Impossible Planet – Impossible Task?

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One of the criticisms levelled at the first series of the new Doctor Who, was the fact that it was very Earth based – throughout the entire thirteen episodes, whilst it visited space stations, and travelled both into the future and the past, the stories were essentially always Earth based. The reason given harked back to the old series, where rather a large number of alien planets ended up looking like a gravel pit or quarry – essentially because that’s about the most convenient place to film a low budget TV series wanting a desolate planet!

After the success of the first series, this year they’re becoming more ambitious. Although the honour of the first off-world episode really goes to New Earth, that was essentially set on an Earth like planet. Last night, we got the first really alien environment – a remote research station on a barren planet, that is impossibly held in a geostationary orbit of a black hole. The irony of course being that it was still filmed in a local gravel pit…

The big question is whether it harked back to Doctor Who of old, to which I can say a resounding no. If it wasn’t for Doctor Who Confidential, I wouldn’t have known it was a gravel pit. If anything it was more reminiscent of some of the gritty sci-fi movies, both in terms of look, and plot.

The episode opens, with the TARDIS materialising in a storage area, and the Doctor and Rose go off an explore. They are quickly apprehended by the human crew of the base, and their telepathic servants the Ood. However, the introductions are cut short by an alert, warning of an impending earthquake, which whilst it passes without loss of life, results in the part of the base in which the TARDIS has landed, disappearing down a newly opened chasm into the centre of the planet.

The crew explain to the Doctor their situation. The planet appears impossible, as some sort of force coming from deep within the planet is holding it in a geostationary orbit around a black hole. The team is there trying to find the source of the incredible power that is keeping the planet in orbit, whilst the nearby black hole is sucking all sorts of other planets and stars to their destruction.

However, strange things are going on. On the planet there is evidence of an ancient civilisation, with strange writing that nobody, not even the Doctor can translate. There are also strange problems with the Ood’s translation units – periodically it mistranslates and comes out with strange warnings about ‘the Beast’. Another member of the crew is hearing strange voices. As the episode drives towards the cliff-hanger, the expedition reach the source of the power, and are confronted with a massive trap-door, covered with more of the unknown writing, and the Ood are taken over by a presence that claims that it is amongst other things, known as Satan. Quite whether this will turn out to be true will be seen next week I’m sure.

Whilst it’s not the best episode of the series, I certainly didn’t think the Impossible Planet was bad. Despite the worries of the production team, they did a good job of the planet – certainly it didn’t look like a gravel pit, even if it was! The black hole itself looked spectacular too as it hung above the planet. In terms of the characters, it was probably a fairly predictable mix of different characters, and much as you’d expect for this kind of story, again, not fantastic, but still pretty reasonable. There were also some interesting moments, for example the conversation between the Doctor and Rose where they discuss what to do now the TARDIS appears lost. Rose asks whether the Doctor could build a new TARDIS to get them home, to which the Doctor replies that with Gallifrey gone, that would be impossible, as a TARDIS is grown rather than built. Having said that, since the episode has established that there is definitely something at the centre of the planet, even if we have to wait for next week to find out what it is, the chances of the TARDIS having survived, are probably quite high… Certainly, I’ll not be surprised if at the end of the episode they find the TARDIS, or even if it gets used as a bargaining chip in some big battle with the enemy.

All in all it was an enjoyable, and well executed episode, and certainly I’m looking forward to the conclusion next week.

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