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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Planet of the Ood”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 2: “The Fires of Pompeii”)

I’m gonna give a big shoutout to screenwriter Keith Temple for this one, because there’s a whole giant bunch of juicy stuff here that captures why the idea of the Doctor is so damn appealing, and why we kept coming back to this show even when it used to be way sillier than it is now, and why we keep coming back to it now.
First, there’s the Time Lord himself. “I know what it’s like,” he tells Donna right at the opening of this episode, “everything you’re feeling right now: the fear, the joy, the wonder. I get that.” The Doctor used to come across, on the old show, as way more nonchalant about his extraordinary life than it would seem possible to be — because even he’s not living the life of a normal Time Lord; even by the standards of his own culture, he’s living an adventure. Now, though, he’s just as enthusiastic as we are (“I’ve only ever done package holidays, and now I’m here!” Donna practically screams in ecstasy, which I’d probably do too — though I’ve never done a package holiday). Which makes him even more ridiculously, mysteriously charming than he already was. Because he’s still alien, but he’s a more believable person than he ever was before. I’ve been raving about this aspect of the new Doctor Who since the beginning: the stuff that made the Doctor real before was the stuff we brought to the show. But now it’s all there: it’s not in the subtext — and sometimes we had to imagine the subtext, too — it’s all there on the surface.

Of course the other big thing we brought to the show was a desire to escape humdrum life stuck on this one lonely boring rock. And now that’s all right out there on the surface, too: “You had a life,” the Doctor says to Donna, “of work and sleep and telly and rent and tax and take-away dinners, all birthdays and Christmases and two-weeks’ holiday a year, and then you end up here. Donna Noble, citizen of the Earth, standing on a different planet.” There’s fiction as escapist fantasy, in which the unspoken undertone is, “Hey, look at what life looks like when there’s cooler stuff to worry about than paying the bills and changing the cat box.” And then there’s this far more specific kind of escapism that panders to our desire to believe we are exceptional: “Being a drone may be fine for everyone else, but I deserve better.” It’s a lot lighter in tone here, but The Matrix did the same thing, told us that if we felt like we were too smart and too special to be contrained by the mundane rules that everyone else is stuck with, well, that’s just a sign not that we’re useless misfits but that we’re clued in to a higher reality in which we might turn out to be the savior of all those numb drones.

Or the Ood.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that these themes crop up around this story — or maybe it’s just that this story made me hone in on these themes — because that idea of being able to step outside the conventional and look back at it and see it as an invisible status quo is what all science fiction is about, in a meta sense. (Which is why all SF, no matter when and where it’s set, is ultimately about the time and place in which it is written.) The people of the 42rd century take the Ood and their servitude for granted, and tell themselves pleasant lies — “we keep the Ood healthy, safe, and educated; we make them better” — when they’re in danger of seeing the truth about what they’ve done to another intelligent species. And we watch the advertisement for the Ood and think it’s clever, and notice the Warhol-esque depictions of the Ood and think they’re snarky, and we don’t even notice the commodification of people (“It’s a he, not an it”) until this:

“A great big empire built on slavery…” –Donna

“It’s not so different from your time.” –the Doctor

“Oy, I haven’t got slaves!” –Donna

“Who do you think made your clothes?” –the Doctor

Man, that cuts like a knife, and suddenly brings all the fun escapist fantasy down to a level that makes you want to weep. Imagine the Doctor landing in a sweatshop in Guatemala or Vietnam. Imagine Donna confronted with eight-year-olds bent over sewing machines for 18 hours a day making Nike sneakers and designer jeans. What could they possibly do that would make a whit of difference in the long run, or even the short?

Even the Doctor’s optimism about us is tempered:

“Back home, the papers and the telly, they keep saying we haven’t got long to live: global warming, flooding, all the bees disappearing… But look at us. We’re everywhere. Is that good or bad, though? I mean, are we like explorers or more like a virus?” –Donna

“Sometimes I wonder…” –the Doctor

I watch the show these days as much for Tennant as I do for just the SF nuttiness of it, because actors fascinate me and he’s a particularly fascinating actor. I love watching an actor who gives me a sense that he’s always there in the moment, that even when his character isn’t the focus of a scene he’s doing something with the character, that he really understands this person that he’s playing, even if there isn’t always an opportunity to reveal all that he knows.

And as a writer of fiction, I know that inventing this kind of stuff isn’t always a conscious thing — you don’t always know where it comes from, and sometimes it’s true that later you go back and look at what you created and see things that you know you did not deliberately intend to be there. So I’d love to ask Tennant, just as a fer-instance in this episode, whether his bit that begins with “Oh, dear,” as the Doctor learns that Mr. Halpen is being transformed into an Ood, was a deliberate invocation of Peter Davison’s Doctor. Because his whole performance in that scene from that moment on is so Peter Davison — there’ve been hints of that before in Tennant’s take on the Doctor, as well as hints of Tom Baker’s Doctor — but whether he meant it to be or whether it just springs from his own lifelong love of the show and the character and what he grew up watching I’m simply dying to know. Partly because I always want to know whether other creative people are as crazy as as I am.

But that’s all really by way of introduction to saying that as much as I find my eye drawn to watching Tennant, I love watching Catherine Tate here, too, because she’s doing all the same things. The slightest hint of Donna rolling her eyes at the “little something for the gentleman” — the rather disturbing “sexy voice” coming from the Ood — is hilarious. How Donna swings from “eww” at meeting her first Ood to sympathy is wonderful… and how she leaps to reapproach Delta 50 after the scary red-eye manifests itself, even as the Doctor hangs back, is terrific. And together: wow. Their scene in front of the Ood cage, when she wants to hear their psychic song and then can’t take it: magic. He’s a little disappointed in her, she’s disappointed in herself, and yet, there’s a solidarity to them that seems to transcend what either of them really appreciates about the other.

I don’t know whether Tennant or Tate intended that, but that’s something else I’d love to talk to them about, too.

Random thoughts on “Planet of the Ood”:

• The Ood saying “D’oh!”: first reference to The Simpsons on Doctor Who? I believe it is.

• Looks like that bouncy ’60s spy music is gonna be Donna’s theme — strains of it in a minor key show up here and there in this episode.

• Donna, Donna, Donna. I know she has to keep up the not-attracted-to-the-Doctor thing since he made himself so clear about the limits of their relationship — “we’re so not married, never ever” — but come on: “A real spaceship… You’ve got a box, he’s got a Ferrari”? Um, even if the idea of all those lovely bedrooms is off limits, the TARDIS is still full of wardrobes of wonderful clothing and libraries of wonderful books and cloisters to stroll in and Rassilon knows what else… I refuse to believe that Donna is that shallow. Perhaps she’s working with a reverse psychology thing: drive him so crazy with her (pretend) disdain that he decides he must have the one person who treats him like shit? I don’t get that… but then, I don’t get a lot of stuff about people.

• If you haven’t seen David Tennant in anything other than Doctor Who, you have to know that almost every other role he’s played on film or TV has been, at best, decidedly nonheroic and, at worst, downright creepy. (There’s not that many of them, and I’ve seen most of them by now, and I’m seriously thinking I need to write about them all this summer in preparation for my seeing him take on Hamlet in Stratford this fall. So stay tuned.) He’s amazingly versatile as an actor, but if I’d been more aware of his body of work before I learned he would be playing the Doctor — I’d only seen him do the disgustingly slithery Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter, and I thought, Eww, he’s gonna be the Doctor? — I wouldn’t have been able to see him in the role. And now, this moment:

makes me wonder whether Russell Davies might not be planning to take the character in a different direction, maybe even in the cause of killing the show, if not the Doctor himself. Cuz when the Ood tells the Doctor, “I think your song must end soon,” this worries me greatly. Maybe it just means that Tennant wants to leave the show and the Doctor will regenerate, but I don’t know if I’m ready for even that.

• As well-written as the bulk of this episode is, I’m not sure I buy the sadistic head guard: he seems tossed in as an excuse to have the Doctor be more athletic than we usually get to see him being, running around the warehouse and bouncing off the sides of cargo containers and chased by a giant robot arm and all. I mean, I guess it’s cool in a video game kind of way, in a way for the show to show off what it can do with a budget, but still… does it really serve the story?

• I can’t look at Tim McInnerny, who plays the guy turning into an Ood here, and not think of Captain Darling. Sorry, Tim: I know that’s not fair, but there we are.

(next: Episode 4: “The Sontaran Stratagem”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • There’s no way the BBC will kill the show in the foreseeable future. It’s simply too successful. Davies expects the current series to last 20 or 30 years, with breaks every four or five years. He has said many times that even after that, it will go on being resurrected like Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood or Tarzan, because TV executives will say: “That’s been a success twice. Let’s try it again.”

  • While I thought this was a really good episode, I’m not down with a couple of things.

    First, the Doctor is not a Vulcan. Since when has he had the ability to do what is basically a mind-meld on someone and give them psychic abilities (or turn them off again)?

    And the idea that a human could suddenly change into an Ood or any other humanoid form (the Fly is another example), considering the completely different physiology, is an oft-abused SF notion that I could have done without. There’s simply no scientifically-explainable or rational means by which a human could be changed like that without experiencing a much higher degree of trauma along the way. It might have been more believable if there had been much more overt external changes, not just a trifling amount of hair loss, before the big changeover.

    But I like how Donna is kinda playing the “hard to get” thing with the Doctor. While Rose and Martha totally fawned over him, Donna acts like she is much more difficult to impress. When something really does break through her hard exterior, she really lets it show.

  • Ryan H

    The way that the Ood referred to them as Doctor/Donna gave me a different interpretation. The Ood are a hive mind kind of species and I kind of got the feeling that they viewed the Doctor and Donna as part of a single person. A single Song. So, if the song is going to end, it could me a fatal result for one or the other. Or it could just be the end of Donna’s involvement with the Doctor.

  • Danielle

    It would be cool if Donna is playing hard to get as a way of getting the Doctor to fall for her. With some guys, that actually works. I know this from experience. Of course, I’ve never had the chance to try this tactic out on a Time Lord *sigh*.

    I got a little teary-eyed during the scene with the Ood’s sad song. I have a bad feeling that Donna’s not going to be coming back next season, or ever. And that sucks because I really, really like her, way better than Rose or Martha.

  • Joanne

    Re the psychic thing – it has happened in Classic Who. Four does something to Sarah Jane in “The Hand of Fear” (her last serial) involving hypnotism. It doesn’t last long, but actually it’s not that dissimilar from what the Doctor does here – a way of getting into her mind and controlling her actions, briefly. I haven’t got past Leela yet though so I don’t know if later Doctors do it.

    One thing I adored about the Ood episode is the music. The song itself is utterly gorgeous – one of Murray Gold’s best themes, I think.

  • NorthernStar

    Clayj – Past Doctor’s have used psychic powers and the darker seventh, for instance, could be quite invasive with it, touching foreheads and making people go “scrambled” (Battlefield and Survival, IIRC)

    Also the concept of the Doctor being a telepath has been with the show almost since the beginning. It’s only now that he’s been up front about it.

    MaryAnn – the show’s been recomissioned for a full series in 2010 so Who will continue. Unfortunately I can’t think of *any* actor who could take over, althought Paul Ewing would be a welcome choice for me.

  • I disagree, Ryan H… the episode seemed to make it very clear that it was the Doctor’s song that will end soon — an intriguing (and welcome) bit of foreshadowing for a show that doesn’t often employ emotional or developmental arcs.

  • Also, when Tennant does leave the show, how about a black doctor? I think that would be splendid.

  • Well, Newbs, Adrian Lester has outed himself as a fan and is jockeying for the role.

    http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/2008/05/11/i-want-to-be-first-black-doctor-who-91466-20891191/

  • Ryan H

    There is only one man to play a new Who. Philip Glenister, aka DCI Gene Hunt. Try and tell me you can’t see him as a fantastic brooding Doctor.

  • I wholeheartedly approve of Adrian Lester. Very cute. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0504412/

    However, I still want this Doctor to stay around a bit longer. Like another 5 years or so!

  • AJP

    I enjoyed the episode, but it didn’t seem like the Doctor did much in the actual freeing of the Ood. Maybe I missed something, but mostly what the Doctor did seemed to be discovering the Ood freeing themselves with an assist from the Free Ood scientis/mole (I can’t remember his name).

    The episode was fun, but the Doctor seemed more like an observer watching something exciting happening than an actual instigator of things.

  • Kathy A

    Adrian Lester would be a good choice.

    Of course, I was hoping that they’d cast Colin Salmon as Bond, but he ended up being M’s number 2 instead. Oh, well.

  • Maybe the Doctor’s song that will end means he won’t be as sad anymore. Or maybe, as someone said somewhere, it is the Doctor/Donna song that must end soon. (Still sad, but then we still get to keep the Doctor!)

  • Intriguing… I haven’t seen Adrian Lester in very much, but I’ll look around.

    Doctor DCI Hunt? I’m in ecstasy at the very idea. God! That would be frakking wonderful.

  • evilgeniuslady

    The bit of song playing in the background when the Ood talked about the Doctor’s song ending was Flavia’s Theme – named after a high-ranking Time Lord in The Five Doctors. They usually use it to signify “timelordy” things happening.

    Therefore, I think the Doctor’s song is about being alone in the universe, the only one left of his race, the only remnant of Gallifrey, carrying the weight of a double genocide and the fate of the universe on his shoulders. It’s part loneliness and part guilt, but I don’t think the song will end because of the Doctor dying. I think either he’ll learn to deal with his survivor’s guilt, or the Time Lords will somehow come back and he won’t be alone anymore… (yeah, I don’t know if I actually believe they’ll come back, but wouldn’t it be cool?)

  • MaryAnn

    Doctor DCI Hunt?

    The Gene genie Doctor? I dunno…

    My vote for the next Doctor? Richard Armitage.

  • Joanne

    AJP: it didn’t seem like the Doctor did much in the actual freeing of the Ood

    No, he didn’t, but I liked that! He can’t always be doing, sometimes I think it’s good he’s mainly watching.

  • Paul

    The “Oh dear!” was pure, 100% Patrick Troughton, surely? I don’t recall it ever being a Davison thing.

  • Dawn

    The bit about the Doctor’s song ending soon worried me too – but remember he is still mourning the loss of Rose (but doesn’t show it so much now). And we know that “she is coming back” (as the Pyrovillians said!!!) Could be that, or, the fact that he isn’t “alone”, or maybe the end of Donna (as in sudden demise….death…please no!) But think about it, he hasn’t lost a companion in the new series like that yet – one was wrenched away, one walked to save herself and Martha wants to be with him forever – cue parting of the ways at the end of the series (sob). Would Russell be so cruel (I really worry about Donna’s grandad too – maybe something is going to happen to him … nooooooooo!!)

    Donna is definitely my favourite companion, she brings out the best in the Doctor by challenging him and by being an equal – the Tennant/Tate dynamic just shines out of the screen.

    What I like about series 4 is the cool mix of comedy and angst (oh – and the Doc goes through some pain in this series, bless him). Episode 7 is supposed to be a laugh a minute…respite for the darkness to come I wonder.

    I agree about Murray Gold’s score for this episode – pure magic. (Spoiler alert….the score in Episode 6 is gorgeous – especially near the end.)

    ps – I “NEED” to squish an Ood – they are so squishable!

  • MaryAnn

    Would Russell be so cruel

    Yes. Yes, he would. He’s already shown no compunction in torturing us, and I don’t see him stopping any time soon.

  • NorthernStar

    newbs and Dave – Paul Ewing is mixed race and was absolutely fantastic on stage as Mozart in Amadeus and simply stunning as Puck. Sadly he’s given up acting in favour of his music career. But I still think he’d be an excellent choice for the Doctor.

    MaryAnn – sorry for going off-topic :)

  • MaryAnn

    No, unfortunately talking about who could play the Doctor next seems entirely appropriate in the context of this episode. So it’s not off topic.

  • John

    Wouldn’t it be nice if someone really wore the role for a while? To see The Doctor actually age. Is he just taking more risks in his old age? He used to be a lot older when he was younger.

  • Russell T Davies has said he wouldn’t cast anyone over 45 as the Doctor and probably not over 40. Television production is just too punishing these days. As he put it, rather facetiously: “We’d kill him. I’d be at David Warner’s funeral!”

    (Warner has expressed an interest in the role in the past and played an alternate universe Doctor in audio adventures.)

  • Carey

    Mary Ann, I just found your site today, and I am so happy to find someone else as pathetically in love with the Doctor as I am. :) I can’t wait to see your comments on the next several episodes. I didn’t think I’d like Catherine Tate as a companion, but I really do, and I like Martha more now that she’s not so puppy-love-ish (though there is no way I would have walked out on the Doctor, I would have spent the rest of my life pathetically following him around!).

  • John

    Oh David Warner as The Doctor?
    Wouldn’t that be something?

    Although my personal secret wish is Sean Pertwee.
    As a sort of Doctor throwback. But I guess he’s missed the Russell T Davies age cut off. Oh wait – lookee here – he only turns 44 next month (good ol’ IMDB). One season perhaps? (Still on IMDB – I see Tom Baker has two sons…)

    Thanks for the input Dave.

  • MaryAnn

    How about John Simm as the Doctor? I know he’s already played the Master, but hey, this is science fiction: Davies could make it work.

  • Sonia

    The “your song must end soon” bit was worrying. But listen closely and you will here Doomsday play in the background when the line is said.

    To me that is either a reference to Rose returning and therefore an end to his mourning for losing her (as Dawn said). Or if that song is meant to represent more general loss, the end of Doctor-Donna as a team (essentially him losing Donna in some way).

    Safe to say I’d prefer the former. Oh and yes, I must agree that Tennant is a splendidly versatile actor who just lives and breathes the role.

  • boz

    I usually hate this Occam guy and his stupid razor, but in this case he is right. Tennant will leave after this season. At least it’s my idea :)

  • Joanne

    “Soon” might be not as soon as we feared – I was just listening to the podcast/commentary thing for episode six and DT is discussing filming the Christmas special. And I think he’s been seen filming it too, ahead of Hamlet opening. And they’ve said he’s signed on for four specials next year. So fingers crossed we’ve a bit more Ten before Eleven comes along.

    MaryAnn, have you seen Learners yet? A one-off TV comedy written by Jessica “Joan Redfern” Hynes and also starring Shaun “Pete Tyler” Dingwall about an inept learner driver. Very funny. Tennant is utterly adorable and nerdy and totally not the Doctor as a driving instructor with the patience of a saint. Thoroughly enjoyable.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, I’ve seen *Learners,* and it’s cute.

    And yes, Tennant is onboard for the Christmas special, which was filming recently, as well as for several special DW movies in 2009. But no one is saying anything about what the future of the show after that is. I do have to admit that I find it hard to conceive of Tennant staying with DW much beyond 2009 — he must be itching to move on.

  • I do have to admit that I find it hard to conceive of Tennant staying with DW much beyond 2009 — he must be itching to move on.

    I don’t know about that. It’s his dream job, and the BBC seems to be willing to fit things around his schedule. Plus, he’s managed to do other things during his tenure, so he can have his proverbial cake and eat it too…

  • MaryAnn

    That would be great, of course, for him and us. I hope it’s the case. But I do know that a show like this starts to falter when the stars start to get bored with it.

  • MaryAnn

    Not that I mean to suggest that Tennant looks or sounds bored with the show…

  • Poly in London

    I think DT will do another full series after the specials. I don’t think he ‘d ever consider that without having the upcoming break, but six months doing Hamlet and Love’s Labour’s Lost with the Royal Shakespeare Company is as much of a change and challenge and artistic validation he ‘ll need for the next year. Working on Doctor Who for another 9 months and finishing in style after a full series will probably be attractive.

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