TARDIS File 04-03: Planet of the Ood

TARDIS File 04-03: Planet of the Ood

The Big Idea: The Doctor takes Donna to her first alien planet, where he re-encounters the Ood, this time on their home-planet, the Ood-Sphere. Once again the docile servants are becoming possessed, leading to violent murder, but this time the cause is completely different….

What’s So Great…

  • Graeme Harper’s direction. The story is fast-paced and the action sequences completely convincing, both trademarks of Harper’s direction.
  • Catherine Tate is so good she is starting to steal the show from David Tennant - by no means an easy feat. If the companion’s role is for the audience to relate and empathize with her, she fits that role to a T in this story. When she is moved, so is the audience, such is the power of her performance.
  • After a shaky start to the season with the realization of the Adipose, the Mill (the outfit responsible for the show’s CGI) are in fine form this episode, helping convincingly portray an alien, snow-covered planet for the first time in the new series.
  • The transformation of Halpen into an Ood is one of the freakiest scenes in Doctor Who in a long time.
  • Planet of the Ood is one of those rare Doctor Who stories (perhaps The Ambassadors of Death being the only other) where the humans are the bad guys, as opposed to the alien monsters!

Quick Bits of Trivia: the Ood are to the Tenth Doctor what the Meddling Monk was to the First, the Yeti and Great Intelligence to the second, the Ogrons to the third, the Mara to the fifth, Sil to the sixth and the Slitheen to the ninth - all recurring monsters and/or villain who have only reappeared during the era of the Doctor they first appeared with.

Tim McInnerny is best known to fans of British television for his portrayal of Percy in various eras of Blackadder. The sequence where he transforms into an Ood had to be refilmed (with someone else standing in for McInnerny) because the first version was deemed too disturbing!

Things to Geek Out About…

  • The Doctor mentions that the Ood-Sphere is in the same galaxy as the Sense-Sphere, a place he visited 44 years previously in the Season One story The Sensorites!
  • “Your song will end soon” the Ood tell the Doctor at the episode’s conclusion - what do they mean?

Not to Complain But… if you’re looking for a story where the Doctor and his companion are highly influential in the outcome of events, this story is not for you!

All Things Considered… This is the second story in a row for Series Four which gives the viewer plenty to think about. Although the major theme of the story - slavery is bad - is rather obvious and hits the adult viewer on the head perhaps a little too hard, there are a plethora of other talking point worth debating. The Ood murder a lot of humans, many of whom, while being callous slave traders, weren’t actually killers or murderers themselves. The Doctor seems to be okay with this form of punishment and indeed, the tone of the episode essentially treats the previously murderous Ood as heroes. The viewer is left to decide for themselves as to whether there is anything wrong with this, although the joyous tone of the concluding moments of the episode suggest the programme itself is inclined not to think so.

The moral talking points don’t stop there. The Ood also turn a human (again, a criminal slave trader) into another creature altogether. They take away the human rights of a human who had for so long callously tried to deny them the “human rights” (or Ood rights in this case) of Ood-kind. The tone in this case is a little more ambivalent - even Donna mentions that she’s can’t tell what’s right and what’s wrong anymore and even the Doctor’s eyebrows are raised. Once again though, the “eye for an eye” morality seems to come to the fore where the Ood are concerned (also exemplified in their gassing of a security guard who would have gassed them), which brings back memories of the Doctor’s justification in Boom Town of why it is morally acceptable for him to commit capital punishment, which he has done so often in the past.

What stands out with the plot of this story is that the Doctor and Donna aren’t overly important to its outcome. They investigate and piece together what happens on behalf of the audience, but aren’t terribly influential. The Ood’s revolution has already started, and the process is sped up by an undercover member of the Friends of the Ood. Even the transformation of Halpen was done entirely by the Ood, as the Doctor indicates this had been in preparation by the Ood for a long time. The Doctor’s only contribution to the events is to switch off the circle that was inhibiting the brain and to disarm the explosive devices that would have killed it and the Ood - although one has to figure that Ood Sigma was perfectly capable of doing both (in fact the Doctor even asks Ood Sigma to allow him the honour of turning off the circle). Which leaves the Doctor’s only original contribution that he could have done alone as using the Sonic Screwdriver to get into Warehouse 15 in order for them to confront Halpen and save the brain in the first place. Not insignificant, but perhaps not as satisfying as normal. While there are other stories where the Doctor doesn’t have a huge influence on events (the classic sixth Doctor tale Revelation of the Daleks springs to mind, although at least in that story the Doctor solves the galaxy’s famine problem) those stories tend to get away with it because the stories are longer, allowing us to get to know, like and be fascinated with the incidental characters for whom the events do revolve around. That isn’t the case with Planet of the Ood simply because the 45 minute single-episode format does not allow for as much development with the story’s incidental characters.

That is not to suggest that the Ood were thanking (through song) the Doctor and Donna for nothing. As they say, it’s the thought that counts and they appreciated the Doctor and Donna’s sympathies and efforts to help them out. And it can be argued that it makes for a bit of a refreshing change from the last few seasons to have the Doctor and his companion adopt a more investigative and less crucial role in a story.

Having said that, as a straightforward sci-fi action/adventure story, Planet of the Ood succeeds admirably. There are some good twists, including the revelation of the Ood’s second brain, the identity of the Friends of the Ood operative, and Solano Mercurio’s decision not to switch sides (when so many of similar characters in the show’s history would have done). The pace of the episode is quite good and the audience is kept engaged throughout - and that’s really what it entertaining television is supposed to be about.

Altogether this is an excellent episode, perhaps the new series most superbly realized alien planet to date (begging the question as to why they haven’t done more of them in the before now), directed with consummate professionalism and style by maestro Graeme Harper

Line of the Week: “If your Ood is happy…then you’ll be happy too”

Index of TARDIS Files

TARDIS File prepared by Gian-Luca Di Rocco

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