Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 10.3
We usually restrict the Doctor Who reviews to one a week, but with the deadline for the 50th Anniversary looming it’s time to step up the game. Expect some extra Doctor in the coming weeks!
The Idiot’s Lantern
After the fairly heavy emotional impact of the Cyberman double feature this episode takes a lighter approach. The Doctor plans on taking Rose to see a live performance by Elvis but instead lands the TARDIS in London by accident. Instead deciding to take in the Queen’s coronation, but notice that the rooftops of London are covered with an unusually large number of television antennas. The plot thickens when they also spy people being taken from their homes with sheets over their heads by government agents.
While posing as government inspectors to investigate the Doctor and Rose meet a family whose grandmother’s face has disappeared and now has a featureless blank. This strange affliction is spreading and those affected have been rounded up and hidden by the agents. Everything points to a local TV merchant named Mr. Magpie, who is being held in the thrall of ‘the Wire’. This alien has been reduced to an electrical form and is hiding within the broadcast network, using televisions to steal people’s consciousness to form its own body.
A fairly straight-forward Doctor Who premise, but lacking a spark. Combining historical events with mystery, subterfuge and technophobia is all the good ingredients that make up a good story but they don’t gel together here. The villain isn’t quite threatening enough, especially as they’re restricted to being inside a television set, and the removal of Rose from the action does ramp up the tension but it means a finale that involves the Doctor climbing a tower by himself. Not the best of the series.
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
After a brief reprieve from the unspeakable horrors of the Cybermen we’re back with another double episode and an even more unspeakable horror (the title gives it away). The TARDIS arrives in a deep space base (which is quite unmistakably the Red Dwarf) and are immediately confronted by strange, tentacle-faced creatures. These are revealed to be the Ood, a race of servents who work for the human crew. The crew of the base are in a rather unusual situation, as the planet the base is on is trapped inside a gravity funnel, keeping it safe from the black hole in the vicinity. They are attempting to drill to the planet core to understand what force is keeping them from being drawn into the black hole.
Although the Doctor is fascinated by the circumstances they find themselves and the crews desire to seek answers an evil presence begins to be felt. A quake causes the TARDIS to fall deep into the planet, trapping the Doctor and Rose. The Ood begins repeating terrifying messages about the ‘Beast’ through their translators and one of the human crew undergo a demonic possession. With people turning up dead and the Ood showing violently dangerous behaviour the Doctor volunteers to travel into the centre of the planet to find the source of the strange power.
Along with the science officer the Doctor becomes stranded at the bottom of the pit where they pass through a giant, heavy gate. In the pit the ‘Beast’ communicates with the Doctor psychically, telling him that he’s the source of evil across all cultures, and the Doctor finds cave paintings depicting the Beast being trapped inside the planet. At the end of it all are two jars on pedestals and none other than Satan himself. He learns that the planet is a prison for the Beast, as if he broke free the planet would tip into the black hole. He also finds that the Beast’s consciousness has already escaped and only his physical form remains here, and the Doctor choices to break the gravity funnel and let the planet die. Finding the TARDIS in the cavern allows him to save himself and the crew of the base before they are all destroyed.
Saying that this story deals with some big ideas is putting it pretty mildly. The Doctor has confronted many famous figures from throughout history and built his own collections of villains, but tackling Satan is still a momentous event. Reducing it to a battle of wits is certainly the beast way to handle the event, and the Doctor does not disappoint as he throws a few taunts the demon’s way as he makes his escape. The introduction of the Ood is also a good move, as the notion of a race of creatures that delight in servitude raises many implications. Their design comes in good use when the demonic possession hits, and it’s little wonder that they became a series staple.
Although it is certainly not essential is a story this big, the human cast are well developed. Captain Zach is a break from the usual types found in this role, and the unsteady dynamic between the crewmembers is believable. There is a genuine sense of dread at many points in the story including when Toby is seen standing on the surface of the planet and the Doctor choices to cut the rope suspending him above the pit. Although it does occasionally feel forcibly padded to make up the movie length running time this is still a great couple of episodes.
Love and Monsters
After his tangle with the greatest evil in the universe the Doctor surprisingly takes a back seat for the next episode. The story instead focuses on London resident Elton, a rather dorky young man whose life has intersected with the Doctors in a number of ways. The story takes the form of a video dairy by Elton that recounts his experiences with the Doctor and a group of like minded individuals with whom he forms a close bond. Having first seen the Doctor as a child in his own home Elton has spend much of his life trying to solve the mystery of this mysterious character and his blue box that has turned up time and time again.
The main thrust of the story concerns Elton and some others he meets online forming a detective agency to tell stories about Doctor encounters. Over time we see that the focus of the group changes from locating the truth about the Doctor to one of friendship and support. Elton finds himself feeling accepted by his friends until Victor Kennedy arrives on the scene, taking control of the group and forcing them to chase up any lead to the Doctor. This also leads to Elton becoming friends with Rose’s mother Jackie although he originally intended to use her for information.
During this time various members of his detective club begin going missing. Eventually Elton and his love interest Ursula (Moaning Myrtle of all people) discover that Victor is actually an alien known as the Abzorbalaff, who absorbs people into his body through touch. Fortunately Jackie discovered Elton’s intentions and Rose arrives in the TARDIS to confront Elton about upsetting her mother, leading the Doctor to confront the Abzorbalaff.
It’s always going to feel a bit of a rip-off when the main character of the show is relegated to the bench for an episode, but there’s no denying that it sometimes leads to good things. This episode is a bit hit and miss. The weaving of Elton through the Doctor’s timeline is done effectively and it’s a shame that the original plan to include events from the early seasons didn’t get slotted in. Elton is not exactly the hero type but the emotional crux of the episode, revealed with the truth about why the Doctor was in his house years earlier, creates a powerful finale. The Abzorbalaff is not the most dignified villain of all time, and is downright annoying. It feels mean saying that I don’t like the creature because he was designed by a nine year old but it does make it difficult to take thing seriously.