1. And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the
key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil,
and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.
-Revelations 20 (King James Version).
It’s interesting to see that with the multi-part stories in the new series
you have the return of each episode having a separate name. This is a reversion
to the very earliest days of Doctor Who, during the William Hartnell era where
the stories didn’t start to have collective names until ‘The Smugglers’. Doubtless
this will mean a great deal of argument later on when future fans try and
give names for these collective stories. So if any of you wish to try your
luck then send your suggestions in now.
The story begins off with the TARDIS materialising in a storage compartment
of a distant space colony; shortly after landing the Doctor and Rose are confronted
by the hideous Ood, a somewhat more successful alien species from Russell
T. Davies then last year’s Slitheen. Apparently he wanted to invent something
that sounded like ‘odd’, which I guess is a very RTD type of pun. They have
the appearance, as someone quite eloquently put it, of looking like they
are being permanently sick. In fact, again in another nod to ‘Futurama’, they
bear a strong resemblance to Dr Zoidberg, with the addition of a lemon squeezer
on a lead coming from their mouths.
Although hideous and terrifying these creatures are not actually a threat
to the Doctor and Rose, they serve a team of scientists from the Torchwood
Institute, (yes, it’s them again) whose rocket ship has landed on a nameless
planet in geosynchronous orbit around a black hole. What’s that you say? Impossible?
Well don’t say we didn’t warn you.
We are in familiar Doctor Who territory here and as you would expect there
is an external threat seeking to ensnare the unwary space travellers and besiege
them in their claustrophobic base. The Doctor and Rose are the first to realise
something is amiss when they find that the alien language on the walls is
not translated by the TARDIS. This indicates that they have travelled beyond
the TARDIS’ range of knowledge, an interesting use of the continuity established
within the new series. It doesn’t help that the only words they can understand
say ‘Welcome to Hell’.
Something malevolent is locked deep within the impossible planet, a great
source of energy situated ten miles beneath the surface. The team from Torchwood
lost their Captain when they landed on the rock some months before and a beleaguered
Zachary Cross Flane (Shaun Parkes) has stepped into the breach. Helping him
are head of security Mr Jefferson (Danny Webb) a man with a shady past and
archaeologist Toby Zed (Will Thorp) who is as stumped as the Doctor when
it comes to the alien hieroglyphs. In charge of the Ood’s welfare is psychologist
Danny Bartock (Ronny Jhutti). They are all engaged in the process of drilling
down towards the mystery power-source; this is dangerous work and the planet
is subject to numerous earthquakes. During one of these the TARDIS is lost
in a bottomless pit. Zack is adamant that they do not have the time or the
resources to go looking for it. The Doctor is faced with the horrifying prospect
of settling down with Rose and getting a mortgage, but things are just about
to get worse, if that is possible.
The Ood have been behaving well, odd, and have taken to muttering strange
half biblical sentences about the beast and the pit as they go about their
daily business. Not only that but the weak telepathic field that binds them
together in a group consciousness has started to become unfathomably strong.
Meanwhile Toby finds himself visited by a demonic voice, nicely provided
by Gabriel Woolf (the same man who gave us the voice of Sutekh in the ‘Pyramids
of Mars’). Before he can say get behind me Satan, he is possessed by the uncanny
voice. This being a siege we expect a good few bodies by the end of the story.
Stepping forward into the role of first victim is the unfortunate Scooti
Manista (MyAnna Buring) a lowly maintenance worker who finds herself sucked
out into space when she comes across the possessed Toby gallivanting out
in the vacuum.
The drilling has meanwhile reached the source of power locked in the planet’s
crust; it is this same source of power that holds the planet in orbit through
the creation of a gravity funnel. The Doctor and scientist Ida Scott descend
to investigate, finding a huge underground cavern with an immense trapdoor
set into the ground.
Up top things are getting nasty in the control room as both Toby and the
Ood come under the beast’s influence and the body count starts to rise. As
we go into the cliffhanger for part one we have Rose and the surviving members
of the Torchwood team cut off from Zack up top whilst the Doctor and Ida gaze
down into the slowly opening trapdoor down below. Something wicked this way
Many of you must by now be thinking that this is in many ways an uber-traditional
Doctor Who story; we have the companion and the Doctor separated from each
other, an ancient evil using mind control to unleash an army of slaves on
a group of besieged humans. We have a fantastic setting on the edge of the
known universe, but there are certain differences. The Doctor is for once
at a loss to explain away the phenomena of the Beast. True he has crossed
swords with the Devil before, but usually it turns out to be some kind of
super-powerful alien like Azal. In ‘The Satan Pit’ however, the Doctor cannot
fathom what he is up against although he is able to hazard a few guesses.
That this is a creature that feeds off fear and negative emotions is established
early on; he therefore counsels the humans to work together and use their
intelligence in order to combat it. It falls to Rose to organise the people
up top and assign tasks to the crew. A way of defeating the Ood is devised,
using the collective telepathic field against them, just as the Beast is using
it to control them.
Meanwhile the Doctor takes a leap of faith into the Satan pit and finds
himself face to face with a monstrous tower block sized version of the Devil.
But is it the real Devil? The Doctor defers that question until later, but
manages to work out how the Beast was trapped in the pit and what the nature
of its prison is. The Beast it seems has left its body behind in the pit
while its mind has travelled into Toby. The body of the Beast cannot escape
the pit because if it does the gravity funnel will be broken and the planet
will plunge into the black hole. (Why they couldn’t have just thrown the
creature into the black hole in the first place is not mentioned).
Upstairs the survivors of the Torchwood team have dragged a reluctant Rose
onto their Dan Dare style space-rocket and attempt to escape from the planet.
Unfortunately this is exactly what the Beast wants, and while Toby goes Biblical
on them Rose punctures the window with a flying bolt.
The Doctor is perched on the horns of a nasty dilemma; that if he kills
the Beast by plunging the planet into the black hole than he will kill Rose
and the escaping humans. If he does nothing, the Beast escapes to wreak havoc
in the universe through the agency of Toby and other biddable minds. He resolves
this conundrum through another leap of faith, this time it is his belief in
Rose that wins through.
As the rocks start flying through air and lava begins to flow the Doctor
fortuitously comes across his mislaid TARDIS. (Wow, that was lucky!) Just
in time it seems to save everybody from plunging into the black hole, a fate
reserved for the Beast, Toby and the unfortunate Ood.
Mostly this story works well, although there is an element of obviousness
to the TARDIS being found in the way it is. There is also a sense that Rose
is nearing the end of her character arc, that she has just got too good at
this cosmic travelling lark. Not only that but I don’t know how many more
scenes I can take of Rose reacting to the loss or potential loss of the Doctor.
The news that Billie Piper is leaving the series after the end of this year’s
season is perhaps less surprising in that case.