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Doctor Who - Planet of the Ood

I see a little silhouetto of an Ood...
Some Ood, there.

I think I might be just about the only person who wasn’t particularly impressed by last week’s The Fires of Pompeii - and as such, while many rave about how series four of Who has so far exceeded expectations, I’ve still been left with a sense that things are far from kicking into gear.

Thankfully, Planet of the Ood represents a significant step up – and while perhaps still nowhere near the highlights the previous three series have offered, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The overriding feeling is that of a “classic”-style adventure (albeit compressed into the current series’ forty-five minute format), and this is evident in a number of the episode’s aspects.

For a kickoff, it’s nice to see once again the idea of journeying in the TARDIS as a “mystery tour” – it’s a setup that’s appeared at various instances in the show’s history, whether it’s been down to a malfunctioning guidance circuit or a deliberate “randomiser”, and it lends a nice “hurtling through space and time” feel to proceedings. It’s certainly more palatable than the idea of being called back to present-day Earth at a moment’s notice by Mickey, Martha or whoever.

I’ll freely admit, meanwhile, that prior to the start of the series I was a fully paid-up member of the rabid anti-Tate brigade. But while she may not have fully justified her presence in the show in my eyes, though, she’s definitely getting better. After a shaky start featuring all kinds of unnecessarily larking and squealing around the console room, writer Keith Temple nails down a pretty strong Doctor/companion dynamic – and again, it’s one that feels quite “classic” in its nature. While her character couldn’t be more different, there’s almost… dare I say it… a Sarah Jane-ish feel to the way Donna firmly centres situations around herself, particularly regarding supporting characters.

Second Opinion

As brilliant as last year’s Gridlock was (and I still stand by my, admittedly slightly too enthusiastic, review from the time) I’ve realised that, three episodes in, it’s *great* to be free of the traditional ‘Year Five Billion’ stories. The structure of series's episodes was starting to a little too predictable and I'm glad of the fresh settings. So, I guess Planet of the Ood could be seen as the replacement for that slot, set as it is on a distant planet in the future with a great deal of human involvement.

And as alien planets in New Who go, this is most definitely the best realised. Making the Ood’s home an ice planet might not make sense when you consider they’re hairless and born with their soft, squishy brains in their hands, but it certainly makes it nicely distinct from ‘The Impossible Planet’, Malcassairo or indeed New Earth. Despite some members of the production team being snotty about quarries, once again one is used to great effect here when realising an alien environment. Last year we saw Graham Harper being used to prop up the generally awful episode 42 but here his direction elevates an above average story into something approaching excellent.

I was heartened to see that Keith Temple (the second of this year’s two new writers) had turned in something I enjoyed as much as Fires of Pompeii. As has been said almost everywhere, this episode had a very traditional feel to it with The Doctor and Donna doing little more than wandering around, slowly discovering things. In fact, they seemed to do little more than go around being sympathetic to the Ood and manoeuvring themselves into a good position to see the climax of events. I liked that. The show has often given us episodes where The Doctor does fuck all and leaves the companion to inexplicably save the day, so to see an episode devoted to putting across some good metaphors about how genuinely awful humans can be - with slavery, battery farming and the holocaust all paralleled to certain degrees and all surprisingly well handled - was refreshing and interesting.

I’m hoping that James Moran (Fires of Pompeii) and Keith Temple stay on past this season, as I think they’ve managed to create the best 2nd Episode/3rd episode combination we’ve had since series 1, and their ability to create interesting, traditional feeling scripts is essential for delivering more consistent series in the future. If they’d been here last year to keep Chibnall and Helen Raynor away from the show, then series 3 would’ve ended up even better than it was.

Three Stars

And the old-school feel spreads to the construction, too. It’s a luxury that’s rarely been afforded the new series, thanks to the relative brevity of stories, but it really is nice to be able to properly spend time with the secondary characters around whom the individual stories revolve. Particularly when you’ve got guest stars of the calibre of Tim McInnerny – who here turns in a solid, if a little subdued performance, although when getting shouty there’s more than a hint of Captain Darling coming through. It’s interesting, too, that rather than being a maniacal billionaire, there’s more of a sense of him being a desperate, slightly failing businessman – it adds a slightly different edge to the story, although the “bad humans enslaving others” allegory is still perhaps a bit heavy-handed.

Speaking of those “enslaved others”, one of the real pleasures of the episode is getting to spend a bit more time with the Ood. I’d say they’re probably the one truly successful “new” monster created in the RTD era so far – there’s something quite compelling about their look, style and backstory (even if they’re not wholly original – it’s hard not to think of Doctor Zoidberg, for example; and indeed, you wonder if the shoehorning in of an incongruous Simpsons reference early in the ep is a faint and abstract reference to this). Despite being fairly grotesque in appearance, there’s also something strangely cute about them when in “gentle” mode – and you’re made to genuinely feel for their suffering, particularly during the affecting sequence with a dying Ood in the snow.

With Graeme Harper at the helm, you can always be assured of some classy direction, and so it proves here. In the establishing scenes, we’re treated to some utterly lovely landscape and planet shots – as well as a cameo appearance by what appears to be Thunderbird 3! – and he nails the action, as well, with a claw/crane chase sequence that at script level feels perhaps a little deliberately tacked-on, but in execution is at least stylish and gripping. The climactic “transformation” scene, meanwhile, is genuinely unsettling – the skin peeling moment easily rivalling the infamous “gask mask” sequence from The Empty Child – but it is let down slightly by a quick cut to a profile shot of emerging tentacles that feels rather more fake.

All in all, while still perhaps remaining in the realm of “early season filler”, Planet of the Ood is a decent, old-fashioned “alien exploration” kind of a story, perhaps slightly lacking in action but nevertheless rattling along at a better pace than either of the two episodes so far. It’s worth noting also that, ironically for an episode with a plot point hinging on the use of music, that Murray Gold’s score is far less intrusive than elsewhere of late (and the new theme is kind of starting to grow on me – while I still think it’s ridiculously busy, I do rather like the eighties-style “DUM DUM DUM DUM” as the episode title appears). Series four may not have hit the ground running the way series three did, but thankfully there are signs emerging that Team Cardiff certainly haven’t lost the knack of delivering the goods. Let’s hope the upward trajectory can continue with a proper “blockbuster” two-parter next week…

3 Stars

About this entry


We're still waiting for a great episode but Series 4 has still been pretty good so far. I'd give Planet of the Ood 4 stars - it had a lot of nice ideas, it looked good, it was enjoyable. So for me so far: Partners in Crime: 3 stars, Fires of Pompeii: 4 stars, Planet of the Ood: 4 stars. Last year, I absolutely loved the first three episodes being the clever, well-crafted mini-epics that they were. So not up to Series 3 standard just yet but then again, after Gridlock, Series 3 didn't get great again until Human Nature/Family of Blood, so let's hope this year's mid-season run will be better.

By Rad
April 24, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

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I don't think there's been a truly great mid-season run yet. 1 was probably the closest, as we at least had Dalek - but there was also the Long Game and the AOL two-parter. 2 undid all the goodwill earned by TGITF by lumbering us with the Cyber two-parter and the Idiot's Lantern. And 3 was probably the weakest - as you say, it was a loooong gap from Gridlock to Human Nature... so yeah, maybe this one can pull it out of the bag. The Doctor's Daughter looks intriguing, at least. But there's nothing that hugely excites me now until Moffat shows up...

By Seb
April 24, 2008 @ 2:33 pm

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Well, if you take the 'mid-season run' as the bits between the two two-parters, then Series 1 also gave us Father's Day, so it clearly wins.

I'm pretty underwhelmed by Series Four. It's been OK. I hated Pompeii, and the other two I can only describe as 'pretty decent'. Sigh.

By Ian Symes
April 24, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

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It reminded me of The Idiot's Lantern, actually. Nice idea, well executed, slightly spoilt by some one-dimensional guest characters. Apart from the least-convincing "I've been a goodie all along!" reveal I've seen, we learned eveything we were going to about the human cast within the first five minutes. The claw sequence was gob-smacking though, and I'd agree with Capps that this is the best alien planet we've seen.

Despite complete apathy towards the potato-heads, I'm really looking forward to the next episode- Donna's comment about Martha was very interesting...

By Julian Hazeldine
April 24, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

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I still can't shake the whole 'meh' feeling I get over this episode. Aside from the ice setting it was treading over old ground like there's no tomorrow. Despite me agreeing with the general sentiment that, yes, humans in 2,000 years time will be even more bastard-like and callous than they are now, to me it dragged the episode down. It's just another reason for The Doctor + 1 to slide into holier-than-thou mode once again, something which now bores me to tears.

Also, it pissed me off no end to see the Ood killing everyone. This and the claw sequence were so obviously excuses for the lack of action. It's understandable that people sing Graeme Harper's praises due to his involvement with the classic series, but I can honestly say the only new series episode of his I've enjoyed was Utopia, and that was only for the last 10 minutes or so. He has a real sledgehammer method of direction. He's directing the finale 2-parter so that's...something to look forward to. What I don't get is why Joe Ahearne never returned to the show after being the best director on series 1.

By performingmonkey
April 25, 2008 @ 6:19 pm

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Iw as surprised with how impressed I was Joe Ahearne in series one - Ultraviolet was great stuff, but the direction was...weak. That he didn't return to Who after a busy first series could - that's COULD - suggest that he was propped up heavily by others on the team, too high-maintenance to be brought back.

Regardless, while Who's sense of metaphor is still a little on the lumpen side (as much an age concession as anything, maybe, given the substantial depth of Davies' work elsewhere) and the action sequences are sometimes conjured from thin air, I had a blast with this one.

I thought the claw sequence, while pretty superfluous, was superbly shot and cut. Murderous Ood, on the other hand, are kinda 'the point'. It ties in to how they were used in TIP/TSP, it's how the plot gets started, and how it escalates. Can't see that as an excuse for anything.

By Andrew
April 25, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

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Ahearne went on record at the end of S1 as saying that he didn't like spending so many months in Cardiff, so wouldn't be returning to the series. It's a plausible line, as one of the factors behind Euros Lyn doing so much Who work is that he lives just down the road.

By Julian Hazeldine
April 25, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

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The biggest problem I have is the man turning into the Ood near the end. Unless all Oods are transformed humans there is absolutely no logic to him looking exactly like the others. Also I don't know why they would need him to turn into one and take such pains to do so. It's hardly poetic justice when they're all on the verge of becoming free. I don't understand how the lobotomised ones are free, either.

All in all I'd say three stars for this, with 2.5 stars for the first episode and 3.5 for the second. Still waiting for the Human Nature of this series.

By J Clark
April 25, 2008 @ 6:42 pm

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I liked it, all said and done. I don't think it was as good as "Fire of Pompeii" but still an easy 3-star ep for me.

One thing that did bother me is that, despite the excellent CGI long-shots, the Oodsphere looked a bit wrong close-up because we could see grass under the snowflakes which contradicted the long-shots which made it look more like a rocky artic-like wasteland. The fact that it was supposedly freezing-cold and that there was no frosted breath also looked a bit off: is CGI frosty-breath too hard to do well or did they just miss this? The "I was a goodie all along!" reveal towards the end was a bit weak too and lacked impact due to the episode's 45-minute runtime which didn't allow the character "sink in" enough removing any supposed shock-value.

On the plus side I loved Tim McInnery's villain. I've seen him compared to Roger Lloyd-Pack's Lumic in the rubbish Cyberman two-parter from 2006 which I don't agree with as Lumic was a hammy villain and I thought McInnery's character was played more seriously and with rather more of a human side (the nervousness and the hair tonic were nice touches). I also have to commend his transformation which I think is the most gruesome thing that's been shown on Who since Kane's face melting in "Dragonfire". It would have had me hiding behind my hands back in the '80s which is exactly as it should be. I also have to commend the CGI especially the long shots of the Oodsphere, McInnery's excellent spaceship (although the engines were a bit poor) and the much-praised claw. I also liked the creepy music that they used in the second half of the episode which I think was supposed to represent the Ood's song and I thought the plight of the Ood (one of the best new Who monsters) was well-handled. Another thing I liked was the moral complexity of the Ood company saleswoman who clearly understood the moral position the Doctor was coming from but still sided with the "bad guys" when push came to shove. I like that sort of moral complexity in characters, similar to the Doctor's decision to destory Pompeii last week.

By Zagrebo
April 25, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

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> is CGI frosty-breath too hard to do well or did they just miss this?

Certainly too expensive, I'd have thought...

By Andrew
April 25, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

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Yes, the reason Ahearne hasn't done any more Who is because he didn't like having to live in Cardiff for so much of the year (I don't know if that was "not liking Cardiff", or "not liking being away from London for so long", mind). I have that on good authority (cos, er, I've met him a couple of times, I work with his partner), as I have the fact that he's a massive Who geek and I'm sure that if it was shot in London he'd love to work on it some more. Shame, as he did some great work in series one - best regeneration ever, perhaps?

By Seb
April 25, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

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> it’s hard not to think of Doctor Zoidberg, for example;

Zoidberg's head looks almost exactly like that of an Ood in some of the early concept art.

However instead of thinking "Ood == Zoidberg", I tend to think "Zoidberg == God Warrior", which is probably a little bit more worrying.

By Jeffrey Lee
April 28, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

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I find it hard to understand why so many people dislike the claw chase scene. Just for a moment - the big enemy is not the ood, but the moronic Mr Kess. Watching the Doctor run while Mr Kess is laughing his head off… I find that really hillarious! Mr Kess is very funny - if he wanted to kill the Doctor by the practical way, he would have shot him. But instead, he chose for the enjoyable way. Just like I would do!

I enjoy myself by seeing Roger Griffiths portraying an idiot, and i watch this scene over and over again. So sue me.

By Matthew
August 08, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

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