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April 25, 2008

Hey Ood, Don't Make it Bad

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood

Hey Ood, Don't make it bad
Take the Oodsong, and make it better
Just remember to let them into your brain(s)
DoctorDonnaFriend will make it better

Hey Ood, don't be afraid,
Kill the tour guide, she's right there, get her!
Once the boss man starts peeling off his skin
Then you begin to make it better

Na, Na Na, NaNaNa Naaaaa,
NaNaNa Naaaaa,
Hey, Ood!
Na, Na Na, NaNaNa Naaaaa,
NaNaNa Naaaaa,
Hey, Ood!

Ood1 And with that out of our way, we can get down to the business of reviewing Planet of the Ood. I am glad to report that the "odd ood" pun isn't made in this episode. I suppose after Matt Jones felt the need to make the joke twice in The Impossible Planet the production team got tired of it.

The return of the Ood was heralded with much fanfare, by which I mean a brief press release on the BBC website. And quite rightly, I suppose. If Doctor Who is going to continue to grow and evolve (and yes, it should, as it always has), then the best way to do that is to continue to develop its gallery of recurring monsters so that it doesn't have to fall back on the Daleks all the time. Perhaps that's what they tried to do with the Slitheen, cat people, and Cassandra, but none of these are going to cut it. In truth, I wasn't sure the Ood would either, because they weren't even the stars of their own debut and they didn't do an awful lot other than waggle their Cthulhu tendrils and attack people with their tether-balls. Ood were mere props; it could just as easily have been human crew that the Beast took over and the story would still have worked. And at the end of the episode they all died of irrelevance, with honors, so it was hard to see how anyone could really have much more to say about them. But now I see that the concept did have a set of legs, and despite the Ood threat being apparently nullified by the end of this adventure I think it still has them. I wouldn't mind seeing them in another couple of years, as long as we're not pelted with Ood stories every year like we are with the Daleks.

This episode takes the thinly-developed Ood and not only explains them but also expands the concept into something more complex, surprisingly intelligent, and just a bit wondrous. how unfortunate, then, that it's stuck in this otherwise rather unremarkable episode! Don't misread me, this episode is all right, but it's not great. The dialogue never really shines, and the action, while thrilling, is a bit overly stupid (the grabbing claw? Really?). Unlike Matt Jones's two-parter, which had an interesting and likable group manning the sanctuary base, the guest characters here were entirely unremarkable and one-dimensional (treacherous employee, lifted straight out of The Age of Steel? Really?). McInnerny's great, of course, but they could have had him playing a much better character than this unmemorable corporate baddie. Not to mention the fact that his generic character's fate (Ood transformation? Really?) is poetic, I suppose, but just a bit absurd. As for the other guest characters, none one of them is at all notable. None of these flaws are helped by the fact that they're strung together by a questionably logical plot that's two parts bad horror film, three parts bad morality play (abolitionism? Really?).

No, what's most interesting here is when the show explores the nature of Ood psychology and evolution. It turns out that the Ood have evolved with a three-part consciousness, with their driving impulse in the head, their personality in a secondary brain in their hands, and a final, authoritative force that's located outside of the body common to all Ood. Not only does this make the concept of the Ood's existence as a slave race more feasible, explain why they needed to carry around deadly sporting equipment, and provide a decent explanation for why the Ood are so easily controlled by a single external force, but the concept is  (sort of)rooted in the stuff you learned in school. Or, rather, would have learned, if you were paying attention. The notion of a tripartite consciousness stretches back to Plato but it's known most famously from Freud's notion of the Id, Ego, and Superego. Regular viewers of Doctor Who Confidential are quite familiar with the concept of "ego," although this week they decided to a little bit less of patting themselves on the back and a little bit more irrelevant montage.

In any case, the notion that a part of consciousness can be externalized also seems to fit in quite nicely with The Doctor's current status. It seems that Donna's being pushed at us as the Doctor's external moral compass, or perhaps more like a moral alarm clock with the volume turned way up (see the opening scene of Rose, which scares the hell out of me because every time I see it I have an urge to wake up, which is problematic for reasons I shan't explore). She's loud and she's forceful about making sure the Doctor's sense of social justice is in the right place, as we saw last week in Pompeii. Last week it seemed like her character was off the ming mong hit-list and back on the straight and narrow, but if she continues to come on quite so strong it might wear out its welcome fairly soon.

So, yeah, Planet of the Ood, bit of a poor episode, but the Ood themselves are compelling enough to carry it. Nice to see another episode set on an alien world (now that wasn't so difficult, was it?), and there's some intriguing arc stuff, with the incredible disappearing bees mentioned again as well as a less-than-subtle reference to Rose. Maybe the return of Martha and UNIT will deliver a more interesting story. If not, perhaps it will make us want to hug a Sontaran.

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