Aired 19 April 2008
The Ood proved to be immensely popular in their debut ‘The Impossible Planet’/’The Satan Pit’ tale, and so it’s only natural that they should return once more after that initial group fell victim to the Beast and could not be saved. Most alien species are either out to dominate or else completely passive and oblivious to the universe around them, but the Ood offered something quite unique as a completely subservient slave race. While the concept of the actual slavery was only briefly touched on before, it is dealt with much more directly in ‘Planet of the Ood,’ another very strong entry in this fledgling third David Tennant series.
‘Planet of the Ood’ offers a little bit of everything and has a very clear direction in mind from beginning to end. As such, as the story switches between stunning visuals, horror, and discussions about morality, each character presented is done so with a clear and consistent purpose and motivation in mind. And though the story is set in the future, it doesn’t go out of its way to differentiate its society from modern society, instead seeming to embrace the similarities. References to The Simpsons, grungy warehouses, and overly pompous PR events are thus seemingly the norm, and it’s actually a refreshing take on a futuristic time period.
As mentioned, though, the slavery conditions are a major focus of this episode, and ‘Planet of the Ood’ wisely chooses to show those conditions rather than have the Doctor or Donna continue to lecture. Thus, the use of whip to keep a group of Ood in line, a group of Ood kept in a squalid cage as they sing their song of captivity, and even physical brutality toward the Ood are all eerily and uncomfortably effective. This is especially haunting for Donna who wanted so badly to find the Doctor and see the splendours of the universe, so much so that she is brought to tears and pleads to be taken home. Catherine Tate continues to impress as the well-meaning Donna, hitting every emotional note perfectly, and her companionship with Tennant’s Tenth Doctor already feels like a well-oiled machine at this point. The revelation that the Ood’s speech appendage should actually be a detached portion of the brain is also hauntingly effective and plays well into the ultimate conclusion as the functioning of the Ood society starts to come into clearer focus.
‘Planet of the Ood’ also does well with its supporting cast, Tim McInnerny being a particular standout as the amoral antagonist Mr Halpen. There’s no doubt that he’s the villain of the piece, especially as he’s willing to commit genocide by the end, but there’s an underlying sense of self-doubt to all of his dialogue and actions that is quite fascinating. After he chooses to shove his assistant to his death, he soon gets his comeuppance as he realizes that he Ood Sigma has slowly been poisoning him. The moment he peels off his skin to reveal the Ood exterior is incredibly creepy, capped off by him coughing up his brain attachment. Adrian Rawlins’s Dr Ryder himself is more than he initially seems as well, revealed to be a well-meaning member of the Friends of the Ood organization who is only begrudgingly following Halpen’s orders in order to investigate what is really happening.
This episode also benefits from superb production values, the beautiful exterior planet shots as well as the interiors of the office buildings and warehouse looking fantastic. Director Graeme Harper deftly meshes the more intense action sequences with the slower and more horrific sequences, and Murray Gold offers one of his strongest scores yet. Along with the strong performances throughout, the surprising revelations about the Ood, and the haunting premonition that the Doctor’s song may be ending soon, ‘Planet of the Ood’ is a great triumph from beginning to end.