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New Who 4.3, Planet of the Ood

Just jotting down my thoughts on this for future reference - there's very unlikely to be anything here that hasn't been said a dozen times elsewhere already, since it's taken me nearly a week to get round to writing this up.

In general - a good, solid episode. Not stand-out brilliant, but of course by definition not every episode can be. Alongside them, you also need episodes which just gently and competently move the series forward. If this represents the base-line of ordinary episodes for series 4, we're on firm ground.

Donna - still developing very nicely. She asks the right searching questions, and spots the flaws in what she sees. But she's also saved from becoming just some walking paragon of moral rectitude by her very human limitations - being thrown off guard by the first Ood she sees; wanting to go home when she realises what the 42nd-century humans area doing; knowing that she can't handle listening to any more of the Ood song. So long as that balance is maintained, and she doesn't just become the voice of 21st-century western values, she stands every chance of becoming my favourite New Who companion to date. Also, putting her in a furry hood on an ice-planet was very Romana I. Good work.

The Ood - fundamentally, I liked what this story got out of them. But, although I am no evolutionary biologist, I did find it pretty hard to suspend my disbelief about them evolving on an ice planet. We don't know what their bodies are like, since they always wear clothes, but we do know that they have large, hair-less heads, and lots of tentacles - which would have a high surface-area to volume ratio. And that, of course, is before we even get to their external brains, which were shown steaming in the icy air of the planet when the Ood opened their hands to reveal them to the Doctor. I know the brains were meant to be a plot point, explaining their peaceful nature, but still their overall appearance seems designed for body-heat loss, rather than body-heat conservation - more at home on a desert planet than an ice one, surely? But hey, that's just me being a pedant.

Speaking of pedantry - also, the guy who got swallowed up by the giant brain? I'm not sure why his story was included at all, given that it was revealed and dismissed in about two sentences. Or the bit about the Ood turning Tim McInnerny's character into one of them. Also, how did Mr. Halpen know that throwing the Friends of the Ood scientist down onto the giant brain would result in his death? Surely he'd be just as likely to bounce off and be fine? (I suppose the fanwank answer is that Mr. Halpen is so evil that he's done it before, for fun).

Wider arcs - two things stood out for me here. 1) We were given quite a lot of very specific information about the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire - viz., it's the 42nd century (4126, to be precise); the human empire extends over at least three galaxies; and Ood Operations began exploiting and breeding Ood for slavery around two hundred years previously (i.e. in the 40th century). I'm just noting all this down because the development from The Long Game to Bad Wolf, from New Earth to Gridlock and indeed from Utopia to The Last of the Time Lords shows that when we are given this much information about the future development of the human race in New Who, it tends to be because that information will come back later on.

2) Telepathy was a strong theme in this episode - both the Ood's and the Doctor's when he helps Donna to hear the song - as it had been in Fires of Pompeii between the Sibylline sisterhood, too. Obviously, it's always involved in Doctor Who, but it just seems to be bubbling up particularly strongly at the moment. I'm guessing it's likely to precipitate a major plot development later in the series - like the Doctor telepathically sensing the presence of his daughter, or using it to communicate vital information when he can't reach people any other way, or something.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
Re: the ice planet, I suppose you could argue for their having been some catastrophic global cooling of their planet hundreds or thousands of years ago, reducing a complex & sophisticated civilisation to a handful of survivors clinging on to existence: who perhaps even welcomed the original humans as saviours before they realised what was going to be taken from them in return.

But I suspect in practise it was more 'Yeah, let's make it an ice planet - that'd look really cool'
Apr. 24th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
Ooh, yeah - I like how you link that in to the arrival of the humans, too. Nice rationalisation. But you're right - RTD also said quite explicitly in the Confidential that he had always wanted to make an ice planet. Heigh-ho. ;-)
Apr. 24th, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think you've got all that about right. I'm more forgiving about the ice planet, but of course you're right scientifically. And Dr Ryder's demise (or was it assimilation) did seem rather Creature From The Pit.
Apr. 24th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC)
I thought I was just being picky about it because I'm a biochemist, but yes, the ice planet biology really did jar me too. Although I can see another justification for exposed brains, if the 'telepathy waves' don't pass very well through bone. Hence the Doctor's need to touch humans to get a strong enough connection, maybe? Not sure.
Apr. 24th, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
Ooh, that's a cool idea, too, about the exposed brains and telepathy!
Apr. 24th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
How did Mr. Halpen know that throwing the Friends of the Ood scientist down onto the giant brain would result in his death?
This was the biggest "WHAT??" moment for me, but I was more concerned for the brain. There's a suffocated man in there slowly decomposing - what is the impact of that?

I would have cared more for the scientist if he was from the Society for the Promotion of Ood Welfare, although a house-elf reference may have diluted the slavery message. (Mind, I *would* have appreciated a reference back to Roman slavery; there's no sensible way to squeeze a non-TV story inbetween 4x02 and 4x03 so there's no reason not to directly mention the previous adventure.)

Telepathy ... it's always involved in Doctor Who, but it just seems to be bubbling up particularly strongly at the moment ... I'm guessing it's likely to precipitate a major plot development later in the series
It could be, but rather than any deliberate foreshadowing it may just be RTD scraping the barrel of Reusable Plot Devices. This rather dull scenario is given weight by the following sequence from Doctor Who Confidential 4x03 "Oods and Ends":

Russell T D: "...science fiction programmes that end up with some sort of telepathy / mind-reading / empathy, with Troi in Star Trek and things like that. It's great short-hand, and it's a great plot device actually; it generates huge amounts of material".
Tony Head voiceover: "Material which is frequently on the Doctor's mind."
Cue montage set to the Elastica song "Connection", which basically demonstrates that a large number of New Who episodes have the same plot device. Although they seem to think body-swapping is the same as mind-control - this can only mean a very wide "someone else's thoughts in a body" interpretation.

I would have thought that if telepathy was going to be a bigger deal further down the series, they'd perhaps save the montage for that point.

But yes, there may be more material left to generate from this plot-device.
Apr. 25th, 2008 07:53 am (UTC)
Yup, I'm with you about the decomposing body inside the brain too! And I also wondered whether he would cause some small degree of brain damage just when he hit the surface.

A reference back to Roman slavery would have been nice, too - although it would perhaps also have drawn unwanted attention to the fact that the Doctor and Donna had both been perfectly happy to accept slavery in that context! Moral consistency? Pshaw!

I guess what I really meant about the telepathy was that it seems to me that RTD is particularly keen at the moment for all his viewers to be up to speed about the capacity for it in the Whoniverse. That makes me think a plot is going to rest quite heavily on it later.
Apr. 25th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)
I wondered whether some element of human consciousness might be absorbed by the Ood brain (I don't know whether the Ood will turn up again, but I suppose that it could have some effect later...)
Apr. 25th, 2008 07:29 pm (UTC)
Yes, good point - it certainly leaves interesting plot avenues to be explored in the future, if not in this particular series.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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