Aired 3 June 2006
Doctor Who is a programme unafraid to go beyond the remit of standard science fiction fare, not infrequently using its platform to inject a subtle bit of education into its stories. While good overcoming evil is always the ultimate goal, several stories in its long history have been unafraid to deal with corruption, capitalism, and, of course religion as subtexts. There are any number of religions in the world, and Doctor Who has touched on many, but ‘The Satan Pit’- as the opening of another two-part story- doesn’t beat around the bush and instead brings the Doctor and Rose straight into the realm of the Devil itself.
The first thing that stands out in ‘The Impossible Planet’ is the quality of the set design. The space station circling a stationary planet and unaffected by the presence of a nearby black hole is a fantastic idea in an of itself, but it is given an extra dimension and life by the claustrophobia and grittiness induced, giving it a very mechanical, worn, and lived-in atmosphere. This helps to sell the turmoil of the Doctor and Rose as they are trapped aboard the station with the crew, lost and separated from the TARDIS.
The concept of the crew exploring and unearthing an otherworldly and powerful creature isn’t new by any means, but, fortunately for this opening instalment, the interactions between the Doctor, Rose, and the crew are stellar and help to help to elevate the script to much loftier levels as the mystery is eventually unveiled and pieces start falling together. The pairing of the Doctor and Rose here is much more congenial and traditional in this story compared to many of the preceding ones, and hopefully that’s a continuing theme rather than just a survival reaction now that the TARDIS is out of the picture.
The only real complaint about ‘The Impossible Planet’ is that it again falls victim to the typical structure of the two-part story as this is purely about the setup while awaiting the upcoming ‘The Satan Pit’ for the payoff. Even in a story with as much backstory as this one, it’s tough to defend what is essentially forty-five minutes of prologue no matter how engaging. Because several plot and character developments, by necessity, aren’t able to unfold until after the cliffhanger and the Beast’s reveal, there is unfortunately an inherent limitation with how much exploration can be achieved here.
As a result of this, the story also fails to show much of what is focusing on, instead relying on characters talking and telling. David Tennant has a gift for lengthy orations as he’s proven throughout the early episodes of this run, but seeing is always better than just hearing. However, the Tenth Doctor is quickly becoming known just as much for what he chooses not to say as what he does say, and his deflections of Rose’s suggestion that they should get a house together now that the TARDIS is lost speaks volumes as he reasserts himself as her protector on her mother’s behalf, even if he does claim towards the end that Rose knows what his answer is.
Even with the Beast itself not physically in the episode, its presence is eerily effective. The manner in which it slowly creeps up on Toby, telling him not to turn around as it is right behind him, is suitably chilling, and the strange hieroglyphics that appear on his body along with the reddening of his eyes are haunting visuals as the Beast claims its victim. Likewise, the Ood, a subservient bipedal race who communicate telepathically amongst each other and verbally to the crew through speech adapters attached to their tentacled mouths, eventually become overrun by the mental influence of the Beast, adding to the threat aboard the space station as this episode comes to a close. The ood have a striking character design, and though inherently harmless in their natural state, hopefully they will find their way into future stories as well.
The powerful energy funnel created below its surface is ingenious, and the necessary power being a variant of six to the power of six every six seconds confirms the obvious satanic reference. As the creature’s pit opens and that gravity field disappears, the space station is severed and is threatening to fall into the black hole unless a solution is quickly found, a great cliffhanger ending to a very strong introductory episode.