Experiment With Time", 1927. In this, Dunne sought to explain a number of precognitive dreams he had experienced, and came to believe he was experiencing time in a non-linear fashion. Deja Vu, anyone?

I mentioned above the TARDIS becoming the fifth character in this drama. It has often surprised me that the fan groups who stage Doctor Who stories live haven't had a crack at this one. (Okay, Daleks sell more tickets). This story would be perfect for the stage. One main set, with a small bedroom one to the side, and just the four actors. You can be in the pub in an hour as well.
Ian and Barbara trying to work out who they are in relation to each other, and where they are, reminds one of Luigi Pirandello's absurdist work Six Characters In Search Of An Author (1921). This baffled audiences when first performed, but a few years later Pirandello added a foreward to the play text to explain where he was coming from. In this, a group of actors are rehearsing a play (by Pirandello) when six people wander on stage - each a family archetype (father, mother, son, daughter and so forth. This particular TARDIS crew have also been seen as family archetypes, with Ian the dad, Barbara the mum, Susan the teenage daughter, and the Doctor the granddad or odd uncle). The six characters have come from an unfinished work, and want resolution as to who they are. Once they've finally gone, even the director within the play hasn't a clue if they were real or not.
The play has inspired many other writers - with characters who think they are characters and not real people, or real people who discover they are just characters.

As the story draws to a close, all of this new stuff also gets shoved out the way, and we head towards a good old-fashioned rational explanation for everything weird that has happened. The TARDIS has a form of sentience (described like Artificial Intelligence), and it has been trying to warn them all that they have been heading towards destruction. Time - as in linear, measurable time - has been taken away from them (the melting clocks, plus the ship's warning alarm sounding more frequently) in order that they would become aware of time. (I hope you're following this at the back). The bit of the console that's safe to approach houses something called the Fast Return Switch. It has gone a bit wonky. The spring has become stuck, and the ship is hurtling back through time to be destroyed in the explosive birth of a new solar system - even though solar systems aren't necessarily born that way.
Yup, it was a broken spring all along.
Soooo disappointing of Whitaker to collect together all these inspirations, then have the ending such a mundane anti-climax. The resolution may be a bit rubbish, but the journey has been worth it. We've had a story that allows us to get to know a little more about the companions, and the TARDIS is coming forward as something more than just the magic cupboard that gets them all from A to B. The seeds of the telepathic circuits, translation circuits, and The Doctor's Wife start here. The Doctor also has some of his rougher edges smoothed off. He'll be much more appreciative of the school teachers from this point on.
Next time - back into history, with the first real historical person. Except it won't be...

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Story 174 - The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

In which the TARDIS materialises in a storage bay, and the Doctor is worried that something may be wrong with it. Emerging, he and Rose find that they are in a Sanctuary Base - structures designed for hazardous regions. This is Sanctuary Base 6. In one of the main rooms they see graffiti scrawled on a wall - the words "Welcome to Hell" and a language which even the TARDIS cannot translate. The Doctor deduces that it must be incredibly ancient. They are confronted by a group of Ood. These are bipedal aliens with large bald heads and a mass of fleshy tendrils where their mouths should be. They communicate using hand-held spheres, which appear to be grafted onto their faces. The base security chief, Jefferson, arrives with his team, and they are shocked to see the new arrivals. They are taken to the central command area, where they meet the rest of the crew. This comprises science officer Ida Scott, archaeologist Toby Zed, ethics officer Danny Bartock, and trainee engineer Scooti Manista. In charge is Zachary Cross Flane. All are shocked to see them. Rose queries the howling gale she can hear outside, so Ida opens the roof panel. It is the Doctor's turn to be shocked, as they appear to be on a planet that it is in a fixed geostationary orbit close to a black hole.

Ida explains that the planet has no name, but legend calls it Krop Tor - the bitter pill. It was claimed that the black hole - K37 Gem 5 - was a demon, and it spat out the planet as it was toxic. Zach tells them that they discovered a funnel of stable space reaching out from the planet to a region beyond the black hole's influence, and used this to land here. A number of the crew died in the process - including the original commander. A power source of great magnitude has been detected, and they have come to drill down into Krop Tor to locate it. The base is struck by an earth tremor, and part of it collapses into a ravine. This includes the storage bay where the TARDIS had landed. The Doctor and Rose are trapped here. That night, Toby is alone in his room studying ancient pottery sherds when he hears a sinister voice addressing him. The entity possesses him. His eyes turn scarlet, and the script on the pottery appears on his skin. Scooti is making sure the base is secure when she hears someone exit through an airlock. Looking outside, she sees Toby standing unprotected on the surface. He motions for her to join him. When she refuses, he breaks the window with the power of his mind. The breach alerts everyone, and they find Toby in a corridor, claiming not to know what has happened. When they search for Scooti, they see her lifeless body floating outside towards the black hole.

A number of strange things have been happening. Rose hears a voice on her phone, and Danny hears the computer state "He is awake" instead of its normal door access wording. One of the Ood had also said something similar. The Doctor and Rose learn from Danny that the Ood are a subservient species, who thrive on being told what to do. They are telepathic, and monitors suggest that something is shouting in their heads. The drill reaches its destination, and the Doctor insists on joining Ida on the descent. Donning spacesuits, they travel down the shaft and emerge in a vast cavern, which shows signs of the ancient civilisation which once lived here. There is a huge metal hatch in the ground, covered in the ancient language. Toby becomes possessed once more - witnessed by Jefferson and Rose - whilst the same force takes over the Ood. Their eyes glow red, and they start to attack the crew. They claim that the Beast has arisen, and in the cavern the hatch begins to open...

The lift cable snaps, leaving Ida and the Doctor trapped. In the base, the crew have to defend themselves against the Ood, whose translator globes have the power to electrocute. Toby seems to have been freed of the malevolent presence. Zach is isolated in the command area. Danny comes up with a means of disabling the Ood, but he can only use it from Ood Control. He, Rose, Toby and Jefferson must get across the base whilst avoiding the Ood. They take to the airducts. Zach must aerate these section by section to allow their progress. The Doctor decides to descend into the pit which has been revealed by the opening of the hatch, using the lift cable. In the airducts, Jefferson sacrifices himself to hold back the pursuing Ood - dying when Zach removes the oxygen. Unbeknownst to the others, Toby has remained possessed all the time. Danny's plan - to broadcast a psychic flare that will disable the Ood - works. Zach announces the evacuation of the base using their shuttle rocket.

When the cable runs out, the Doctor decides to drop into the darkness. He falls and lands on a shelf of rock. There are two ornate vases on plinths, and on the walls are drawings that depict a huge red devil and the black hole. He discovers that the beast is close by - a massive, horned being with skull-like features - which is chained up. Rose refuses to leave the Doctor, and the others are forced to drug her. She wakes in the cabin of the shuttle. She threatens Zach with a nail gun, but he refuses to let her go. He has lost too many people already. The Doctor hears the rocket take off. He has heard the Beast speak through the Ood, and knows it to be highly intelligent, and yet what he sees in the pit is pure animal. He realises that this is only the shell, and that the Beast's mind is elsewhere. If he smashes the vases, the planet will tumble into the black hole - but so will the rocket. He elects to do this. In the rocket, the creature manifests itself once more in Toby. Rose fires the nail gun at the cockpit window, and unlocks his safety belt. He is sucked out into space, to fall into the black hole. The Doctor finds the TARDIS as the planet begins to fall out of its orbit. As the rocket crew prepare to die in the black hole, the ship is seized by a tractor beam generated from the TARDIS and pulled towards safe space. The Doctor calls to say that he was able to rescue Ida, but did not have time to save the Ood. After returning Ida to her colleagues, he and Rose continue on their travels.

This two part adventure was written by Matt Jones, and was first broadcast on 3rd and 10th June, 2006. Jones was a long time fan of Doctor Who and had written a number of New Adventures novels and short stories. He was best known at the time of his commissioning for the Channel 4 series Shameless, and the ITV series P.O.W. He had also worked on Children's Ward, as had a number of new series writers. To date, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit are his only Doctor Who TV episodes, though he would go on to write a Series 2 episode of Torchwood after this.
These episodes see the first visit to a wholly alien planet in the revived series. One of the cliches that the series had hoped to avoid was the "all alien planets look like quarries", but here they embrace that. The cavern sequences were filmed in a Welsh quarry, but the use of establishing CGI vistas, plus night filming, allowed them to get away with it.
It will probably surprise you to learn that these episodes were supposed to be quite cheap ones, as a lot of money was going to be held back for a later story. This is why we have the small cast. The alien servitors were going to be the Slitheen, so recycling existing costumes. The Beast wasn't going to be a CGI devil. That later story was shelved, and its replacement became the cheap one, so more cash could go into this. Russell T Davies insisted that the Doctor's relationship with Rose would be pivotal to the defeat of the Beast. It's his belief in her - after all the talk throughout of belief systems - which prompts him to smash the vases that hold the Beast captive.

The cast might be a small one, but it's a good one. Jefferson is Danny Webb, who is rarely off UK TV screens. He was the sole survivor of the penal planet in Alien 3. Zach is Shaun Parkes, who had appeared alongside David Tennant in Casanova, and would go on to work with Matt Smith on police series Moses Jones. Ida is Claire Rushbrook. Toby is Will Thorpe - a regular on Casualty. Scooti is MyAnna Buring, and Danny is Ronny Jhutti. Paul Kasey is the lead Ood, who are all voiced by Silas Carson (Star Wars Episodes 1 - 111, and the Adherents of the Repeated Meme in the previous season). Voicing the Beast is Gabriel Woolf, who had been Sutekh in The Pyramids of Mars back in 1976). His presence in the cast list led many to believe that the last of the Osirans would be back in this, and in a way he was - as the Fourth Doctor names him using some of the Beast's aliases.

Story Arc: The expedition is said to have been sent by the Torchwood Archive, and the Beast claims that Rose will die in battle very, very soon...
  1. Captain Walker is given his mission to find the power source on the planet orbiting black hole K37 Gem 5. He is shown a notebook full of some ancient writing and informed of many superstitions surrounding the planet. He passes the notebook to an Ood as he leaves, and it says "And the Beast will rise from the pit...".
  2. On a spaceship, an Ood hands a case to a man named Curt. It contains the personal effects of the late Captain Walker - including the notebook from the previous prequel piece. As he leafs through it, a monitor flashes up the message "The Beast is awake. He shall rise from the Pit". Controls move by themselves and the book bursts into flames. When a colleague arrives she finds Curt deranged, with the strange alien script on his skin.

Overall, a very good two-parter that builds well, and goes at a gallop in the second half. A great cast and some fine VFX. We'll be seeing more of those Ood soon - as well as one of the Beast's relatives.
Things you might like to know:
  • In creating the Ood, Davies was influenced by the Sensorites, from the 1964 Hartnell story - hence the telepathy, big bald heads, and the tendrils here replace their fluffy beards. The influence will be reinforced in their next outing.
  • As a pre-existing monster, using the Slitheen costumes might have been cheap, but Davies felt that they might take over the story.
  • Ideas for the Beast when this was still an inexpensive show - a young girl or a little old man. The former idea was dropped when the expensive Episode 11 was ditched, and Fear Her was brought forward from Series 3 to replace it.
  • VFX firm The Mill came up with a black hole that was based on how scientists think they might actually look. This was deemed not quite visual enough, so something more akin to what Disney's The Black Hole had shown was created instead.
  • As you will see from the Tardisodes, both were prequels, and show that there were two commanders before Zach got the job. The Beast also seems to be able to influence things over a very great distance - all the way to Earth - which the episodes themselves don't seem to suggest. Some dialogue referring to the second Tardisode was cut from the broadcast episooes.
  • Rose picks up on the slave status of the Ood straight away, but the Doctor doesn't even comment on it. Ordinarily, this would have been the thrust of the whole story. Davies was troubled by this from the outset, which is why he started planning a follow up in which these issues would be raised.
  • In Canada, The Impossible Planet was followed by a three month break before The Satan Pit was broadcast - acting as a mid-season cliffhanger.
  • When the second episode's title was announced, a small number of people - the kind who ban their kids from reading Harry Potter in case it inspires them to sacrifice the family cat to Beelzebub and take up Black Magic - voiced their concerns. Back when Victor Pemberton had wanted to call his story "Colony of Devils" the title got vetoed for fear of offending the religiously sensitive - becoming Fury From The Deep instead. Move ahead a little and they can get away with Daemons, but the Master's coven isn't allowed to gather in a church crypt - it has to be a cavern under the church. The very next year, "Devils" is allowed, so long as they're "Sea" ones. Chris Boucher, however, won't be able to call his first story "The Day God Went Mad". It gets stuck with Face of Evil. Thankfully, Doctor Who can now happily have Satan Pits and God Complexes.
  • Mind you, The Satan Pit was broadcast in the week containing the 6th of the 6th, 2006...
  • Horned demons mentioned on screen - those of the Draconians, Daemons and Kaleds. The Tin Vagabonds get another mention in the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, where Sarah states that she has encountered them.
  • The closing TARDIS scene - the "stuff of legends" bit - was the last thing Billie Piper recorded before her departure from the series. There was a wrap party for the series after this. David Tennant had to sneak out of this to film a secret scene to be added at the end of the season - Donna Noble's sudden appearance in the TARDIS. Will Thorp and MyAnna Buring had to get up early the next day to jump into a swimming pool - to film their floating in space sequences.
  • The Sanctuary Base corridor set was used throughout the Series Two junior "making of" series - Totally Doctor Who. One of the presenters of this will get a crowd scene role in the next story, as well as having to perform at one of the Doctor Who Proms as part of his Blue Peter duties.