Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Planet of the Ood (Spoil-Sphere)

“Every now and then you let one go”

Donna and the Doctor visit the home world of the Ood, the servile race first encountered in The Impossible Planet. They go on to discover that the third great and bountiful empire of the Human race is built on slavery and profit, like most other empires.

For the first time since the Tardis resumed it’s televised travels in 2005 we have a proper snowbound setting. Planet of the Ood slots in happily amongst The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Doom, Dragonfire (maybe) and those other ones that have slipped my mind for the moment. The ice planet of the the Ood, the Ood-sphere, is beautifully realised and the travellers are able to interact with their environment more satisfyingly than has been possible before.

Donna has another great episode as she is initially repulsed by the Lovecraftian physiognomy of the dying Ood before recovering herself and once more accepting this great universe of diversity. She is appalled at the treatment the Ood receive and at the idea that cruelty and corruption are as rife in the greater universe as they are in her own world.

The Ood are at the centre of this story rather than so much dressing as they were in their previous adventure. There was apparently talk of the Pentallian in 42 having a cargo of Ood, this idea was scrapped or forgotten and that can only have been a good thing as to shove them into another story as extra dressing would probably have seen them consigned to the monster scrap heap forever. Instead, with Planet of the Ood, Keith Temple is able to explore the background of these creatures, seemingly born to serve, and indeed to make that background fit with what we’ve already seen.

The Ood have three brains, it transpires. They have their proper brain, kept in their pasty noggin, which presumably looks after making their legs move, their heart beat (if they have them) and reminding them to breath or whatever; then they have their hind brain, which they cart around in their hands, and this enables them to ‘sing’ (telepathically, and probably is also the creative bit that likes choosing wallpaper, composing haiku’s and so on; then there’s the big giant Ood brain that looks after them all and tells them what to do. This super brain has been kept silent for a couple of centuries by the Human race so that the Ood look for their instructions elsewhere – and receive them from the humans that have enslaved them. This rather neatly explains not just why the Ood live to serve, but also how come their so susceptible to telepathic suggestion (although –it was the Devil I suppose).

The latest in a long line of weary pencil pushers to manage the export of Ood, which are sent across the galaxy as a valuable commodity, is Mr Klineman Halpen (played with relish by Tim McInnerny) but McInnerny makes him a selfish middle manager rather than an over the top villain. Halpen is rude, stressed, pompous and clearly hates what he does, being as much a slave to the Ood industry as the Ood are, as his receding hairline to proves.

Planet of the Ood stuffs a lot to think about into it’s trim running time, it offers up slavery, cheap clothing, the evils of empire and commerce and the idea of having a conscience about where you work and shop. Despite all that it avoids being preachy by dressing it up with great action sequences, a giant claw, a full scale battle for a climax and some great humour.

The episode also has a number of very satisfying comeuppances; it’s a delight when Solana Mercurio, the PR girl, doesn’t go with her conscience and switch sides, as a result she falls victim to the revolting Ood; when the brutish, insane security chief ends up getting gassed it pays off his harsh treatment of the Ood, his crazed mechanical claw attack on the Doctor but most of all his obvious pleasure in the suffering of others (a great turn from Roger Griffiths); and however unlikely Halpens transformation may seem it is a fitting end for the character. It seems justice is both swift and poetic on Ood-Sphere, a shame then that the episode as a whole ends rather swiftly with the blithe statement that the Ood are returning now. So all the humans are ok with that, then? If that thread isn’t picked up later in the series then it represents quite an oversight.

You want niggles? Alright then. Firstly I didn’t like the brain. Giant brains are difficult to manage (ask the Rani) but I ws just about ok with it until it ate someone. I found that a bit hard to swallow (ahem). Secondly, the delegates for the tour of Ood operation seemed to be from Wall Street circa 1988, couldn’t wait for them to buy the farm. Thirdly, I’m not sure the Doctor’s in a position to take the morale high ground about sweat shops and cheap clothes when he’s warming his tootsies in converse trainers. Finally, one slight fannish regret in that I had thought we might get a glimpse of a Sensorite, being as they were so close by but no, although the Sensorites like to keep to themselves so I suppose if nothing else it’s in keeping with established continuity.

Another great episode, series four continues to deliver the goods. Some more hints at things to come in the shape of the Ood’s, perhaps ungracious, comment that the Doctor’s song must end soon, and a nod to the past as Halpern, like Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen before him, lets one go.

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