Doctor Who- Series Four- Episode Three
Planet of the Ood
For those of you playing at home, the Ood first appeared in the excellent Season Two story, ‘Impossible Planet.’ A sympathetic psychic slave race, the Ood were used by a strange disembodied evil force living at the edge of a black hole hell bent on… it was never quite clear what its goal was… but luckily the Doctor and Rose stopped it!
Unable to save the Ood (I’m still screaming at the screen that the Doctor has a time machine), the Doctor clearly had a debt to pay the visually stunning alien race.
The production team must have felt the pangs of guilt as well because there is no clear reason why this story was made other than to bring the Ood back. To be honest, that’s fine with me. One of the more impressive aliens of the new series, the Ood look and sound very creepy and ‘classic’ Doctor Who… yet the story itself fails to deliver.
The problems start with the beginning where we see the Doctor and Donna sharing their exclamation pointed expositionary dialog (we’re on an alien planet! I can’t believe it! I grew up in the suburbs and here I am on an alien planet!!). This exchange of lines is so painfully drawn out that a death row inmate forced to watch this episode asked if the schedule could be stepped up a bit. The setting is quite stunning and it’s a change of pace to see the TARDIS land on an alien planet full of snow and ice.
The Doctor and Donna discover a dying Ood and are enthralled in a mystery. Say what you will about contrivance, but this is one of the few ‘classic series moments’ in this new Doctor Who… something that almost made me like this one. Nearby is a factory where Ood are processed and sold as slaves to Earth colonies. The Doctor and Donna sneak into the facility (after a brief ‘we’re not married’ joke that just never works) and soon find that things are not as innocent as the company Ood Operations would like people to think.
Given that the story opens with an enraged Ood and then a pathetic dying one, this is hardly a surprise. The story progresses at a painful pace as excellent guest star Tim McInnery (of Blackadder) acts in one scene steering the evil plot and the Doctor and Donna wander around the factory uncovering random plot points that don’t really connect. We discover that the Ood are born with their brains in their hands (not one person in a read-through laughed out loud at this??) and a gigantic brain has been housed in a secret storage facility for hundreds of years, trapped in an energy prison and thereby keeping the Ood prisoner.
This major plot point involving a giant brain fails miserably to connect up with the rest of the story. This is a shame, because the rest of the story is actually quite good. See, there is this splinter group of humans who call themselves ‘Friends of the Ood’ who have been working very patiently to free the aliens from slavery. One member of the group is the docile assistant Ood to McInnery‘s evil Halpen. While McInnery has been thinking that he was being fed hair tonic throughout the story, it was actually a fluid that was slowly turning him into an Ood. Okay, so that makes about as much sense as enslaving a race with a giant brain being kept in a warehouse. Yet the Friends of the Ood storyline is the best bit of this story.
Again the special effects department have risen to the occasion in producing very impressive masks, but the story itself is so flimsy and undercut by Tennant‘s uninspired performance and terrible Catherine Tate who still fails to bring anything to the program. During his second year as executive producer, Russell T Davies said that he was dead against setting stories on alien planets because it just looked cheap and unbelievable. This is very ironic because the stories set on other worlds have been quite good. Also ironic is that according to wikipedia, the initial drafts of this story by writer Keith Temple were deemed as being “too dark” and “too old Doctor Who.”
Many fans have highlighted similarities between this episode and the classic 1980′s serial ‘Revelation of the Daleks.’ Both take place on cold planets, both stories operate almost entirely independent to the Doctor and his companion and both stories have an unusual amount of violence and gun play.
Given a few tweaks in the right direction, this episode could have been quite good. As it happens, it’s only a slightly above par episode of a series that seems to be treading water at best. Next week, the return of the Sontarans.
Doctor Who -Planet of the Ood premieres in the US this Friday on the Sci-Fi Channel.