The Satan Pit

This is your freedom. Free to die! You’re going into that black hole and I’m riding with you!

The Tenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor faces off against an enemy that defies all of his beliefs, whilst Rose and the rest of the Sanctuary 6 base fight for survival against the Ood, possessed by the Beast.

Review

I feel that The Satan Pit does manage to live up to it’s preceding part, but on reflection it does have more flaws than The Impossible Planet. There are some great moments and the story does a lot really well, but there is some shaky characterisation for Rose and some strange directing decisions, but good guest cast performances save this one.

The writing and direction are largely good. Whilst The Impossible Planet was a lot of set-up without a lot happening, this feels much more like an action movie. Perhaps its the sequences in the service shafts that make me feel like that, which can only remind me of Die Hard. There are also the scenes with the Doctor and Ida discussing their beliefs about the existence of a devil, which are nicely written. I feel like I’m nit-picking to find flaws with this story, but I do have an issue with the sped-up effect of the guns shooting, which just looks a bit weird, and the eventual encounter with the Beast is a bit disappointing, as it would potentially have been interesting to see a showdown between the two with a fully powerful Beast. All in all, though, this is a very well written and directed episode, utilising the talents of its leads and guest cast well.

The Beast is a powerful adversary and harnesses the vocal talents of Gabriel Woolf to its full extent, and he is brimming with malice and trickery. Ultimately the Beast using the Ood against the crew of the Sanctuary Base makes a statement about humanity: even in the future they discriminate against other races. Zack notes that when his surviving crew are crawling through ventiliation system that he cannot trace the Ood as the Torchwood Institute who sent them on the expedition did not quantify them as a life form, a complacency that really has come back to bite them on this mission. Obviously this would be explored further in Planet of the Ood, but the Beast uses this to his full advantage. I have praised Gabriel Woolf, and it is only fair to also praise Will Thorp for his performance as Toby, especially when he is possessed. The moment in which his eyes briefly turn red as he tells the Ood to hold off is particularly creepy and he is good in the climatic scene as he, Zack, Danny and Rose are in the rocket escaping from the black hole.

Whilst I may have problems with the relationship between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, it doesn’t bother me very much here. Even the Doctor’s concluding speech to the Beast doesn’t make me want to scream, which can only be a positive. What does bother me is that Rose seems to undergo very inconsistent characterisation here, seesawing from a character in control of her environment to one who is constantly seeking the confirmation of the Doctor. There are two examples of this in the opening quarter of an hour. The first is where she immediately becomes simpering and helpless following the Beast’s first speech and turns to the Doctor immediately for assurance that Satan doesn’t exist. The second and, in my opinion, worst example of this follows the Beast’s speech to the crew of the Sanctuary Base, where Rose is told that she will die in battle very soon. Whilst this line is obviously meant to make the audience fear for Rose getting out of this story alive, the script has Rose ask the Doctor what the Beast means by this, when it is very clear to everyone. It does make me wonder whether there was a more convoluted or enigmatic line spoken by the Beast originally which was simplified, but Rose’s response to it was unchanged. It is an understandable reaction to be upset after being given such news, but Rose’s reaction feels forced to make her seem lovelorn and almost childlike, then she almost immediately flips to taking charge of the crew she is with. No matter what the circumstances, it doesn’t really give Billie Piper much to work with and is symptomatic of the problems with her characterisation throughout Series 2, which is perhaps particularly telling when compared to Series 1.

Whilst we’ve seen the Tenth Doctor with other characters in recent weeks – Tommy in The Idiot’s Lantern, Mrs Moore in The Age of Steel and Madame de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace spring to mind – his partnership with Ida feels a bit different, perhaps because they are completely isolated in the majority of their scenes together. This adds some intimacy to their scenes together as they discuss what their beliefs are whilst confronted by something claiming to be the origin of the stories of the Devil in established religions across the universe. When Ida tells the Doctor that she doesn’t want to die, it is a great example of a simple line being delivered effectively and you completely believe that they are in that situation. Claire Rushbrook and David Tennant deserve a lot of credit for these scenes, as they are entirely acted in those orange spacesuits and seen through visors, but these scenes still feel intimate and moving.

But I don’t want to die on my own.

I know.

Ida Scott and the Tenth Doctor

I feel that I would be remiss not to mention some other guest cast members, namely Danny Webb and Shaun Parkes. These two actors do such a good job with these parts. Jefferson almost seems to fit stereotypically into the turncoat role in Classic Who, but here he is fundamentally a force for good, ultimately sacrificing himself to buy the others time to escape the advancing Ood. It is made all the more effective that the audience never finds out what dark secret lurks in his past, as we are allowed to judge him purely based on his actions in these two episodes. Equally, Zachary Cross Flane is a character who, despite a frankly awesome name, would be all too easy to be portrayed as either too competent or unsuitable for his command and Parkes treads this line to perfection. The scene where he has to have Rose subdued in order to evacuate the base could come across badly, however, here it is perfectly portrayed. Parkes encapsulates the character’s conflicted feelings about going against Rose’s explicitly stated wishes combined with his feeling of responsibility for everyone still alive on that base to get away as quickly and safely as possible. Ultimately he takes the decision that he believes is right and his statement afterwards is one that would not seem out of place coming out of the Doctor’s mouth in other stories:

I have lost too many people. I am not leaving you behind.

Zachary Cross Flane

Verdict: A strong conclusion to a good story, The Satan Pit is a highlight of Tennant’s first year as the Doctor. 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), 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

  • This episode was originally broadcast on 06/06/2006.
  • The closing scene was Billie Piper’s final scene as a regular cast member as Doomsday had been filmed as part of an earlier production block.
  • This story nearly featured the return of Davros as the production team were not sure who should be at the bottom of the titular pit.

Best Moment

It’s a small moment, but the reveal that the mind of the Beast is still possessing Toby after Rose, Danny and he manage to escape the Ood is subtly handled and really well done.

Best Quote

There it is again. That itch. “Go down, go down, go down”.

The urge to jump. Do you know where that comes from, that sensation? Genetic heritage. Ever since we were primates in the trees. It’s our body’s way of testing us. Calculating whether or not we can reach the next branch.

No, that’s not it. That’s too kind. It’s not the urge to jump, it’s deeper than that. It’s the urge to fall!

The Tenth Doctor and Ida Scott

Previous Tenth Doctor review: The Impossible Planet

Further Reading

The Age of Steel

The Idiot’s Lantern

The Girl in the Fireplace

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