The Daemons
The Impossible Planet
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
The Satan Pit

Story No. 183 The beast is awoken!
Production Code Series Two Episode Nine
Dates June 10 2006

With David Tennant, Billie Piper
Written by Matt Jones Directed by James Strong
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: The Beast is awoken.


Letdown... by Joe Ford 6/7/06

What an utter disappointment considering the first episode of this story was one of the best of the year so far. It seems unfair to compare, but the two parter which took part at roughly the same place last year had a far superior conclusion, one which complemented, built on and satisfied its opening instalment. The Satan Pit is pretty much a load of action with no answers at all. Now I'm all for excitement in my story but I feel it should be genuinely well thought-through too and this is a level of sloppiness I am not accustomed to with the new series.

Someone actually accused this story of having too much talk! There was talk but all it really concerned was the Doctor's faith, which was never really specified or explored, just skirted around. The rest of the episode was spent watching the survivors trying to escape the Ood, the Beast and the Black Hole. There is a list a mile long of opportunities that were wasted...

  1. The psychological angle, hinted at in The Impossible Planet, was entirely absent. I thought the Beast was going to pick the Doctor and his adventures to pieces, to make him feel desperate and worthless to a point where maybe he would give up his own life. And the crew, the start of this episode hints at things these people have in their pasts that could be exploited for great psychological horror but it is all promptly forgotten. The only thing these people have to do to get away is run fast. Hardly a challenge.
  2. The civilisation the team were looking for. They find where they used to live but we find out nothing about them, who they were, why they were here, why they chained up the Beast, why the writing was so impossibly old, etc. It is just weak scripting opening up all of these mysteries and failing to answer a single one of them. I realise ambiguity can be intriguing but not when you place so much attention on certain areas of the plot in the first episode you expect some explanation in the concluding part.
  3. The Beast. Who the hell was he? Why was he trapped down there? What had he done that was terrible? Now this was at least deliberately not answered and specified in the script but it's still annoying. Is it because we are due a re-match with this nasty? Or is it because the writer did not have the imagination to think up a decent answer?
  4. The Ood were such a great idea but we never discover where they come from, if they really do enjoy being a slave race, if they have a culture of their own. They just become bog-standard Doctor Who monsters that threaten and chase and kill but we never learn if there is anything more to them. What's worse, the climax is considered a victory despite the fact that they are mass slaughtered.
I don't want it to sound as though I thought the entire episode was a load of pants because clearly this was tense, well-directed stuff but there is nothing more frustrating than a story suggesting great potential and then failing to live up to it. That particular foible of mine comes from reading the books which were generally well-written and presented but when one wasn't... hoo boy it would feel the sharp edge of my tongue! Surely the writer, the director, the script-editor and producer realised that this script needed another re-draft before it was shot?

I never thought I would here myself say this but it needed to be less like old Doctor Who and more like the new style that Russell T Davies has brewed up. There is a chase through ventilation tunnels (name your story), descent into a dark pit (Planet of Evil), the companion taking on a Ripley-esque role of encouraging the men to get moving (Leela, Ace), the Doctor facing the Devil (The Daemons)... I don't mean to rip into the old series but these are cliches that can be attached to new episodes but should never be the focal point of the episode themselves.

Writer Matt Jones should have his wrist slapped for introducing so many intriguing concepts in his brilliant first episode and not following through with satisfactory answers in this one. This is fast-paced, on-the-move action but at the end of the day by skipping over the answers with violence you run the risk of turning Doctor Who into the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, all balls and no brains. The production of this episode cannot be faulted; the script however lacks focus and even fails to give the actors the opportunities they had in The Impossible Planet.

The realisation of the Beast is probably the highlight of this episode and one of the more stunning CGI creations the Mill have yet created. It is with imagination like this that Doctor Who usually thrives and if the imagination is not in the script it is good to see that the special effects go some way to compensating. What a terrifying, slavering creature this is; a shame all we see it do is growl and snarl and strain at its bonds. It might look terrifying but it never really does anything terrifying.

Billie Piper seems to be in permanent smug mode in this episode, she sort of only seems to half be taking the job seriously and it is really the first time I could ever say she gave a lazy performance. Rose gets a decent chunk of the action in this story but she never seems to be that afraid of what is going on which sort of blunts it a bit for the audience. David Tennant on the other hand is sidelined more than any other episode and his more contemplative moments do reveal a much calmer, more thoughtful side to his Doctor, but in the middle of the episode he vanishes for what is probably a ten-minute stretch.

I don't want to go on because I feel as if I have moaned too much for what is a simple action-adventure episode. That was my biggest issue with this one, that it had the potential to be so much more. The Satan Pit tries hard to be a thoughtful episode but the constant chasing around prevents any kind of intelligent discussion. At the end of the day it is an okay piece of action television but an under-average episode of Doctor Who. As a whole this really does remind me of the New Adventures, full of potential and great ideas but ultimately lacking the skill to pull of a decent story.

Where Time Lords fear to tread by Steve Cassidy 18/12/06

The concluding installment is just as good as it predessor: it's a wickedly successful sci-fi adventure.

This one has more meat on the bone. A philosphical argument about the existance of religion spiced with a good old base-under-siege story featuring characters we care about. An epic story where everything is impossible: the existance and imprisonment of Satan, the planet in orbit around a black hole and the Doctor questioning his own beliefs. In short, this adventure is a good conclusion to the previous episode and an excellent standalone adventure in its own right. Oh, and I nearly forgot: without doubt the best SFX creation in the history of the programme.

And it is this image of Satan/Lucifer, tearing against his chains at the core of the planet, which is the overall memory of The Satan Pit. The mix of matte and CGI is a fantastic image; the 'horned one' looks impressive as he towers over the Doctor and rages against his imprisonment. It took two episodes to get down there, plus numerous deaths, so there had to be something pretty impressive at the core of this planet. And to have the ram-horned physical presence of evil was a premise very worthy of Who. There was something very Tolkienesque about the whole sequence. Not just the gigantic cavern featuring the entrance to the pit but the devil looked solid and lifelike. As accurate as the Balrog in 'The Fellowship of the Ring' and just as terrifying to young children. Who adventures need strong imagery and this vies with the Ood as the strongest memories of The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit.

This also allows the Doctor to pontificate on the nature of religion. The Doctor is a rationalist and a scientist. He has no truck with religion. I would have thought if you asked the Doctor about the existence of the devil he would have shrugged and said "superstitious rubbish", like he used to do with Leela. But we are presented with a Doctor whose rationalism is thrown into question. Many would argue that the Doctor has always maintained the need for rational and scientific explanations for particular phenomena (The Daemons being a prime example of this). What this story was trying to argue was that when confronted with an evil that "doesn't fit my rules" then he's actually willing to be proved wrong. He is open to other interpretations when he doesn't have the knowledge: "for once in my life... retreat". He takes a symbolic view because it is a view that embraces the old cosmology and it is just as relevant to understanding life's experiences as rational thought is. He still maintains his belief in the rising and setting of the sun as something that can be explained scientifically but he also now sees it as a phenomena that can have a symbolic reference in reality. Hence, evil is discussed as an idea, as a symbol of the unconscious that can be passed on from mind to mind.

I found that a very interesting hypothesis and this raises The Satan Pit up into the upper echelons of the series for me (with only The Girl in the Fireplace being so thought-provoking). Plus it looks fantastic: I've already mentioned the Tolkienesque bottom of the pit. But the production design all round is excellent: I love the juddering boulders bouncing like rice in a sieve as the planet starts to shudder, I love the blinking eyes on the masks of the Ood as they watch their masters, and the cgi rocket at the end was worthy of a feature film. Matched by Murray Gold's music which has a Corngold quality, or - dare I say it? - John Williams.

I had warmed to the ensemble cast in The Impossible Planet and they did good work here. Ronny Jhutti as Danny to me was the standout. As well as being very photogenic, the actor gave him such energy that you were rooting for him to live at the end (and the poor bugger was the recipient of an RTD fart line). And so with Claire Rushbrook as Ida Scott. To me, this was an utterly convincing character. The Doctor and Rose were tolerated because he may have the key to what they were drilling for. She was genuinely interested at what was at the bottom of the pit. Her conversations with the Doctor about the existance of the devil and religion as he abseiled down were so thought-provoking. And her bleak death, lonely and abandoned by her colleagues at the centre of the planet was heartwrenching. Bleakness, loneliness and darkness seemed to permeate every inch of this adventure.

The regulars work well. RTD/Matt Jones writes Rose Tyler as little Miss Capable. But there is one hilarious sequence in the ventilation shaft. They are all scrabbling away from the Ood with Danny in front. Rose tries to be witty about Danny's moving posterior by saying "the view's not good from where I am Danny..." Only to have the virgin Toby behind her say "you should be where I am..." as he contemplates his view of her. Her squeak of hypocritical indignation had me chuckling. And Tennant? His confrontation with Satan/Lucifer was acted against a green screen so in that respect he does well. Then he unsettles the performance with a "forced zaniness". His quieter scenes as he was being lowered into the pit were perfect but I found the acting in the confrontation with the Beast was often over-wrought and clumsy. I become too conscious that he is "acting" and this often pulls me out of the moment. But his conversations with Ida Scott where he is willing to question his beliefs were spot on and very Doctorish.

James Strong directs this one with verve. A chase through the ventilation shafts is damned as a sci-fi cliche by the generation who saw The Ark in Space the first time around. A new generation enjoys them and Jefferson gets a terrifc death scene. They may have escaped the RTD edit because the crew's reaction to his sacrifice is so low key and authentic that I had to rewind it to make sure I was hearing what I did. The whole thing moves towards a terrific climax with whole worlds being swallowed. But it was the small stuff which impressed me about The Satan Pit. The philosphical subtext if you like. For me, the Doctor and Ida are actually asking each other about how they need to rely on great trust as well as great scepticism when they try to reach out into the unknown. The entire story is basically how humanity searches out for the unknown with huge leaps of faith. The Doctor's 'Where angels fear to tread' line emobdies this. He realises all he has left is a fall into the pit, which is the most pronounced outcome of this debate. This is against Rose's very real fear of a Satan or the Devil as traditionally described throughout the centuries and perpetuated through myth and story. It is a primal fear and a heritage that the Beast exploits in all of us.

Just a thought. Davison had his Androzani, Colin had his Revelation, McCoy had his Fenric and Eccles, bless 'im, had his The Empty Child/Doctor Dances. In Impossible Planet/Satan Pit, Tennant gets his first classic. And without doubt my favourite adventure of the lauded season 2.

Well done!