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April 25, 2008

Ood have thought it

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood

TenentsHow appropriate.  In the week it’s announced that Sky is resurrecting (or reimagining) Blake’s Seven for the 21st century, the BBC shows that even on British telly budgets you can still do a convincing alien planet.

And that you can almost bugger up an episode entirely with ill-conceived effects shots that completely ruin the mood and tone of what had been, up to that point, a likeable, thought provoking  and charming episode of Doctor Who.

Yes, the giant man-eating brain in the basement.  Surely someone, somewhere, looked at that on the pages being sent in by Keith Temple and went... ‘you what?’

That the episode gets away with it, and indeed remains as good as it did... luck or design, I’ll leave that choice up to you.  I suspect luck more than anything else.

Planet of the Ood was a massively disjointed piece of television, lurching drunkenly from legitimate commentary on slavery and the abuse of domesticated animals to trite action sequence to clunking dialogue.  Like much of the new series, the uneven nature of the script could have sabotaged it.  But like much of the new series, what saved it was the performances.

I know David Tennant’s a divisive figure in these parts and when he’s, as Charlie Brooker once put it, ‘bumming about’ he’s as annoying as a six year old Jamie Oliver mainlining Sunny D speedballs.  But when he’s given a nice, meaty piece of script to get his teeth into, we see why he’s regarded so highly as one of the best actors in the country today.   The quiet rage, the pity towards the Ood, and his interplay with Donna were just tremendous to watch.   

Meanwhile Catherine Tate continues to confound me.  I sat slackjawed in disbelief at Partners in Crime, but both in The Fires of Pompeii and here she was every inch the proper actress we’d been told to expect, convincingly believable as we saw just how out of her depth Donna was when faced with the pre-lobotimised Ood.

And Tim McInnerny, all but recreating his evil JIC chief from Spooks, was great fun, even if his name - Kleinman Halpen  - does sound like some dodgy drugs company from the States.

Of course, Graeme Harper’s direction helped cover up the cracks in the script.  For a man approaching pension age, his episodes always have an astonishing level of energy and pace.  His approach isn’t as innovative as it was in the mid-80s, but that’s largely because everyone on TV shoots stuff the way he does.

So instead of innovation we have energy - bags of it.  It makes the sequence of the Doctor avoiding the claw - an insanely dumb action sequence on paper - work, throwing the camera about the corridors of crates as much as Tennant is bouncing off them.   Coupled with the visual style of the show - pop-art Ood backdrops, a convincing alien planet - it gave the scenes which needed pace an intense kinetic level, and made those reflective moments and confrontations mean more.

It’d been clear that something was going on with Dr Zoidberg’s creepy cousin

But the best thing, the absolutely nailed-on best thing about Planet of the Ood, was the climax.  It’d been clear from the first time Ood Sigma (No relation to Trevor Sigma, presumably despite the cranial similarity) passed Halpen his wee shotglass of hair tonic that something was going on with Dr Zoidberg’s creepy cousin.  And while it may not remotely have made sense, it worked dramatically.

In many ways it was reminiscent of Ghost Light - the ultimate revenge of these put-upon creatures is to leave their evil overlord so helpless he needs them just to wipe his arse, basically.  After so many episodes of villains getting their comeuppance in messy, nasty, fatal manners, there was almost something traditional about this.  A family show returning to family values, if you like. 

After a few hiccups in recent times, Doctor Who is back on song.

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