Doctor Who - The Impossible Planet
The "base under siege" was such a commonly recurring trope in the original series of Doctor Who that I'm just surprised it took so long for Davis and co. to give us their own take on it. I suppose it's because in the past, this kind of small-scale story was usually cost-saving alternative to the more expensive location-based affairs, but the bigger budget for this series means the current production team can afford to produce an episode like this out of choice rather than necessity.
And most of the familiar elements turn up here: The Doctor arrives in a remote, enclosed location, is immediately separated from the TARDIS and ends up trapped with a bunch of disparate characters under threat from some kind of malevolent outside force. The only thing missing is the usual high number of gratuitous deaths(only two so far that I've counted), but I'm sure that could all change next week.
You don't need to look too closely to realise this is an episode that wears its influences on its sleeve - H.P. Lovecraft(the look of the Ood is pure Cthulu), Event Horizon, 2001, Doom(listen for the door-opening sound), and so on. But the most obvious reference point must be Doctor Who itself. This was in many ways the most "old-skool" episode the new series has yet produced, full of presumably intentional homages to episodes from the past, from The Daemons to The Robots of Death, and even Frontios("The TARDIS is gone!"). And of course the casting Gabriel Woolf as the voice of The Beast, instantly bringing to mind his infamous role as Sutekh in 1975's Pyramids Of Mars. And over thirty years later, it's a voice that still sends chills down the spine.
Overall, I felt the majority of the supporting characters were convincingly written in the same way the cast of the Cybermen episodes weren't, with a only couple of dubious moments(I seriously thought Daniel Webb was going to attempt an American accent at the beginning). The only real weak link in the cast was Ronny Jhutti as Danny, who just didn't quite convince somehow. Full marks to Will Thorp's excellently creepy turn as the possessed Toby, and Shaun Parkes as the world-weary captain. Claire Rushbrook as Ida was perfectly okay, but I didn't quite buy her as a scientist.
The Doctor and Rose: Not too annoying in this episode. There was a very strange moment of self-aware humour at the beginning with them guffawing over why they can't just get back in the TARDIS and leave, the kind of gag which you'd expect in The Simpsons, but which feels a little out-of-place here. But for the most part they have a relaxed chemistry which doesn't feel too forced. I particularly liked the lovely sad scene of the two of them discussing their options now they're stuck in the future. And once again I'm heartened by just how much Billie Piper has improved since the last season - seriously, just go back and rewatch any first season episode and see how much better her line delivery is now.
David Tennant's performance is up to his usual standard, although I think he's still overplaying the wackiness to a certain degree. Thinking back it occurs to me the Doctor didn't actually have an enormous amount to do in this episode, he spends a lot of time sitting around and then goes down a hole. Perhaps he's saving his strength for the inevitable smackdown with the Big Ugly next time.
The only other moment which rang false for me was the Doctor offering to give the captain a hug, possibly due to the peculiar way Tennant played it. Perhaps it would've funnier(and more realistic) if the captain had just told him to sod off. On the other hand I thought the Ood politely informing Rose that "The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit to make war on God!" as it serves her lunch managed to be amusing and scary at the same time.
I was slightly relieved that writer Matt Jones didn't choose to give us a slavery lecture when the nature of humanity's relationship with the Ood was revealed, as if he trusts the audience to understand this is a Bad Thing without having to deliver a moral lesson.
James Strong's direction didn't draw too much attention to itself, but was effective in the right places - namely, the building up of tension in the excellent "Don't look behind you" scene. Another that particularly stood out for me was the eerily beautiful scene where Scooty sees Toby standing outside, sans spacesuit - good use of lighting and the well-judged performances of the two actors makes for a very haunting moment. The feeling of events spiralling out of control in the last few minutes is also expertly done, with a real sense of mounting panic.
I'm glad they decided to hold back the reveal of The Beast's appearance until next week, even to the extent of keeping it out of the "Next Time" sequence, and I just hope it lives up to the suspense.
I think someone should hide Murray Gold's Firefly DVDs until he promises to stop "borrowing" bits of the score. Because, really, that's just cheeky isn't it? Did he think no-one would notice?
I fully admit I'm a Who-fanboy of a few years standing. So did I only enjoy this because it so deliberately harkened back to the "classic" era of the show? Well, not entirely. Previous nods this series have made to the past left me a little cold (yes, it was nice seeing Sarah and K9 again, but couldn't it have been in a better episode?), so it's just nice to have an episode that gets it right, giving us the feel of a classic Who without being reliant on continuity and back-references. But I also felt this was a solid piece of TV in its own right, genuinely creepy in places, and featuring a monster that, unlike others in this series, actually feels like a serious threat.