This week, Doctor Who looked back at its history, both in terms of some plot elements and the overall tone and style of the story – and I don’t really think that’s a bad thing.
Quick Summary: The Doctor sets the TARDIS to “random,” which just happens to take them to the Oodsphere, ancestral homeworld of the Ood, the servitor race in the 42nd century to the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire. But all is not right on the Oodsphere, and the Doctor finds himself at odds with Lord Percy – err, Tim McKinnery, balding corporate Ood-verlord.
Story: This episode has three different obvious “looks back” at previous episodes, both from the current and “classic” series. Here they are:
1. The Oodsphere is in the same area of space as the Sensespehere from the classic Hartnell episode The Sensorites. That’s TWO Hartnell story references in back to back episodes! It makes real sense, too, as the Sensorites were another telepathic race – in the classic episode, they were able to communicate with Susan telepathically, so it only makes “sense” (ha!) that the Doctor can tune in to the Ood frequency as well.
2. Obviously the Ood themselves were introduced in the “new” 2nd season story The Impossible Planet, where they provided a satisfactorily creepy Lovecraftian presence in a truly moody episode. They were tragic figures then, and they’re truly pitiful in the context of their own homeworld – now essentially nothing but a freezing production facility.
3. Most importantly but least obvious, this entire episode owes itself to many, many classic Doctor Who episodes where the Doctor arrives in the middle of a situation and finds himself fighting “the man” that is keeping his homeys down. This goes back to episodes like Galaxy Four, and practically every other episode of the Pertwee years, where the Doctor was as much an anti-establishment figure as he was an adventurer.
So these three elements come together in the modern-day story of the Ood and their corporate owners/breeders. While the conceit of bringing the Doctor “randomly” into the thick of an uprising is nothing new (fans like me tend to conjecture that the TARDIS does not ever operate “randomly”), once the Doctor arrives it is actually fairly straightforward fare. Find the downtrodden, make contact with the enemy, discover the deep dark secret and save the day. Doctor Who Story-Writing 121, which doesn’t mean it’s “bad,” just predictable.
Characterization: I really like David Tennant. His righteous indignation doesn’t have the level of Tom Baker’s bravado, but he almost foamed at the mouth when acting defiant to the corporate security types in the Ood-house. His interactions with Donna are becoming easier and easier, and there is a sense of shared wonder that is expressed at the beginning of the story that goes a small way toward explaining why the Doctor is allowing Donna to accompany him at all.
Donna gets a taste of the future in this episode, and it seems to be pretty bitter. Her portrayal continues to tone down the shrill factor a little in every episode, while still keeping her fairly well-grounded in the original character of a somewhat “fabulous” modern woman. It is to her credit that the cringe-inducing humorous element for this story did not come from Donna, but from alternative translation spheres for the Ood that can provide different types of speech. To be honest, the female sounding Ood was probably the scariest thing about the entire episode.
Effects: I mentioned them last time, but they’re less critical this week. The landscape shots showing the snowy mountains – especially including the TARDIS – were very nice, but there is a rocket flyover toward the beginning that just didn’t look right to me. Most of the episode actually takes place in and between warehouses, so I’m wondering if they just sprinkled powdered laundry soap on a Torchwood set.
Overall: I enjoyed Planet of the Ood – not as much as Fires of Pompeii, but probably as much as Partners in Crime. While the story was pretty predictable, there was enough there to make the episode not really feel like it was sagging too much at any point. There’s also another moment of Dark Foreshadowing, so you can check that box off on your weekly scoring tally.
Next week – Martha, UNIT and the Sontarans. Our magical mystery history tour of the Doctor Who mythos continues!