The Doctor Who Project: At the behest of TVAngie (and many, many of my students), I’ve been catching up on the 2005 revision of Doctor Who. I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the big episodes as I make my way up through the series. Last week I tackled ‘Blink’ – which was a series high point – so it’s a little ironic that I’m following that up with one of the weaker episodes in recent seasons: 4×03’s ‘Planet Of The Ood’. Or as I’ve subtitled it: “Why I never want to see the Ood again”.
Let’s bitch it out…
When we last saw the Ood, it was waaay back in the second season two parter, 2×08-09 ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’. Back then Billie Piper’s Rose was still kicking around, we were just starting to get comfortable with Tennant as the tenth Doctor and Satan was about to fly away from a black hole thanks to a group of mindless serfs called the Ood.
And now they’re back (from outer space?). The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) land on the Ood homeworld in the 42 century as a new corporation, creatively named The Ood Corporation, is selling off the natives as commodified worker-slaves. As far as storytelling goes, there are some fairly obvious political allegories here: the Ood are representative of another number of indigenous populations that have been conquered and sold off; their strange customs muted or – as the episode reveals – neutered.
The problem is that this is dramatically inert. It’s obvious from the moment we see the shady corporation that the Ood are being mistreated and who they are meant to represent. And then it never goes any further – the whole episode is just about discussing freedom, and exploring what’s been done to the Ood. As characters, they’re blank ciphers: they don’t have engaging personalities because they’ve been lobotomized and turned into drones. Their most interesting attribute is that their brains have been replaced by the translation bulbs and that they telepathically communicate via a giant brain in the ground. But these are just reveals – they don’t so much advance the story as they simply exist.
This could be acceptable if anything else about the episode was at all interesting, but there’s nothing beyond this simplistic idea. It’s just 44 minutes of the Doctor and Donna as they wander the grounds of the Ood Corporation and talk about how horrible it all is. At one point the Doctor even blames Donna as a member of the human race, bringing the imperialist judgment up a few more notches.
Like yeah, we get it. Got anything else to say? No? *twiddles thumbs*
Similarly, just like the Ood, the villains of the piece are dull and generic. The evil corporation – made up of Mr. Halpen (Tim McInnerny) and communications officer, Solana Mercurio (Ayesha Dharker) – is interested in making money, regardless of the dangers of sending Red Eyed Oods out into the world. Again, though, there’s nothing beyond that. Halpen is simply a money hungry CEO and Mercurio is a Yes woman who lacks a brain of her own. As a result we’re watching one-dimensional villains control a group of blank slates while Donna complains that her adventures are living up to her fantasies. Even the action – a large scale Ood attack – is so casually staged that Halpen doesn’t even run as he makes his escape; he casually strolls across the grounds with a guard or two. Another example is the laissez-faire way that Mercurio’s death is staged: it reads like an afterthought as she seemingly walks into a charged translation globe. I’m sorry but if thousands of murderous underlings were running around frying people, it would be freaking pandemonium. There’s no urgency at all, which tells me as a viewer that I shouldn’t bother making any kind of emotional investment. If they don’t care, why should I?
All in all, ‘Planet Of The Ood’ continues a disturbing trend in Doctor Who‘s fourth season, which is uninspired storytelling and a companion who thus far hasn’t contributed much to the continuing adventures of the time lord. Fingers crossed that things pick up in the future and that the Ood remain on their home planet, humming their song, never to be seen or heard from again.
- The biggest news to come out of the episode? Ood Sigma’s (Paul Kasey) ominous proclamation that the Doctor’s time is coming to an end. Clearly this is the start of Tennant’s swan song, so it’ll be interesting to watch the show build towards his exit.
- It took around four or five episodes to get used to Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones, so hopefully Tate will grow on me. We’ll see how they stack up when Martha returns next episode!