Sunday, May 11, 2008

Doctor Who: 'Planet of the Ood' (4x03)

It’s strange for me to think that both Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica are in the fourth season. Thanks to the many lengthy delays in its broadcast run, it feels like BSG has been on forever, while I’ve watched all of Doctor Who in the past few months and it still feels like a ‘new’ series to me. But, thankfully, both shows are at the top of their game in the fourth season.

Typically, the fourth season is a stumbling point for series, Buffy, Angel, The Sopranos and Six Feet Under all aired clunkers in their fourth year, and needed to be reinvented in the fifth year. But, both Who and BSG are ‘ending’ after this year, BSG for real, Who for its Davies tenure. And, the last season seems to liberate producers to be a bit bolder, raise the stakes and pay off more story points, knowing that they won’t have to keep things going for another year. These past few episodes of Who haven’t had that much explicitly dealing with the upcoming ending, this episode’s end of the song reference is the only notable one here, but the mood feels different, heavier, more reflective and subdued, like the Doctor’s finally having to really examine the weight of his years of travel.

Surprisingly, Donna has become the most interesting companion on the show so far. I still like Rose more, but Donna’s perspective is making every story she’s in more interesting, and forcing the Doctor to examine himself in a way he never has before. The best scene in this episode is the Doctor and Donna outside the Ood cage, when he lets her hear the song. In a moment that feels so real and sad, Donna says that she wanted to go out in the world because she thought it would be better, but now she just wants to go home. Much like with Martha, the Doctor’s companion is finding that it’s not all fun and games out there.

The Doctor can never turn off the song like Donna can. He’s always got to live with this, and much of the season so far is about the burden he’s got to carry, living as a god, forced to let people live or die according to the structure of history. As I said last week, this flows really well out of the Master arc. The Master grievously abused his power as a timelord, he remade the world in his image, and the Doctor must be thinking about whether he could do that too, only for good. But, he’s bound by the rules and can’t intercede.

The opening half hour or so of this episode was all great stuff. We’re first made to associate the Ood with slaves from the past, and are wondering how a civilization could allow this to happen. But, everything’s upended when the Doctor talks about how the Ood are the same as the third world laborers who make our clothes, and ensure that we can have the cheap consumer goods that fill our homes. The implication is every society is built by exploiting the labor of its poorest citizens, and it’s surprisingly easy to justify or ignore their presence.

This was a great looking episode. The concentration camp/meat packing plant imagery was powerful, and the snow over everything was beautiful. The chaotic Ood riot at the end wasn’t quite chaotic enough, but that’s a frequent problem with the series. A lot of the scenarios are so ambitious, you can’t help but be a bit disappointed when it feels like only ten Ood are breaking out instead of ten thousand.

The episode drags a bit on the road to its conclusion, particularly the time spent with hair losing scientist guy. We pretty much know this guy is going to get his just desserts at some point, and the time spent with this one dimensional guy isn’t as interesting as time spent with Donna and the Doctor. However, the end is effective, as the enemy becomes that which he hates most, and we get the wonderful scenes of the Ood raising their brains and linking up again.

The final scene is on the one hand pure tease for future episodes, but it also works as a way to show Donna that sometimes the tough times are worth it because there are moments where they can make a difference. It renews her faith in what the Doctor does, and deepens their partnership again. I love what they’re doing with her this season, and Catherine Tate is doing a great job of distinguishing herself from the previous companions.

It’s appropriate that Who should be airing as the summer blockbuster season revs up since this show is pretty much a great summer blockbuster every week. More than the vast majority of big movies released in the summer, the show gives me that feeling I remember from watching big, crazy action movies as a kid. It’s the mix of spectacle and emotion that I love. That’s why even though a scene like the crane chase is essentially pointless for the story, I’m glad it’s in there because it’s just crazy fun. I think it’s that joy that’s missing from a lot of blockbusters today, you get the sense that the characters are having fun and really care about what’s happening. And, ultimately, the show’s about the characters. It’s a great season so far, hopefully they’ll keep it up.


The Runaway Llama said...

Davies isn't exactly leaving after this season. He's doing three big 90 minute specials and hasn't said either way about the fifth season. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tennant and Davies doing the fifth season and both leaving at the same time.

Patrick said...

Hmm, I thought I had read he was definitely done after those specials. That changes things a bit. I'm curious what they'll do with the Rose stuff, you can't exactly have the two of them live together forever, but I don't think they'd want to go the Doomsday route again and have a painful separation. My idea would be to have the Doctor agree to go old with her, have him age until they both grow old and Rose dies, then have him regenerate as the Tennant era ends.

The Runaway Llama said...

"My idea would be to have the Doctor agree to go old with her, have him age until they both grow old and Rose dies, then have him regenerate as the Tennant era ends."

That would definitely be incredibly poignant and a definite way of writing her out of the show for good.

David Golding said...

It's been confirmed that Davies is leaving after the specials, and Moffat is taking over.

Patrick said...

Excellent news, I hope Tennant sticks around for another season or two as well.