The Good: Adequate acting
The Bad: Erratic special effects, No real character development, Exceptionally heavy on exposition without real plot
The Basics: “The Satan Pit” finishes off a Doctor Who adventure story in a very unremarkable way.
So much Doctor Who is loosely serialized, but there are a few true two-parters (or more). In the run of episodes featuring David Tennant as The Doctor, the second directly serialized pair of episodes climaxed in “The Satan Pit.” “The Satan Pit” is the second part to the story arc that began with “The Impossible Planet” (reviewed here!) and it does not stand very well on its own without having seen the first part. That said, “The Satan Pit” is a rare Doctor Who second part that only utilizes the teaser for the “Previously on. . . “ recap of the prior episode.
As a result, “The Satan Pit” picks right up in the middle of the action that was the climax of the prior episode. “The Satan Pit” is a very basic supernatural action-adventure story without a huge deal of character development for the primary characters of Doctor Who. Featuring an obligatory reference to Torchwood, which the second season is preoccupied with, “The Satan Pit” is exposition heavy, without having much in the way of a significant story. Outside foreshadowing the imminent demise of Rose and resolving the story begun in “The Impossible Planet,” “The Satan Pit” is very much a bottle episode that does not influence the Doctor Who universe much.
With the Ood in a sudden, murderous frenzy under the mercy of The Beast on the sanctuary base suspended above a black hole and The Doctor and Ida Scott on the planet far below, Rose finds herself fighting for her life. The Doctor and Ida stand over the opened seal and The Doctor makes the decision for a rare tactical retreat. Rose starts guiding the crew on the sanctuary base, especially when The Doctor’s communicator is cut off and the cable to his lift onto the planet is cut. While the crew on the sanctuary base struggles to avoid the murderous Ood, who have become the voice of the Beast, the Doctor finds himself drawn into the pit on the planet below.
Crawling through the ducts, struggling for air, Rose and the other survivors up top fight the Ood off as best they can. Sacrificing Jefferson, Rose and Danny are only able to escape the Ood because Toby retains some sort of power from the Beast within him. With the Sanctuary base saved, Rose turns to trying to rescue The Doctor. The Doctor, lowered into the pit on the planet, takes a leap of faith and drops into darkness where he encounters the Beast. As Rose is forced into an escape rocket with the others, The Doctor figures out the nature of the creature and the trap that keeps it there.
“The Satan Pit” has the characters giving a great deal of exposition and trying to mask their descriptions as plot. Much of the episode features philosophical discussions masquerading as plot development. The episode, however, does not have much going on in the way of plot. Instead, the episode feels like it is made up of equal points action and filler. It’s like the writers stretched a fifteen minute story into a full forty-five minute episode with babbling and characters running away.
The episode includes a somewhat pointless bit of exposition from The Doctor. David Tennant does a fine job opposite a CG creature (presumably a blue screen when he shot it). Faced off against the Beast, The Doctor uses a single painting on the wall to reason the entire nature of the trap in which the Beast was left. The logic and reasoning the Doctor goes through might be solid, but the Doctor gets it all right without any new information being given to him. The result might seem satisfying for some, but the more one watches, the more it appears like The Doctor just guessed a number of factors right. This is more random and correct exposition than a satisfying series of conclusions from the Doctor reasoning things through.
That is not to say that David Tennant and the others do not perform the parts well; they do, but the episode lacks genuine character development. Instead, the Doctor does not grow or develop and Rose does not actually become the superheroine the episode seems to imply she is becoming. The Doctor and Rose unceremoniously kill in “The Satan Pit” and there is no real reflection of that within the episode. Instead, Tennant and Billie Piper make it around the technobabble and rush around in tight jeans, respectively.
“The Satan Pit” also suffers because the special effects are painfully erratic. The special effects department seems to want to make the rocket and its fall into the black hole look like a b-rate science fiction flick as opposed to a state-of-the-art science fiction horror. The Beast is generic and the space shots are utterly campy.
Ultimately, “The Satan Pit” takes the energy of “The Impossible Planet” and fizzles. So burdened with explaining the setting and the adversary, “The Satan Pit” disappoints.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!
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© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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