Separated from the TARDIS, the Doctor and Rose find themselves stuck on a planet orbiting a black hole with the crew of a space base. However, an evil entity is awakening, causing trouble for the crew.
The Impossible Planet is possibly one of the first glimpses of revived Doctor Who I ever had. I have a distinct memory of seeing the crew seeing Scooti’s body floating towards the black hole when my brother was re-watching this episode – or possibly channel hopping. It is certainly a stronger two-parter than the rather limp Cyberman double-hander in the same series, giving us some great moments of fear and unease and (takes a deep breath) some actual decent moments between the Tenth Doctor and Rose. I think the majority of the guest cast do well and they feel like lived-in characters.
No signal. That’s the first time I’ve gone out of range. Mind you, even if I could…what would I tell her? Can you build another TARDIS?
They were grown, not built. And with my home planet gone, we’re kind of stuck.
Well, could be worse. This lot said that they’d give us a lift.
And then what?
I don’t know. Find a planet. Get a job. You live a life the same as the rest of the Universe.
I’d have to settle down. Get a house or something, a proper house. With…doors and carpets. Me, living in a house. That, that is terrifying.
You’d have to get a mortgage.Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor
I’ll start by talking about the Doctor and Rose. If you’ve read any of my other reviews of David Tennant’s first series, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of this pairing, however, the writing seems a lot better. The scene with the Doctor and Rose discussing the implications of losing the TARDIS, especially for the Doctor, is one of the most mature and well-dealt with conversations that I think that these two ever have. It’s interesting for the Doctor to have this discussion, considering that Russell T Davies seems to like forceably separating the Doctor and the TARDIS. I might be wrong but can think of several occasions this happens in his era, and this might be mind playing tricks on me) but I can only think of two occasions since 2010 that this has happened (Cold War and The Tsuranga Conundrum). This story moves to ground their relationship and actually makes me see that David Tennant and Billie Piper do have decent chemistry together. There are little moments like Rose kissing the Doctor’s visor before he goes down in the drill capsule with Ida that sell the idea of this relationship being something more than the standard Doctor-companion relationship. Perhaps because the Doctor feels quite out of his depth, with the language that the TARDIS can’t translate means that they can’t be as smug and cavalier as usual. We do get some of the inconsistent Rose that has been around since Tennant’s debut in New Earth rather than the strong individual we saw when she was with Eccleston, especially in the moment she tells Ida and the Doctor to keep breathing when they are in the diving bell.
The story certainly fits into the category of base under siege, with the interesting added threat of the black hole. I’m reliably informed by my research done in the course of writing this blog that a planet in orbit around a black hole is not as impossible as the Doctor states, just highly improbable, but otherwise this story is well written. Matt Jones goes down as another writer who has written one solitary adventure for the revived series, although Russell T Davies had to do a lot of work on this two-parter, which might explain why he never came back. The story does create a terrifying atmosphere, with the scenes with Toby Zed on his own, with Gabriel Woolf’s voice is really scary. I love the idea of the planet being ‘the bitter pill’, which is a lovely piece of dialogue. The story also presents some uncomfortable truths about humanity with the inclusion of the Ood, revealing that even in the future, humans will still feel the need to subjugate species. The story also benefits from the direction of James Strong who helps the story feel claustrophobic and threatening when it needs to. The shot of Scooti floating in space is beautiful, and even knowing how it was filmed thanks to Doctor Who Confidential, it still blows me away every single time.
In the scriptures of the Valtino, this planet is called Krop-Tor, the bitter pill. And the black hole is supposed to be a mighty demon, who was tricked into devouring the planet only to spit it out because it was poison.Ida Scott
The guest cast here for the most part feel quite lived in and three dimensional, with the exception of Scooti, who is dispatched quite early on by Toby. Zach is thrust into a reluctant leadership position by the death of the previous captain of the mission and it is encouraging to see how he is supported by his fellow crew members, making the best of a bad situation. The only character who seems to be lacking characterisation who survives the run-time of this first part is Toby, who seems to be classed as a bit weird and a loner, also known as perfect possession material. I’d like to reserve special praise for the work of Silas Carson and Gabriel Woolf, voicing the Ood and the Beast respectively, as both are key here. Carson makes the Ood’s calm responses chilling when they start reciting the messages of the Beast and Woolf is suitably sinister – when Radio Free Skaro did a commentary episode for it a few years ago, they slipped a clip of his dialogue in unannounced, and save to say it felt as though my heart stopped for a second!
Verdict: The Impossible Planet does a good job of creating a terrifying atmosphere thanks to a strong script and direction, as well as a good guest cast. 9/10
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Danny Webb (Mr Jefferson), Shaun Parkes (Zachary Cross Flane), Claire Rushbrook (Ida Scott), Will Thorp (Toby Zed), Ronny Jhutti (Danny Bartock), MyAnna Buring (Scooti Manista), Paul Kasey (The Ood), Gabriel Woolf (Voice of the Beast) & Silas Carson (Voice of the Ood).
Writer: Matt Jones
Director: James Strong
Behind the Scenes
- Matt Jones wrote the Seventh Doctor Virgin New Adventures novel Bad Therapy.
- The story originally featured the Slitheen Family until the production team realised that the cost of repairing the costumes was equivalent to creating new ones.
- First appearance of the Sanctuary Base space suit, which would be worn on multiple occasions and by multiple incarnations of The Doctor.
- Gabriel Woolf previous played Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars.
- Danny Webb was in the audio plays The Girl Who Never Was and The Dark Husband.
- Claire Rushbrook went on to appear as Tula Chenka, sister of Eighth Doctor companion Liv Chenka, in Escape from Kaldor and the spin-off series The Robots.
- Will Thorp has appeared in the Big Finish audio plays 100 BC and Bedtime Story.
The scene where Scooti discovers the possessed Toby out on the planet’s surface, especially with the creepy computer voice.
Well, we’ve come this far. There’s no turning back.
Oh, come on! Did you have to? No turning back, that’s almost as bad as “Nothing could possibly go wrong” or “This is gonna be the best Christmas Walford’s ever had!”Ida Scott and the Tenth Doctor
Previous Tenth Doctor Review: The Idiot’s Lantern
Radio Free Skaro’s Commentary for The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
6 thoughts on “The Impossible Planet”
Another of my favourite episodes. I know the Davies era had a pretty concrete formula, but I always ended up loving the second two-parter of a Davies season. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, Human Nature/The Family of Blood and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. all of them are some of the very best of Doctor Who, period. It wasn’t until Moffat took over that the pattern got broken, though the first two-parter of season 5, The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, I’d put up there.
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Yes, the second two partners of the first four series are great – it’s possibly the strongest part of RTD’s era. He seems to have been great at building towards something but in my opinion, the payoff doesn’t really work. All three of the showrunners have strengths and weaknesses though.
Thanks for your nomination – I keep meaning to do mine…
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No worries, take your time.
It’s true every showrunner has their strengths and weaknesses, that might be why I think Season 5 is my favourite New Who season so far. It feels like a mix of the Davies and Maffat eras, it’s still got the RTD formula, and Moffat feels a bit more restrained, he’s not cramming fifty different ideas into the series arc which is one of the main problems I have with his later seasons. Unlike RTD he’s too busy to try and build something up properly, he’s in too much of a hurry to move on to the next idea.
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Series 5 is great (with the exception of the next episode I’ve got to review, but even that is okay). I’ve always been much more partial to Moffat’s time as showrunner but know people like you who were put off by the plotting. I like the majority of RTD’s run but wish he had done something different with Martha’s series than the whole unrequited love thing. I don’t think any of the modern showrunners deserve as much criticism as they received/are currently receiving from certain corners of the internet.
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Yeah, I really like Martha, but her series is probably my least favourite of RTD’s run mostly due to the whole unrequited love thing. Well, that and Evolution of the Daleks and John Simm’s Master who I’ve kinda gone off in the years since.
Who fans are always overly harsh of the person in charge, I’ve heard stories about some of the abuse JNT got back when he was producer that it just makes me want to shake the entire fandom. Chibnall may be my least favourite showrunner of New Who so far, but I’m not going to give the guy grief over that, I’m sure he’s doing his best and I’ll wait to pass judgement on his run until it’s actually over.