(Note, parts of the following have been written weeks ago)
Ood News Week
Yesterday I was told to update my blog. Well, I guess I'd better do it.
I've been putting it of because when I watched Planet of the Ood I was too keen to actually stop it every three seconds and write down a sarky comment, so I have no review. Which means I have to review it the old-fashioned way.
Planet of the Ood, were it not for the Master trilogy last year, would probably be my favourite of the New Series so far. It isn't so much a tremendously brilliant story, or a wonderfully conceived and constructed plot. Even Graeme Harper's direction, solid as always and with the lingering bite that he likes to work with, isn't amazing. I like this episode becuase it says that nothing's changed: Doctor Who can still do anything.
Every review of this story mentions The Caves of Androzani, the single most popular DW story ever (up yours, Pyramids!) and one that would have won such a plaudit even were it not for the apparent paucity of brassiers in the wardrobe department, and this cannot be coincidence as sensible readers will know.
Ood has a completely different plot: Androzani is about political manipulations of war for its own sake. Ood is about slavery. There's no common ground there. But the tone, that's the matter.
Androzani was such a runaway success that for most of the next season of stories, the script editor who had been stunned to find the spun gold that landed in his lap tried to emulate that tone in almost all of his stories. (The exceptions being Mark of the Rani, a script he didn't even edit on principle of being an arsehole, and Timelash, a script he tried desperately just to make watchable. (He failed)) The sad thing was that a lot of the joy of the experience came with context - Androzani was devised as Davison's swansong and the darkness was used with a purpose. In most of Season 22 the darkness was simply a universal fact rather than anything meaningful, serving only to create the obfuscation of morals that destroyed the show for many. (The coat didn't help either of course)
Planet of the Ood is a landmark effort for being the second story to use this tone and actually WORK. Not even Holmes' previous attempt - The Power of Kroll - had been successful. (Though I love it) But Ood manages either to get the balance between DW and "awww man the future sucks" just right, or comes in at the right time in the series.
Eerily similar to Revelation of the Daleks, the egregiously over-rated story that barely features either the Doctor OR Daleks, Ood opens with the Doctor and his companion finding a dying monster that tries (fairly pitifully) to kill them, but the two become more concerned about what has happened to it and how to (posthumously) help it. I have to say that "The circle must be broken" is a nice and creepy phrase to be repeated ad nauseum through a story. Just the right blend between cryptic. ALSO like Revelation of the Daleks the story involves a recurring alien, a sleazy industry built around said aliens, a creep who is amazingly insecure about hair loss, morally bankrupt characters, a near complete death toll, and a snow-covered planet.
Once again, I'm picking up a Season 22 vibe..
Ood, Where's my Morality?
The story has a lot to say about morality, and was quite a pleasant surprise to me. As Lawrence Miles points out, it's one of the strongest moments in the series when the Doctor points out that the slavery of the Ood isn't that different to the Asian sweatshops upon which modern humanity relies. Of course, he sees that this moment is squandered, but it's understandable that Donna's pissed off at the Doctor's ever 'high-and-mighty' attitude... especially given that the first day they met he drowning sapient children to death. And the point is well made - unlike similar attempts at parallels (such as the virus asking Dave Lister whether killing him is any different than he eating a vindaloo - erm, yes, because he didn't actually kill it. But I digress from this digression...) it doesn't suggest that one is exactly like the other, simply a point from which the eventuality may grow.
As often happens in DW (the best ones at least) it isn't so much about immorality as amorality, with the slavers simply not caring, rather than having any ill intent. Although we may loathe Tim McInnerney's character, it is in no way because he is evil. It's because he's despisable and, more importantly, the type of person we know all too well. Similarly, the Indian PR lady (you can tell that I've watched this recently, can't you?) doesn't have an evil bone in her body. It's even possible that she's trying to be nice. But through the business that she is representing and the fact that she doesn't care about any of it, and is ultimately quite affronting in her cowardice. It's no surprise that we aren't phased by their deaths... indeed, it somehow seems like the final bloodbath is some divine act of retribution rather than any form of tragedy..
Ya Zarking Ood!
There is a possible exception to this: token rebel character - who is, according to some OGer, the father of Ron in Harry Potter and therefore also Olaf Petersson from Red Dwarf - but we don't really get to know the guy. And even though he's a self-proclaimed 'Friend of the Ood', it's noteworthy that Ood Sigma seems remarkably unphased at his death..
The other exception, is of course, Security Chief Mr Psychopathic Killing Machine McGee. Who IS fucking nuts. I have to say I loved this guy, as not since... hmm, let's see... Season 22? Have we seen a good old-fashioned psychopath come up against the Doctor. And given the somewhat tame direction of the show at the moment I thought we'd never see his ilk again. But we have.
The scene where he tries to crush the Doctor with his crane and seems to be on the verge of orgasm throughout the entire process is remarkable in it's disturbing nature. Another brilliant moment where the Doctor only survives through dumb luck, showing, not for the first time, that when his genius for self-preservation is met with an equal ingenuity for killing in new and inventive ways the Doctor is fucked.
What is really remarkable, though, is that after Security Dude decides to gas unarmed opponents en masse (Just like Commander Gustave Lytton. Hmm, what season did he appear in?), the Ood find him and.. don't kill him. After killing everyone that they've met through their translator orbs (which, it has to be said, does not seem like a painless death) they break this pattern especially for this dude and instead steal his gasmask, beat him up, throw him behind the cage, lock it, and let the gas vent on schedule. That is a lot of effort to go to, especially when currently rabid in anger.
In short: don't fuck with the Ood.
Magic - the Oodini brand!
The entire episode is a triumph of every department of BBC Wales... the prosphetics are brilliant, with the Ood showing a remarkable versatility of expression, the alien planet is convincing (Yes! IT WORKED, damn you!), Graeme Harper, as usual, kicks everyone's arse like some sort of specially engineered Posterminator. One aspect for me triumphed above all others: the sound design.
Yeah, I know that's a geektastic thing to be saying.. but then I am a guy who has a movie game of 'spot the Wilhelm Scream'. And the Ood Song in this story is a remarkable piece of soundwork. Oh, man. That bit where the Doctor lets Donna hear it... it's one of the few bits in the New Series that actually brings me near to tears. Yes. Few. I'm not one of those wet, sop Americans how thinks that getting a fat bloke to scream "OI CAN CARRY YOOOOU!" in a terrible West Country accent while the London Symphony Orchestra attempts to perforate my eardrums counts as subtle, heartbreaking cinema and so blubbers like General Carnage seeing an Olsen Twins movie. But a moment so beautiful, simplistic and understated that manages to pull off the microcosm effect that DW, as a necessity, needs to strive for in the modern day and communicates the plight of an entire race with absolute effectiveness.
Another triumph for the show is prosphetic work. As in prosphetic work to make you go "HOLY SHIT HOW DID THAT GET PAST THE CENSORS I THINK I'M GONNA BE SICK!"
Somehow I think that will become quite a notorious moment for young children everywhere...
Hornblower and The Oodsphere... no wait, that doesn't work...
Hmm. 'Oodsphere' does not sound like 'Hotspur' at all, it's true..
Anyway, that about wraps up my review of Planet of the Ood, the longest in the coming since the last one. And the reason it's taken so long, other than abject apathy and laziness on my own part and the fact that May seems to traditionally be a slow month for our blogs for some reason, is because this is a very good episode. The only possible crack showing is that the Doctor and Donna don't really contribute that much to the plot (again, like Season 22!) in the ultimate sense, but then (UNlike Season 22) they are still the central focal point for the entire story. We see everything through their eyes, learn things as they learn them, and go on the same journey as they have. And we learn learn a bit about them both.
In terms of subtelty of writing, general tone, design... screw it, in terms of EVERYTHING this is right up there with the best of the New Series... or, even though I like to avoid superlatives as I do Indian blokes on the phone who start a conversation with "Hello my name is Jim I am calling you from Sydney.." ... as one of the best from the Series full stop.
What Those Other Losers Thought...
IMDBer Response - I could of sworn Donna said somthing along the lines of,
"I was born above a 'Paki shop'".
You can't say that on the BBC in this day of age!!
(Jared says: The day of age is OVER, this is day or orc!")
Paraphrased Lawrence Miles Response: TV now is different now than it was twenty years ago. Fuck. YOU WANNA FIGHT ME, MOFFAT? Also, I didn't really watch this one.
OGer Response: Hey, Blake's 7 is back..!
(Jared says: Excitement is pretty short-lived on the internet...)
Keith Topping Response: Wasn't too sure what to expect from this one but that was really rather good. Nicely pitched midway between the humour of the first episode and the drama of the second.
Quite an old fashioned Doctor Who story in many ways (installation setting, very Troughton, the aliens, somewhat Hinchcliffe) with a nice moral at it's core. Beautifully directed too. 4
(Jared says: And he STILL only gives it 4%? Blow me, he's a harsh judge!)
Randomly Chosen Racist's Response: Although seeing as the story focused on slavery, I found the choice of actor interesting. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it suggested to me that the wheel keeps turning, and those who were once enslaved can easily become the enslavers if they aren't careful, and that the treatment of the Ood was the same as the treatment of African slaves.
(Jared says: Mein Gott, you are right... you ARE reading too much into this)
Spara's Baffling Response: That was a very good episode and one reason for this was the return to the strong ethical dimension of the Pertwee years. The story didn't shirk from exposing and condemning the human capacity for exploiting and enslaving, as exemplified by the Doctor's comment about how Donna's clothes were made.At the same time the Ood's revenge and Donna's comment about not knowing what was right made the ethical aspects believable rather than dogmatic.
(Jared says: Yeah, I know, it's actually pretty normal. But the fact that it has come from Spara, ironically, still makes it baffling...)
Eye of Horus Response: N/A. Still none. I've gone two weeks without posting ANYTHING and I'm still ahead of these guys. Good to see that they;ve got a Lalla Ward interview on the frontpage of their site, though. From 1983. Woo. That upcoming anniversary special sounds crunking!
Next Week Trailer Oh my word, Martha's in next week, how astonishingly unexpected and unforewarned... lights going off in what seems to be a hospital corridor, wow, we've never seen that before... the cook from Hornblower left the navy and achieved immortality, but over the past 200 years has only managed to obtain a colonelcy in the army - no fist... Lindsay Lohan borrows Martha's car for 12 seconds... UNIT strangely enough have decided the best way to improve their public image is to base their new uniforms on V For Vendetta... whoah, Sontarans, how unexpected... Holy shit, Christopher Ryan can sort of do another voice... he also seems to have been studying at Hogwarts in his spare time going by that wand he's waving around... and those new Sontaran uniforms are still kind of Mardis-Gras. What happened to the crushed black leather look? ... hang on, that's not a proper Sontaran ship! Man, the next review is going to be one long fanboy bitch from me... once again, a companion makes the rather paranoid assumption that the Doctor has a set secret agenda he works to with all companions. For a change, though, it doesn't involve sex. Yet... I keep hitting the stop button in Windows Media Player instead of the play button forcing me to watch this shit like two dozen times to type this up... UNIT don't know who the Sontarans are? Oh, that's fine, that's just three billion things that now aren't canon... "STARE INTO THE FACE OF DEATH!" - erm, no.
Yeah, strap yourselves in from some bitching, kids. I get a feeling I'm going to be an arsehole about this one.