Doctor Who #734: The Satan Pit

"It's not the urge to jump. It's deeper than that. It's the urge to fall!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.10 2006.

IN THIS ONE... The Devil tries to escape the Impossible Planet before it falls into a black hole.

REVIEW: Faith. Not a subject often explored on Doctor Who, so it's interesting to see it here as a background to a fight with "the Devil". In a normal Who story, god-like beings and magic invariably turn out to be ancient things from the early universe (the Daemons even get name-checked), or the previous universe (the Doctor seems to have forgotten this), when it's possible physical laws were a little gonzo (pre-Time Lords?). And the Beast is the same. But talking about Ida Scott's faith (or lack thereof), seeing Rose freak out when the Doctor refuses to confirm there's no such thing as Satan, and the meditation on his own faith give the Beast a context that makes it much more effective. It asks US what we believe. There's no mention of a Time Lord religion (though we sort of know it to be scientific rationalism mixed with ancestor worship). Instead, the Doctor's faith is in humanity. And that's a major theme here. The Doctor keeps paying tribute to our fearless (brainless?) curiosity, a trait he shares. The story is built on that concept, with a ragtag group of humans doing the impossible, even at the cost of their lives. And it's why he's so interested in us, and why he keeps bringing humans along on his voyages. His faith in Rose in particular is rewarded, in what has to be her most heroic episode ever, showing leadership without the recently usual smugness. As an extreme example of "human exploration", the Doctor and Rose themselves are "the stuff of legend", a very satisfying last line. It could have come off as smug, but no, the epic nature of the story (and the delivery) means it is merited.

The guest cast does all right. Jefferson is noble in his self-sacrifice. Ida's fear of dying alone is heart-rending. Zack is a sympathetic sort, but wins our respect by giving each of the Ood a eulogy. Toby if a creepy vessel for the Beast, going in and out of character to fill the episode with chills. And Danny, well, he poops his pants or something. They can't all be winners. In any case, the episode really belongs to the regulars. Rose remains a veteran, but is more grounded than she's been in a while, possibly because she's actually scared for once. Her emotional moments are affecting, and her working out how to stop the Ood and the Toby-Beast are well thought-out, no cheating. The Doctor dangling in the black void of the Pit, refusing to speak his love of Rose aloud. His leap of faith. His furious working out of the Beast's plans and making the most desperate of moves. It's all pretty great. He totally deserves miraculously finding the TARDIS down in the hole and his victory lap out of a black hole. The thought he spares the Ood takes the sting out of the upsetting sight of them waking up as the planet falls into the hole.

The episode is relentless, finding tension in every moment. The Doctor's reaction to waking up in a broken faceplate is a good example. The characters are under extreme stress, and so is the audience. Panic is always under the surface. Sure, some of the ventilation shaft stuff is Alien 101, but the movable air trick adds a new wrinkle that ramps up the tension, as do the feral Ood quickly crawling towards the heroes. The CG monster itself is probably the least distressing thing about The Satan Pit, but of course, it's meant to be rubbish since the bigger threat has engineered its escape from the prison. And of course, there's the prophecy that Rose will die in battle, setting us up for the season finale. That's two prophesies we have to watch out for (the other is the Face of Boe's), as predestination becomes an ever more expanding force in the New Whoniverse. Brr. All this with a strong, vibrant look and a melancholy score.

VERSIONS: The DVD has a few deleted scenes, most extending the Doctor and Ida's trek through the inside of the planet. They carry the cable to the pit entrance, play rocks-paper-scissors for who goes down, and there's dialog about a poisonous interior weather system to cover an equally deleted scene where snow comes down on the location quarry.

The TARDISode features Sanctuary Base personnel (not the ones we know) looking at the already dead captain's possessions and one of them getting messages from the Beast as a few symbols appearing on his face. It's an odd sequence that makes you wonder just how long this has been going on, how many have been lost, and whether the "Torchwood Archive" has been investigating the planet longer than we realize. Are the partial symbols a sign that the Beast hasn't yet broken through completely? And if so, why is everything such a surprise to the present base team when it starts happening to them?

REWATCHABILITY: High - A big winner, the first for Ten&Rose (at least where they don't get an assist from a former companion) with a clear theme, a fearsome villain, and exciting direction.


Jeff R. said...

So, when the entire universe was briefly destroyed at the end of season 4, the Beast totally got out of his prison, right? (As part of a previous universe, he would not have been undone himself...)

Siskoid said...

At what point do you become naturalized to our universe?

Craig Oxbrow said...

I always felt sorry for the two security guard extras who don't get names. There's only two of them!

Siskoid said...

And are such nobodies, I'm startled at their presence each time one of them dies. Like, who's that?!

Craig Oxbrow said...

Harsh! (Although fair.)

The woman may not get any lines but she does get a great Who death scream.

Siskoid said...

Nothing against these redshirts, but everyone else is set up so well, I never realize they're also on the base until it's too late (for them).

Craig Oxbrow said...

True. t did rather look like they realised they needed someone to show how the Ood death translator worked and grabbed a passing extra to sad in two scenes...

All the more reason to give the poor kids names.

Siskoid said...

Even in my old Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG, where I frequently made cards for minor characters and gave them names (usually some kind of homage), they never got a shot. I stripped this story for cards, but there were already plenty of characters on hand and weren't needed, I guess.

Let's call them Davy and Julie.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Works for me!


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