Doctor Who: Revisiting THE IMPOSSIBLE PLANET / THE SATAN PIT - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Moo is awake.
The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, the 2006 two-parter from David Tennant’s debut season, is one of those stories that seem to be well loved by fans. And that’s definitely well deserved. It has some cracking imagery, excellent performances (with Will Thorp and Gabriel Woolf as the stand-outs), and leaves just the right amount of questions unanswered to create some genuine mystery that will stick with the viewer afterwards.

Let’s put it this way: When a Doctor Who story gets less than five minutes in and the Doctor has already encountered words too ancient for the TARDIS to translate with only “welcome to hell” in block capitals readable above it, as the best new monster design yet chases him and Rose while chanting in unison, you know you’re in for a treat. Why then is this the only Doctor Who writing credit Matt Jones has? (Well, there’s this and the underrated Torchwood episode, Dead Man Walking.)
The Ood: Is this the best original monster design of the Davies era?

The plot takes full advantage of being a two-parter, using that longer runtime well. It enables lots of slower moments throughout, especially during The Impossible Planet, as the characters process the magnitude of their situation. The Doctor and Rose stranded without the TARDIS in a base on a planet that shouldn’t exist and some sort of unknowable ancient evil creeping out from below.

The tone is pitched perfectly so you really do feel how distant they are from the norm. This is certainly not your garden variety Doctor Who story. We are so far away from it. Maybe that’s why having the literal devil as the villain is able to work without breaking the usual rules of the show? I’m always nervous when a fictional series takes something from religion and presents a version of that which is changed to fit the rules of that series’s universe, but it works so well here.

The scenes as the Doctor explores the ancient civilisation below the planet’s surface and finds hints to what they believed and their culture, but can’t know the details. The scene as the group watches another planet fall into the black hole as everything there is lost forever. Even the ending as the Oods are all signed off with honours. There’s just something hauntingly beautiful about it.
All of this material works comes down primarily to the cast. They’re all excellent here, with our leads David Tennant and Billie Piper both on top form. It’s not my favourite pairing, but the two play off each other so well and the relationship between the two characters gives them a believable motivation. As the Doctor realises the way to stop the devil is to destroy what’s keeping him imprisoned, he realises doing so will risk his own death too. But he goes through with it anyway. Why? Because he believes in Rose. It’s so good to see the resolution to this kind of story based in the character dynamic that the show up to this point was developing, and following an earlier scene where they discuss settling down it feels so earned. Superb stuff!

But the star of the show is Will Thorp as Toby Zed. Going from the useless wimp early on to the embodiment of evil itself halfway through, his transformation is so well realised. The make-up department does a lot of good work there, but it’s the performance that takes the material and runs with it to create one of Doctor Who’s all-time great villain performances, and that’s up against some serious competition! His possession scene where the devil entity takes over him also deserves a mention, with the booming tones of Gabriel Woolf (perfect casting!) echoing around his lab.
The result is a story of extremely high quality that stands out as a highlight from David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit is an excellent showing for the Tenth Doctor and Rose, one that demonstrates all the strengths of the era, but also rising far above that to make it one of the best stories the show has ever broadcast.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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