Sphere of Influence

Slaves to the Music or Bad Things Happen to Ood People

Spoilers follow…

When I was about 8 I remember talking my Dad into letting me watch the first episode of Blake’s 7 because it was “sort of like Doctor Who”. When I was 16 I remember staying up past midnight weekly to watch The Prisoner. The first two were subversive shows about dark futures, corruption, tyranny and the darker elements of humanity. While watching them didn’t turn me into a revolutionary I think they did warp my fragile little mind and the way I thought about concepts like authority, freedom, politics, and society. I can’t think of any Doctor Who stories as direct as these, but I’ve always considered our favourite Time Lord’s adventures as a primer for the younger viewer.

Which is why Planet of the Ood is a bit of an oddball. The series has always had elements a morality tale, but it has been relatively well couched in the plot, with some subtlety and metaphor, but here the servitude/slavery aspect seems to be laid on thick (not unlike the cyber prejudice sub-plot of Voyage on the Damned (which Peter will be commenting on in an upcoming RTP! – shameless plug). On one hand we have a breakneck revolution story, on the other we have the Doctor’s rather cutting observations on current day commercial manufacturing. I have to admit my response was pretty much like Donna’s. I’m all for teaching kids social responsibility, but this just seems to be lacking finesse. Like Fires of Pompeii I got the feeling that what was good about the story was being rushed passed as the production team tried to cram as much as they could in the 45-odd minutes of the episode. In the old days of television labyrinthine layers of mystery and suspense would be built up to various revolutions, betrayals and revelations, here it just feels like painting by numbers. I have no qualms about the claw chase as it added a bit of action into the mix, but other parts were just a bit daft.

I can imagine the scene in the production office:

“OK – we’ve got the Ood carrying a secret….”

“How about their brains, extra brains they carry in their hands, bit of an evolutionary cockup on an iceworld but it’ll look cool.”

“Brilliant – and we’ve got this big secret thing locked in the cellar…”

“How about their brains, an extra brain…”

“Haven’t we already done that?”

“Err.. OK… let just make it a giant one, bit of an evolutionary cockup on an iceworld but it’ll look cool.”

“Double bluff – Brilliant. Now how do we deal with the villain?”

“Well, we turn him into an Ood, then we get this brain, an extra brain…”

No, I don’t get the transformation thing either, and the hindbrains don’t actually seem to do much (Ood Sigma seems to function relatively well without one). But really the most superfluous parts of the story were the Doctor and Donna themselves. The whole story could’ve taken place without them. I have to admit that Catherine Tate is growing on me, and I keep on thinking how similar to Barbara she is. Mature, straight talking and (oddly) practical, the only real difference is her comedy pratfalls, that sadly don’t ring true against the better elements of her character.

Love the Dan Dare style spaceship, but really the final word belongs to my wife: “You can tell the new Doctor Who is made in Wales – even the monsters are into singing.”

(Dang, those slave caricatures sure got natural rhythm…)


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