Doctor Who 2.9: The Satan Pit review

Review

The Satan PitThe Satan Pit review

Rose: Doctor? … Doctor, can you hear me? Doctor? Ida? Are you there?

Production Code: 2.9.
Doctor Who Season: S28 (Ep9).
Story Number: 174b.

Rules. We all live by them, whether they are our own rules or someone else’s…

One of the rules that the Doctor and Rose live by is that when the TARDIS lands them somewhere, they will not immediately hop back on board and go somewhere else. In fact, at the start of this episode they illustrate this rule by laughing at the very idea of just turning tail at the first sign of trouble.

The first episode of this two-parter sets the scene for one of the more philosophical stories of the this season, although its musings are continued from earlier in the season: just what keeps the Doctor traveling on?

By the end of this first episode, because we are familiar with stories in general, and perhaps certain stories in particular (Ridley Scott’s film Alien, James Cameron’s film Aliens, Classic Who’s The Robots of Death) we know there are certain rules that must be followed as well.

Rule: the crew will be picked off by the Monster. One. By. One.

Rule: even in the far future, people will still be people, griping and bickering.

The bickering crew that we encounter inhabiting the base in the far future, on a planet circling a black hole, are familiar as well. They are not stereotypes, the writing is too good for that, but they are definitely types. The reluctant captain. The dutiful soldier. The enquiring scientist. These basic types are fleshed out convincingly by the writing and acting into a believable group of people you root for and care about.

pics

picsThe first episode sets up a situation for the Doctor and Rose that has them questioning their rules: as the TARDIS is gone, what do they do without constant traveling? In one great scene we see them ponder exactly what they are going to do. Rose tentatively puts forward the idea of settling down somewhere. Together. The Doctor doesn’t reject the idea as such, just reminds Rose of a rule he had set for himself. To return Rose to Jackie one day. Rose tells him that we all have to leave home one day. But without the TARDIS, and without his homeworld, where is home for the Doctor now?

What other rules has the Doctor set himself? That he can never get too close to a companion? This is something that has been hinted at in the episode School Reunion. He can never get too attached, that is one of the rules. Can he express that attachment?

Great tension is set up across this first episode as the Beast slowly reveals its presence, and the first of the crew is picked off. The Doctor and Rose are parted. The Doctor is investigating the interior of the planet with the scientist, while Rose stays with the rest of the crew on the base. The extensive references to the film Alien are fair game, as the Doctor was there first anyway (with The Ark in Space!)

If this episode was influenced mainly by the film Alien (technology with a lived-in look, crew member invaded by Monster, some of the crew sent off from the others to explore a mysterious cavern) then as the next episode begins it is most definitely the film Aliens, with even the one of characters obliquely stating that they appreciate the reference!

Before we get to frantic chases through ventilation ducts however, there is some philosophy. The Beast introduces itself to the Doctor, Rose and the crew. It appears to be the devil, from Before Time. The Doctor asks which devil or religion and pronounces that to be from before time is impossible. “Is that YOUR religion?” asks the Beast. “It’s a belief” replies the Doctor.

While Rose and the crew make their way across the base hounded by the Ood, Ida and the Doctor debate theology. Ida asks the Doctor what he believes. He believes he hasn’t seen everything, he says doubtfully. As the Doctor makes his descent into the pit, he describes to Ida just what his problem with the Beast was. If it had said it was from beyond the universe that would be fine, but before the universe? “It doesn’t fit my rule.”

pics

picsThe rules that we gather around ourselves, that we believe describe the universe, our universe.

Rule: the sun will always rise in the morning.

Rule: there was nothing before time.

Rule: nothing can escape a black hole.

Rule: he can never tell her that he loves her.

He has to believe certain things, so there are boundaries.

But this is why he travels, he says, to be proved wrong. What does he want to proved wrong about? That is homeworld is gone forever? That he can never tell her?

As the Doctor gets ready with for his act of faith: to fall into the pit, he asks that if Ida gets in contact with Rose could she “…tell her… tell her… ah she’d know.”

After the Doctor falls, and the crew prepare to escape on the rocket, the scene where Rose refuses to leave the Doctor on the planet “all alone” is very powerful and affecting.

With the rest of the episode we find out just what the Doctor does believe in for sure: Rose.

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Rating: 4/5 (for this part of the story, previous ep 5/5)
and for the whole story, 4/5.

Originally published on the Doctor Who Rating Guide on 7 July 2006.
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(The Satan Pit on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)

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