Monday, 21 April 2008

Doctor Who Series 4, Episode 3: Planet Of The Ood

If there is one thing Dr Who can do successfully, it’s repeatedly club the viewer over the head with repeated messages and characters. Seeing as the Daleks were unavailable for this episode, the writers pulled back a different set of aliens instead: the Captain Picard-apeing tentacled faces of the Ood. If you remember, the Ood appeared a while back, in a few episodes that nobody actually remembers because they were boring. Seriously, it’s hard to think of a worse alien in the history of this reinvented show than the Ood (with the possible exception of that megadalek thing, which was just wrong). The basic premise behind why the Ood exist is that they are, essentially, human slaves, and slaves = BAD. The whole point of them is to show us why we shouldn’t have slaves, and that’s all well and good until you remember that… well, we don’t actually have slaves anymore. Sigh.

The setting for the episode was on a Hoth-like ice planet where humans were processing Ood for their roles of slavery. The Doctor and Donna, after a seriously grating opening where they bicker a little inside the Tardis, land here and promptly cause trouble. From the crudely drawn opening scene, which reverts Tate quickly back to her shouty persona, almost all the humour of the episode fails miserably, from the Ood programmed with catchphrases from The Simpsons to the Doctor and Donna getting mistaken for husband and wife. The only real humour comes from the delivery of certain lines, mainly by villain of the week Tim McInnery. McInnery steals the episode effortlessly from Tennant and Tate, both of whom seem to be merely going through the motions here: Donna is shouty and overly concerned as the situation demands, while Tennant’s manic energy rapidly wears thin. As for the background characters… the real shame is that it takes most of them so long to die. There is some good work done by actor playing McInnery’s right-hand-man, but his character gets killed off for no real reason other than that it’s look interesting onscreen. Being swallowed by a giant brain? Ick!

Much of the talk this episode is about slavery, with Tate and Tennant sharing some truly awful dialogue between them about the Ood’s situation. Again, this is exactly one of the problems that has been facing Dr Who recently – the Doctor seems to have no sort of tactical mind. He has no plan for how to free the Ood, and does nothing useful throughout the episode. If The Doctor and Donna hadn’t been here, the events would have played out in the exact same order. Storytelling is a big problem with the series, as each episode generally is designed to stand alone, and an entire story has to be told in each one. This means that many things get shoehorned in for no reason – why did they lock Donna in a container with members of the Ood, for example? The scene with the crane was very well done, but why did the guard do that? The progressive points of the story simply happened as a series of set-pieces, with no reasoning put in between them. Having said this, the basic plot was simple enough, and provided a reasonably entertaining tale, if mainly for McInnery. I imagine after reading the script he realised his character was as two-dimensional as they come, and he hams it up a treat here. Watching his villain turn into an Ood was unexpected – but if you watch the episode again, there is an astonishing amount of foreshadowing going on. Sure, the idea was stolen from ‘Angel’, but when an idea is stolen so well, who cares?

One thing that disappointed me was how quickly they blitzed through the idea of aliens. Donna is meeting them for the first time here, but her shock is largely ignored as a story, in favour of more time with the Ood. The character is constantly ruined by the writing in this episode, especially in the scene where she complains that she wants to go home. Donna isn’t a teenager like the last two companions have been, she’s a grown woman, and it feels like poor writing to have her react like a child. Pointless, too, when you realise how quickly the idea is dismissed at the end. The main flaw with the episode, though, lies with the Ood. They’re just so dull. It’s damn tricky to sympathise with characters that don’t DO anything, and just the mention of the phrase “Ood breeding farms” means that I have to downgrade the episode. And despite the happy ending, I don’t see how freeing the hive brain of the Ood stops them from being slaves. They all become interconnected, yes, but the processed Ood had their brains lobotomised – how does that get reversed simply by freeing the brain? Like a lot of things here, it’s a progression that nobody questions, which leaves the viewer feeling shortchanged. Overall, the episode promised very little, and gave us roughly what we expected it would from the preview. I’m tired of seeing the same sort of thing every episode – new stories, please!

Episode Rating: D

Stray Points:

  • Shoehorned mention of the week: the missing bees.
  • The humans who run the facility know an awful lot about our time, considering it’s the year 4000 or something. How do they remember The Simpsons, or Foot and Mouth?
  • All songs have to end – huh. Will the 10th Doctor live to see the next series?
  • Line of the Week: McInnery’s pithy comeback: “Good observation, ginger” to Tate, when she exclaims he just killed someone. Hey, it was a poor episode for one-liners, okay?

Next week: The Doctor stares into the adorable face of death.


  1. OK Stephen, you are of course entitled to your opinion, but there are two points I wish to oppose.
    1. We don't have slaves any more? Like the Doctor said, "Who do you think makes your clothes?"
    2. About Donna saying she wants to go home. Donna seems loosely based on another companion, Tegan, a full grown woman constantly complaining that she wants to go home without meaning it.
    PS You are now bookmarked.

  2. David Tennant is possibly the best doctor since old Tom, and Catherine Tate is possibly the worst companion since, well, Tegan actually, now that Mad has pointed it out.

    I think the reference to who makes your clothes is perhaps a touch contrived; I admire the point they were trying to make with the episode but it was sort of crap, really.

    I find Tate's acting is dragging Tennant's down and the whole repetitive storyline is beginning to smell a little like parmesan.

  3. They should go back to splitting the episodes into serials of two and four. When it's spread out, the formulaic structure and familiar storylines are less obvious :)

  4. I think that's the plan for next week, and the week after, so we'll get the chance to find out then.

    I don't think slaves make my clothes, because otherwise they'd be of much better quality. Mine are made in England, by English immigrants.