The Impossible Planet
Ida: Well, we’ve come this far, there’s no turning back.
The Doctor: Oh come on! Did you have to? “No turning back,” that’s almost as bad as “Nothing could possibly go wrong,” or “This is gonna be the best Christmas Walford’s ever had!”
Production Code: 2.8.
Doctor Who Season: S28 (Ep8).
Story Number: 174a.
The roots of many Classic Doctor Who stories are in Horror and Science Fiction films, from The Daleks to Pyramids of Mars and beyond…
This two-parter has a web of influences, though two films in particular: Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. The production design in this story is superb and draws from those films, but unlike the simple brown and grey-blue (respectively) consistentency of those films, those basic palettes are overlaid with the vibrant newsprint primary colours of Yellow, Magenta and Cyan which highlight the landscape and central characters of the story.
Yellow – the industrial pipes and structure on the base are highlighted with this. These bright colours perhaps pitch it as a slightly brighter story than it would be otherwise, it has some really rather dark themes.
Magenta – it’s been “Rose’s colour” since we first met her. In this story it’s also the colourful ood tendrils. The Ood costuming is a genius invention from RTD from the neccesity of budget – a mask with tendrils to forget about elaborate mouth movement (think of the Judoon) gloves to hold the communication-orbs, boiler suits and hey presto one of Doctor Who‘s truly alien aliens.
Cyan – Toby’s jumper. The Devil himself wanders about in a pastel sweater, a colour that stands out against the rest of the palette.Doctor Who functions perfectly well without “Hard Science Fiction” being brought into the mix, but when it is part of a story it can bring an extra layer. One thing that this episode fudges, or perhaps just doesn’t mention, is the “event horizon” element of a black hole. Orbiting a black hole is not impossible, although this impression is given. Just as the Earth orbits the Sun, our solar system orbits the centre of the galaxy, a supermassive black hole. It’s orbiting a black hole within its “event horizon” that’s impossible – distance is important. The planet in this story is at an impossible distance from the black hole – the Doctor suggests that at this distance light, gravity, time wouldn’t escape normally, but this planet Krop Tor continues to orbit rather than fall towards the centre. So as an objects acheives an orbital speed (not too fast, not too slow) and is beyond the “event horizon”, the point of no return, it’s possible to orbit a black hole. Maybe it’s the planet’s speed of orbit which is regarded as impossible by the Doctor, and when the effects of the approach tunnel are “switched off”, the speed of orbit means the planet spirals down towards the event horizon.
This idea of an inexorable pull actualy ties into the themes of the season – Rose will ultimately be pulled away from the Doctor (as companions never stay within his orbit for too long).
As well as this (sort of) Hard Science Fiction aspect, there’s more SF with philosophising over the Ood’s slavery. There’s an echo of The Robots of Death, with a layer of society comprising uncomplaining servants, and with both stories assumptions are questions. So there’s some fascinating worldbuilding for this story. Our lead characters and their ongoing arc are also focused upon in all this, with a great scene as they contemplate what their life togther without the TARDIS would mean. It’s a superb two-parter and the only thing really that means it’s not one of the absolute greats is the slightly confused ending of the next part. (What does his words mean really and what is he expecting?)
The most extraordinary scene though is the smiling possesed Toby, on the wrong side of the base walls, stood alone of the landscape of the impossible planet, visibly flexing hand towards Scooti through the glass. It’s the evil on the base the rest of them don’t know about yet, but the audience does, that ratchets up the tension even as they say goodbye to Scooti.
The arrival of Toby and his legion of Ood makes for a fantastic cliffhanger.
Rating: 5/5 (for this part of the story)