The Good: Decent performances, Interesting set-up for the plot and aliens, Some decent character moments.
The Bad: Very much a set-up episode where very little actually happens and less is explained/revealed
The Basics: Alternating between a somewhat standard possession story and a spooky science fiction exploration drama, “The Impossible Planet” is engaging Doctor Who.
Doctor Who has managed to intrigue me for several reasons, but the most common reason is that they are intriguing. Essentially, the best of Doctor Who manages to mix elements from science fiction, horror and character drama in exceptional ways. One of the episodes that has the most intriguing combination of elements is “The Impossible Planet.” “The Impossible Planet” is a space exploration story that has, in one of the rare twists for an episode, a legitimate supernatural twist to it. Unlike most episodes of Doctor Who, “The Impossible Planet” does not even try to explain all of the elements in literal, scientific terms.
But more than a simple, creepy, supernatural story that puts The Doctor and Rose in a dark, nebulous future fighting an ancient evil, “The Impossible Planet” starts a morality tale when it introduces one of the most distinctive Doctor Who alien races: the Ood! The Ood are essentially an alien slave race used by humans in a dangerous, futuristic, mining compound and the ethics of using them as a slave workforce is skirted, but addressed, in “The Impossible Planet.” While that might be unsatisfying within this episode, the Ood become vital and interesting in characterizing the Doctor and his companions as higher ethical life forms in future episodes.
Rose and The Doctor land inside a base on a distant world where The Doctor notes that the TARDIS seems reluctant to land. The Doctor quickly ascertains that they have arrived on a Sanctuary base in the distant future. There, they are surprised to discover that the base is overrun by mysterious aliens and there is an ancient language scrawled on the wall that even the TARDIS cannot identify. The aliens are the Ood, a servant class of aliens working for the humans at a dangerous mining site. The human crew of the Sanctuary base is shocked by the appearance of two new people given how far out they are and the fact that they are on a planetoid that is hovering in a stationary position above a black hole!
As night falls on the Sanctuary base and the Doctor and Rose realize that they are stranded there (due to the TARDIS falling into a chasm thanks to a planetquake), weird things begin happening on the base. One of the Ood Rose talks to misspeaks “I hope you enjoy your meal” as a prophecy about the Beast awakening and preparing to lay waste to the universe, two people hear strange voices and see a hologram of a devilish creature, and one of the crewmen working on an artifact suddenly finds the glyphs from the artifact transferred to his own skin. When the possessed crewman, Toby Zed, awakens, the Ood suddenly explode with telepathic abilities and they proclaim that the Beast has awakened. When Toby appears outside the base without a spacesuit on, the crew finds themselves fleeing the demonically possessed Toby and the telepathically manipulated Ood!
“The Impossible Planet” is smart-enough to not neglect the character aspects that are essential for great drama. Finding themselves stranded at a distant point in time and space, the Doctor and Rose consider what being trapped means to them. While The Doctor laments how he may be breaking the promise he made to Rose’s mother – to always bring Rose home safe – Rose contemplates a life settling down with the Doctor. More than in any of the prior episodes of this season of Doctor Who, “The Impossible Planet” illustrates that Rose has transferred her feelings from the previous incarnation of The Doctor to the current one. Rose accepts that the Doctor’s regenerations do not make him an entirely different person and here it is clear she has love and affection for the current regeneration.
The mining that the crew is doing on the planetoid is incidental in “The Impossible Planet,” save that it allows the episode to climax with the Doctor and Rose being separated. The nature of the planetoid is not explored in “The Impossible Planet,” so this is very much a set-up episode where Toby is possessed, but does not realize it, and the Ood’s odd behavior makes them into a somewhat terrifying hive mind-controlled herd.
What helps make “The Impossible Planet” so memorable is the quality of the supplemental characters. The crew of the Sanctuary base is diverse, both in terms of ethnic composition and job positions. Instead of all the typical military-style officers found in most science fiction shows, the crew of the Sanctuary base features a science officer (who seems to have a bent for archaeology) and an ethics officer! That the ethics officer oversees the treatment of the Ood is an atypical twist that works and the feel of the Sanctuary base crew is such that the viewer instantly buys the premise that the crew has been together for some time, working as a generally cohesive unit.
Another impressive aspect of “The Impossible Planet” comes in the realm of the special effects. More than the awesome, filthy-looking sets for the remote mining platform or the generally impressive CG rendering of the black hole, “The Impossible Planet” is augmented by a cool soundtrack. Until the end when the soundtrack turns to a rousing and tense anthem, “The Impossible Planet” is sublimely accented by haunting violins and strings that enhance the feeling of loneliness that defines the remote setting.
In the end, though, “The Impossible Planet” is an establishing episode that does not resolve anything or even ask most of the questions that are raised by the events that occur within it. The episode might not stand alone, but it has enough elements to make for an intriguing start that is well worth returning to because it is a great balance of smart and creepy, plot and character. It certainly is enough to make one excited about watching Doctor Who.
[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!
For other works with Silas Carson, please visit my reviews of:
Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith
Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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