There was a lot to like about the BBC's latest episode of time-traveling soap opera Doctor Who. For one thing, there was the return of the Doctor's moral outrage. And then there were the hints that the alien Doctor is trying to expand his new human companion Donna's mind a bit, as seen in this clip — although, sadly, the Doctor backs off the moment she growls at him. Plus, I love dystopian storylines that comment on the legacy of colonialism, and the formerly Imperial Brits do those exceedingly well. But even with all that going for it, "Planet Of The Ood" was a bit, well, underwhelming. Spoilers below!
I do wonder if we're going someplace really interesting with Donna, played by Catherine Tate. In her first appearance, a couple years ago, the emphasis was all on how ignorant and silly she was. She didn't even notice the giant spaceship flying over London and crashing into Big Ben, or the other giant spaceship over London that made half the people climb out on the rooftops. Or the huge battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen. It seemed pretty obvious we were meant to contrast her lack of curiosity with Rose's inquisitiveness, so we'd realize how rare and wonderful Rose had been.
But now Donna's not just a throwaway character, so she's showing more initiative. She investigated the weird doughy alien baby conspiracy — although we were told she was only doing that so she could reconnect with the Doctor. And last week, she pressured the Doctor to save some — if not all — of the people in Pompeii from the volcano. She was the voice of compassion. This time around, though, she sees injustice on an almost unimaginable scale, and pretty much the first words out of her mouth are: "I want to go home." Which is a reasonable reaction. But I wonder if we're supposed to see the Doctor teaching her something or other, much as the Seventh Doctor took his companion Ace through hard lessons back in the 1980s, all the name of grooming her to become a Time Lord. Or maybe Donna's characterization is just inconsistent.
Anyway, I thought the Doctor's point about slaves making Donna's clothes was actually pretty valid. Who does she think made all the lovely cheap clothes she wears?
I am glad the show decided to revisit the Ood, who remained sort of a mystery after their first appearance a couple of years ago. You have this slave race, who are naturally docile and mildly telepathic, and who seem perfectly happy to serve humans. It seemed perfectly reasonable to think there was more to their story than what we'd already seen.
My main problem with the story can pretty much be summed up in the phrase: "They're born with their brains in their hands!" After laboriously pointing out how a "slave race" couldn't naturally have evolved, because it wouldn't be very good at surviving on its own, the show then reveals the Ood in their natural state — and they're even less fitted to survive. I'm glad they're also born with little mittens on, so they can keep their delicate brains nice and toasty.
The other huge problem with this story, of course, is the easy ending. You can't set up this horrible oppressive future society — with millions of Ood enslaved on various planets across three galaxies — and then say, "Oh well, now we've turned off the forcefield around this giant brain, so the Ood will all be coming home." Wha huh? It felt very much as though the writer realized the episode was almost over, so it was time to wrap things up one way or another.
But like I said, there was a lot to like about this episode. The fact that the evil humans stayed totally evil throughout the episode — including the PR woman, who I was sure was going to have a moment of conscience — was a nice gutsy move. I liked a lot of the interplay between the Doctor and Donna. The very end was intriguing, with the business about how the Doctor's song must end soon. Another hint for the season finale, I guess.
Some minor points:
- This isn't the first time the Doctor has set the TARDIS to random coordinates — but there must be some safeguard so the ship doesn't just materialize in space 99 percent of the time. Or on a gas giant. Or in a black hole. Etc.
- The hint that the Ood were somehow related to the Sensorites, the incredibly silly bald telepaths from way back in 1964, was blatant fan-service, but just subtle enough that it didn't matter.
- The psychic paper has really worn out its welcome as a plot device. And the "we're not married" running joke involving the Doctor and Donna is already way past unwelcome.