PLANET OF THE OOD
You jump when you're told to
Through the open door
And the King of Nowhere
He's the man you all died for
In a file marked "secrets"
In a drawer kept closed
Because nobody knows
About this jacob's ladder
The only way up is down
Three days in the water
Watching all the secrets drown...
The title of today's blogpost comes from Grant Goggans' Professor X program guide, one of numerable spoof guides to the cult sci-fi show that people in Doctor Who talk about when they want to talk about Doctor Who. And, like all the others, this guide to the running gag of New Adventure pop culture references, vanished without trace, sadly just after Stephen Moffat had given his seal of approval to the guide and it's Colonel X section (you need to see Press Gang to get that). Now, The Might of the Terran Empire! is the substitute for The Mutants, only starring Michael Jayston as Colonel X and Joanna Van Gyseghem as Sandy...
This story, dealing with Earth's colonialism, saw conflict between our planet and a galactic alliance over territories and Earth's handling of native populations. There were no clear cut good and evil characters, and it was somewhat surprising to see humans committing acts of what we would call villainy.
Now, I mention this as it works quite well as a starting point for Planet of the Ood. We're once again in the 42nd century, as the (Second Great And Bountiful) Earth Empire continues to crumble despite a brief respite in the form of free Ood slaves to do all the dirty jobs. Sales of Ood, however, are starting to drop as whispers spread that these seemingly mild-mannered slaves have a darker side. Thus, Ood Operations has had a drastric slash of prices, as well as providing a range of optional voices including D84, Jessica Rabbit and Homer Simpson. No, seriously. But the Ood are suffering "red eye" more and more frequently, and some of them have gone rabid. The situation's a powder keg, and when the Doctor randomly sets the TARDIS for the Ood-Sphere (two on from the Sense-Sphere in The Sensorites) in the tear 4126, it's just a matter of time before two centuries of exploiting blow up in everyone's faces.
It's perhaps a pity they abandoned the original version of 42 - wherein the SS Pentallion's stock of Ood fell under the influence of the sentient sun. While it may have prevented us the pant-wetting horror of the Doctor growling, "I can make you BURN, Martha!", it would have satisfied the deep-rooted desire in humans for trilogies. Instead, the Ood join Margaret Slitheen, the Cult of Skaro, Cassandra, Sil and the Mentors, the Mara, the Yeti, Peladon complete with fixtures and fittings, as only getting two proper TV stories and kaput. Oh well.
Graham Harper is directing again, and makes sure that Planet of the Ood is as intense an experience as Utopia or 42 beforehand. It also has to be said that this week's episode is noticeably less kid-friendly than previous ones. I'm not saying they were dumbed down, but Planet boasts amongst other things mass slaughter, torture, torment, vivisection, slavery and other such unfriendly themes, culminating in one character's face rotting off their shoulders. Yet, the old 'translator globe electrocution' trick is as bloodless as ever and despite promises, no one turns to bubbling slime as the scripts specified. There's very little humor, most of it of a black variety, and in a story where both humans AND aliens are evil murdering scum, there is no real audience identification figure bar Donna - and what she experience so sickens her she asks to go home, her wonderlust killed stone dead, temporarily at least.
Like Caves of Androzani, this is a rare Doctor Who story that shows us a universe of total bastards, NONE of whom obviously worth saving. There's one faceless bloke, an Ood supporter who technically counts as a good guy, but even he is a 'ends justify the means', quite happy to have thousands of Oods sacrificed to win - and it's unclear whether he really likes the Ood or just really hates the company. Even the closest the story has to innocents, the buyers of the Ood who turn up to be massacred, aren't sympathetic - I defy anyone to feel any sadness as they get fried while laughing at their own bigotry. There are some out and out psychos, including the black guy whose gleeful attempts to slaughter the Doctor and the Ood border on Dr Evil-style ridiculousness, and no tears were shed when the Ood dished out an innovative brand of vengeance. Hell, I don't even remember the names of the characters, even though they are distinctive - annoying IT-support Indian PA lady, sleep-deprived scientist in white coat, psycho black kommando with wierd facial scar, and Tim McInnery who is not once either Percy or Darling throughout the episode, though the final scene reminds much of his performance as le pimpernel scarlette in Nob and Nobility.
As for the Ood, well, much of this story is about them and expanding on the sneeze of characterization they got in The Satan Pit. After all, what do you expect of an alien race created because the Slitheen outfits were too knackered to be used? In that, we learned these bald telepath aliens in drab clothes (as Planet notes, they're the yokel cousins of the Sensorites) offered themselves up as slaves the humans, as without being given orders and duties they 'pine away and die'. They lack personalities, conversation, initiative... no wonder everyone was so contemptuous of them and saw them as livestock. Yet, despite Rose's attempts to see if there was anything beyond subservience (and there wasn't) people still slagged off the story for the Doctor not trying to free the Ood! The facts that a) he was a bit busy fighting Satan at the time and b) the Ood seemed happy being servants were not went into.
The Doctor notes in this story that Donna cannot really comment on the Empire's use of slaves - the same thing was happening in Pompeii, and even in her own time sweat shops full of refugees provide her designer clothes. But given time to think about the Ood, it becomes obvious the tale spun about them offering themselves as slaves makes no sense. And if the Doctor and Donna can work out the flaws in that PR campaign in a few minutes, then surely the rest of the Empire has as well? It seems the humans at the Torchwood Archive weren't the arrogant goodfornothings you automatically assume will work in the organization. It's dispiriting, cynical, and just like the corrupt bastards in The Mutants. And that was in the galactic empire before this one!
The problem is, of course, the fact that people keep forgetting Doctor Who is no longer a TV-only event. While we no longer have Tardisodes, or those stupid tie-in-websites, there are still the stuff in Doctor Who Annuals and the monster books like Aliens and Enemies. Just as the monster books spoiled the plots of Boomtown and Gridlock, and the annuals unwittingly announced the return of the Daleks, the Master and the Face of Boe's message, Planet of the Ood was unintentionally compromised by an unexpected source. Quite simply, one page in the rubbish 2008 Doctor Who Annual with a picture of an Ood and some exciting facts about it. Like WHY the Oods really serve humanity. I saw story potential in this right away and you can find an OG thread I started calling for the return of the Ood in a story where the Doctor finds out the info in the annual if you ar so inclined. So. Thanks for ripping me off yet AGAIN, RTD. I won't reprint the info here for spoilers, but the scenes cryptically revealing the secret of the Ood was like wondering who the mysterious aliens are in a story with "Daleks" in the title. Idiotic.
The plot resolves itself as plots are oft to do, and there are hints that the Doctor is missing out on something big as he meddles about with events on the Ood-Sphere, something that is causing time to run out...
Next Time: "Is that what you do to them? Turn them into soldiers?"
What IS it with Helen Raynor?! How does she infect proceedings to such a degree everything looks false and plastic? The Sontarans somehow look more cartoony and toy-like than they did before! Chris Ryan uses his Lord Kiv voice (even down to the sound effect) to sound like the most delicate and piss poor of Sontaran ever! UNIT are just blokes in red berets, but at least Martha's there... Anyway, the Sontarans are at work on Earth, and Martha calls in the Doctor to help UNIT defeat them. I very much doubt there is anything beyond that for the next two weeks. Seriously, how the hell do you make an add jam-packed with toad-face action and DT shouting "SONTARANS?!?!" boring?! The only hope of salvation is the fact the quoted line, from Donna, is not about the Sontarans but about the Doctor...