In brief: Solid storytelling.
In-depth: Okay. Now this is a curious little Doctor Who tale.
I simply can’t fault how beautiful this episode looked; the CGI effects of the snow covered planet, the interior and exterior designs of the Oodsphere complex”¦ it was an alien planet that looked and felt like an alien planet! The design team here did some fantastic work.
Back to the story though, as it transpires, the Ood were a docile race that humans found and decided to take of; to educate as one character within the episode calls it. We know something has gone wrong though from the opening scene where one of the humans running the Ood servants company is murdered by the Ood who serves him. One who has a familiar looking red colour to his eye”¦ The Doctor and Donna arrive and quickly the Doctor determines that the Ood are somehow being controlled by an outside force again ““ it simply isn’t in their nature to kill.
And so the story takes off from there as they attempt to investigate what is happening. (yes, very vague, I know, but I do like people to be surprised).
There’s actually a good story being told here. I wouldn’t say that the Ood were in need of a follow up story after Season 2’s “˜The Impossible Planet’ and “˜The Satan Pit’ two parter, but it is most assuredly a well done affair. We delve deeper into the actual background of the Ood in general, find out exactly how a species can evolve to just serve”¦ as Donna wisely points out, in not so many words, they can’t have been born with translators surely”¦
The answer to that particular thought is a rather dark one in regards to exactly how they do end up with those translators. In fact, on the whole this episode dealt with some rather strong themes; imprisonment, slavery”¦ and it even evokes a sure sense of concentration camps. Once again, Donna is a our human social commentator, that is of course the role of the human companion, to the Doctors’ rather sage, and occasionally bitter judge. I do enjoy how Donna calls him on it though.
I do wonder if perhaps some of the commentary was put across a little too strongly however. Okay. We get that it’s not fair the Ood aren’t free. Yep. Now they’re being whipped if they fall over in the freezing cold. Oh and now they’re being boxed into crates and sent off all around the three galaxies. Yes. We get it. This is wrong. Now please stop trying to bang me over the head in much the same way someone tries to bang the Doctor over the head with a large metal claw.
Speaking of that claw, that sequence was without as much urgency as it could have had. It’s probably a combination of several factors; the story has plodded along at a nice slow pace, revealing bits and pieces of the puzzle, some nice characters moments, and then suddenly you have the Doctor hurtling through this warehouse full of large shipping crates whilst being chased by a huge metallic lifting mechanism, for, lets face it, no apparent reason! The guards hunting the Doctor are called off by the head guard, just so that he gets to play “˜Grab-The-Doctor’ with the claw. It’s by no means a badly shot scene, it just seems misplaced, and the way that it’s written, superfluous, and that could easily have been fixed with a small line of dialogue, even if it’s just to say they can’t find him on foot”¦
I digress. The eventual revelation (halfway through the episode) about the Ood’s true nature, and their evolution, is a rather surprising one, and even then the truth isn’t completely told. But it’s oddly affecting when the Doctor and Donna find natural born Ood with no translators but something else to hold. Something very precious. And the Doctor can hear what they’re singing through their telepathic connection which he briefly enables Donna to hear before it becomes too hard for her to listen anymore. A single tear streaks down her cheek. And she wants to go home, the universe, the nature of humanity, isn’t something she likes just then.
The villain of the piece, Mr Halpen, is another curious customer. He’s not one dimensional, although he does stand on that precipice, efforts are made to try and get us inside his head and he’s played with enough quirk that you can come to some sort of connection with him, but his character arc just seems off. Exactly how did he come to think so little of the Ood in general? Was it just bit by bit? Year after year? The final resolution to his character, while anyone can probably see something coming in regards to how he is “˜resolved’, I don’t think anyone could have seen exactly what happened. I’m still struggling with it myself; it just seemed to come from very left field even if does make a very strong sense of ironic justice.
The small moments between Donna and the Doctor are fast becoming my favourite parts of the episodes. There’s a very good casual banter going on between them here; in part because Donna isn’t afraid to give back as good as she gets. And she’s a very human character, in the sense that she reacts strongly to these events going on around her and she is easily accessible for us as we share her wonder, her grief, and her indignation. That whole scene just after the opening credits where the Doctor and her are alone in TARDIS as it ends up on some random alien world ““ look at her face. Look at his face. There’s shared joy here and it’s fun to behold.
All of that taken together, there’s a lot about this episode to like. It tackles some good themes, shows some spectacular effects, and has good characters moments. But something just seemed to be missing. Perhaps the best word I can pin it down under is “˜fun’. The first two episodes, despite the first being fluff and the second serious, there was a certain sense of fun with the two adventures, and barring the brief moments in the TARDIS, that fun seemed to be missing from the episode for me. But then maybe that’s a good thing. If there had been too much fun, it would have lessened the impact the story was trying to tell.
It certainly was not a badly told story. And it wasn’t even the one I was expecting. But for whatever inexplicable reason, the story just didn’t come together for me.
I’m going to give it 3 and a half time-vortexes. The 3 simply because it was a good story, even if I couldn’t quite get involved in it.
And the other half? All because of one line.
“Your song should come to an end.” Cue the Doomsday theme”¦