Thursday, July 02, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 2x09: "The Satan Pit"

Written by Matt Jones
Directed by James Strong

The Beast: “Is that your religion?”
The Doctor: “That’s my belief.”

Is this one of the most water cooler episodes of the new Doctor Who so far this season? Not exactly what you would expect from a Saturday teatime slot but you know what – this is a good thing.

For all the negative people out there who have moaned about this series playing safe, here is some truly spectacular evidence to contradict that statement. After this episode any “safe” and “cosy” statements should be dismissed.

The opening ten minutes of the episode are somewhat slow as they mainly involve chase sequences with the Ood looking sinister but doing little else. There’s also an ongoing debate about using Strategy 9 that could’ve been dealt with better as well as The Doctor and Ida discovering a chasm on the planet they are currently trapped on.

Thankfully for everyone watching (instead of being consumed by World Cup fever), the first ten minutes are the least interesting and therefore everything else that follows is. This episode dedicates its time in ensuring that character development and wonderful moments are given to those trapped on the ship and those trapped on the mysterious planet but before I go into that, how about dealing with the biggest notion of the hour at hand – religion, shall we?

With an episode entitled “The Satan Pit”, the debate on religion is always going to be a hot one and this definitely delivered on that score. To be honest my own religious views are somewhat contradictory. I acknowledge the existence of God and I’m open to the ideas of heaven and hell but I’m more inclined to avoid going to church, unless forced to and I don’t pray now like I was expected to at a younger age.

Given how Ida was describing her faith as such to The Doctor, I’d say the both of us were pretty similar in our attitudes toward religion. Are you a bad person for not having a faith or questioning other people’s beliefs? Of course not and this episode’s more balanced approach to the thorny subject is to be commended.

Also a bit like myself, The Doctor is good at contradictions (I’m a Gemini, so what’s his excuse?). He is open to the idea of things existing beyond time but when The Beast tells him during a confrontation where he plays on everyone’s fears that he existed before time, The Doctor has a hard time taking in this.

So it’s great that while being trapped with Ida and having various personal conversations with her that he discloses his reservations and fears over what he can, does and probably should believe in. As characters go, Ida continued to impress and her pairing with The Doctor for the majority of this episode was a good choice on the writer’s plot.

Although it was Rose taking charge of Sanctuary 6 and designating various tasks and assignments to crew members in order to try and stop the Ood that had more of an effect for me this week. Anytime Rose is assertive (even if she fails) is a good thing in my book and she really outdone herself here.

Even though she was royally spooked by a nasty prediction from The Beast, Rose took in The Doctor’s advice on him playing with human fear and used that to get everyone pro-active. The Doctor wasn’t on the ship and had his own problems to deal with and Zach and his crew were in an emotionally bad state to be effective until Rose gave them what for.

When it came to pushing buttons, we really should commend Russell and his writing staff as well as Billie Piper. Gone are the days when assistants can be feeble and dependant on the Time Lord and while Rose is a good assistant, she’s isn’t exactly a bad leader either.

It was her who got Daniel to figure out a way to stop the Ood by getting to a transmitter which could disrupt their telepathy and kill them and it was her who got Zach to push all the right buttons to help everyone out, despite the fact that at one point Rose, Toby and Daniel were trapped in a ventilation shaft with Ood members surrounding them at both sides. I don’t blame Daniel for his sudden attack of claustrophobia, although I did it funny that whenever he seemed to panic, Toby followed suit.

Of course the disadvantage of any war means that casualties aren’t far behind and this episode had many a dire moment. We had a few moments where I thought that Zach was going to be a goner and we had a really poignant and discussion worthy death sequence for Jefferson, whose sacrifice is both heroic and sad at the same. I had found Jefferson only okay last week but he endeared himself in this episode and his and Zach’s speech delivered a neat complexity to proceedings. Jefferson was a loyal soldier to the very end. We also had a fadeout death sequence for Ida at one point and another crew death but not before a major setback for The Doctor and Rose.

The Doctor is always a risk taking sort of guy but even he knows that he can only get away with a certain amount. This fact doesn’t stop him from prohibiting Ida from descending down that scary chasm, so he does it instead. The allusion of The Doctor falling into the chasm is well played as Ida painfully tells Rose that he’s dead and even though I knew he wasn’t really, it actually felt like he was. Rose’s staunch refusal to believe her Doctor was gone gave Piper her best dramatic scenes since “The Parting Of The Ways” (not that any of her performances this season have disappointed, it’s just this one moment really excelled).

Zach was pretty sympathetic in his approach to Rose’s feelings in the matter and although he doesn’t know her well, he did know the only way he could get on a rocket with himself, Toby and Daniel and off Sanctuary 6 was to drug her. It was an extreme thing to do but under the circumstances, it’s understandable why he did it. Then again there hasn’t been a single thing in this two part adventure that Zach has either said or done that has seriously annoyed so I’m not going to start complaining about him, mainly because all of his actions have had good reasons behind them.

Getting onto that rocket in order to avoid being sucked into a black hole was going to be harder than expected as even when Rose gains consciousness she questions why The Beast let them go free. Ah but he didn’t and it’s a good job somebody was suspicious of that fact.

The Beast on Doctor Who has made for great television. I knew that Toby wasn’t exactly out of the woods as a vessel for what is essentially an idea but at the time when Jefferson tried to have Toby restrained, I did think he was overreacting a little. Rose didn’t suspect anything wrong with Toby and neither did Daniel or Zach and none of these three are what I would label stupid.

Hats off to Will Thorp for giving us a deeply ambiguous performance until the very moment we learned that Toby was still in league with The Beast. This helped heighten a brilliant exchange The Doctor had with the body of a chained Beast in the pit in the chasm.

The Beast was definitely sinister looking with good CGI used for his physical side and while once again, The Doctor was in the position of placing Rose in danger over the greater good, I knew The Doctor would find a way. You may not be able to truly kill an idea but you can certainly kick it into touch as Rose has a possessed thrown out of the rocket and The Doctor smashes up the urns in the pit, thereby stopping the rocket from being taken in by the black hole. Looks like The Beast’s great comeback is going to be halted for a while more.

The episode’s denouement is a light turn around, compared to the heavy and dramatic overtone in proceedings but you would be completely heartless if you aren’t touched by the reunion between The Doctor and Rose and the remaining survivors of Sanctuary 6 (Ida, Daniel and Zach) flying off into space, probably searching for more “should be” dead planets.

Also in “The Satan Pit”

Deaths: John Jefferson PKD and Tobius Zed 43.KI. Jefferson had asked Zach to cut off the oxygen to let Rose and company escape the Ood while Toby died as a result of The Beast’s (temporary) defeat.

Zach: “What do you want?”
The Beast: “You will all die.”

Did anyone else think that The Beast resembled Tim Curry’s character in the film Legend?

Rose (re the Ood): “You need to stop them or get out or both.”
Daniel: “I’ll take both.”

Toby (leering): “Could be worse.”
Rose: “Oi.”

The Beast mentioned Jefferson’s dark secret regarding his wife (no, we didn’t learn what it was), Zach’s fear of being a leader, Ida having father issues, Daniel being a liar, Toby’s virginity as well as Rose dying. Something you would like to tell us, Russell?

The Doctor (to Ida): “It’s not the urge to jump. It’s deeper than that. It’s the urge to fall.”

Ida: “I don’t want to die on my own.”
The Doctor: “I know.”

Torchwood mention this week: Sanctuary 6 is a division of them in some way. Am I the only one who wants to see Zach, Ida and Daniel in the upcoming spin-off?

Zach (re The Doctor): “I’m sorry, he’s dead.”
Rose: “You don’t know him, he’s not.”

The Doctor (to The Beast, re Rose): “If there’s one thing, just one thing I believe in, it’s her.”

With the talk of religion this week, it’s funny given how we had 666 on Tuesday this month and the fact my boss sent me a link to a website that challenges passages of the bible. The Site is called Evil Bible no less.

Toby/The Beast: “Nothing can destroy me, nothing.”
Rose: “Go to hell.”

Rose (re The Beast): “It said I was gonna die in battle.”
The Doctor: “Then it lied.”

Standout music: The score music this week very nearly brought a tear to my eye, it was that good.

After an excellent start to this two part adventure, “The Satan Pit” is a wonderful conclusion to an emotionally charged and discussion worthy tale. This season has consistently been pushing the buttons and acting as a social commentary to certain government/clerical/worldwide events and as a result, the storylines have gotten better and better this year. May the good work continue.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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