“Planet Of The Ood” is a pretty satisfying entry in the Doctor Who canon, and rather fittingly, it’s another harsh morality tale to come right off the heels of “The Fires Of Pompeii“, making a blunt yet firm statement about Doctor Who’s core values. Series 4 is well underway at this point, and “Planet Of The Ood” rounds out the opening trilogy of episodes showing off what the TARDIS can to do by journeying to the past, present and future. “Planet Of The Ood” is written by Keith Temple, who like James Moran, unfortunately only ever wrote one episode for the series. This episode is written to be a loose sequel to “The Impossible Planet” from Series 2: it’s set during the same period in history as that two-parter, and it’s centered around the Ood, one of the more memorable alien races to be created so far in NuWho.
Much like Donna Noble returning as a full-time regular after her one-off appearance in “The Runaway Bride“, it’s not often that you see a follow-up story about tragic, interchangeable redshirt characters from an episode that wasn’t really about them, but I’m glad Doctor Who went this route. “Planet Of The Ood” goes a long way towards fleshing out the Ood’s culture and showing their general place in the Whoniverse, standing alongside mankind. In this episode, Doctor Who really gets in touch with its roots as a sci-fi series. Science fiction has always been a very imaginative and fantastical genre of television that can take viewers anywhere at any time in the universe, but it’s also always been grounded by some sort of human drama or human experience: something viewers can latch onto and personally relate to. A lot of good sci-fi stories use larger-than-life concepts as allegories or metaphors for human issues, and “Planet Of The Ood” touches upon the topic of slavery – how it happens, why it persists, how it’s normalized, and how people benefit from it – so this episode can get pretty depressing.
By this point, with their new friendship officially broken in, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna are quite the dynamic duo, and are living up to their status as ‘partners in crime’, trading quips and jabs and gently pushing each other to be the best they can be on every case. “Planet Of The Ood” is an interesting look at what happens when people in need slip past the Doctor’s radar, because he had a much bigger picture to worry about at the time. In this episode, the Doctor discovers the Ood aren’t treated very well as ‘servants’ like the humans in “The Satan Pit” claimed, and since he already feels he owes their species one for failing them in that two-parter, he decides to set out to investigate. As a time lord, the Doctor has a telepathic link to the Ood and can feel their collective suffering, which only spurs him on even further.
The Doctor is a very socially liberal freedom fighter who hates injustice and abuse, and will champion a worthy cause, so he’s outraged and furious at what mankind has done to the Ood in secret – and he is completely onboard with their planned revolution to reclaim their homeworld. During the Ood uprising, Ten nearly gets in over his head multiple times, when he’s nearly killed by both the humans and the Ood, and it’s nice change of pace to see him repeatedly lose control of his predicament. At the end of the day, once they’ve taken back their world, the Ood promise to remember Ten and Donna for a millennia, which makes a lot more sense when you realize they saw the events of “Journey’s End” coming, because in this episode, Ten and Donna did almost nothing to warrant that level of praise. The Ood’s plan would have played out largely the same, regardless of whether or not our heroes would have been there, and Ten and Donna basically stood to the side and watched the Ood free themselves.
After her momentous inaugural trip in the TARDIS in the last episode, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is thrilled to be taking her first trip to an alien planet in the future, which thankfully proves to be less traumatic than her trip to Pompeii. Donna once again steps outside of her comfort zone, leaves her home era behind, and learns that traveling through time means taking the good of the world with the bad – the fairy tale along with the harsh reality of life. When Ten and Donna stumble upon a dying Ood, abandoned in the snowy mountains, she’s instinctively repulsed by it, but her compassion for its pain and its imminent demise quickly win out over her fear. She learns quite a bit about humanity’s future here, and she’s horrified and disgusted to learn that her own kind have used and abused the Ood for centuries.
There’s a very sad and sobering scene where Ten briefly gives her his gift of telepathy so she can hear what the Ood are thinking, and she’s driven to tears by the song of their suffering, huddled together in cages with little to no hope – for the second episode in a row, Donna is nearly broken by how cruel the world can be. After this point, Donna staunchly stands up on the Ood’s behalf, verbally ripping into their slavers, and like the Doctor, she’s fully committed to seeing their rebellion through. It’s beautifully ironic that Donna started out as a pretty self-absorbed person who was always missing the bigger picture in favor or her own troubles, but she winds up developing into one of the Tenth Doctor’s most empathetic companions, alongside Martha. Donna’s worldview and her core values have been steadily shifting from her new experiences for quite some time now. At the end of the day, she admits she’s self-aware of that, and she doesn’t quite know how she feels about it – but now that she’s gotten a taste of what’s out there beyond her home, she’s not going to stop traveling regardless.
“Planet Of The Ood” rather astutely points out that what mankind has done to the Ood – oppressing and exploiting them for labor – is hardly unprecedented behavior. Humans have been doing it to each other throughout history, since our civilization began – slavery even still persists in certain parts of the world in Donna’s time – in the future, humans have simply switched to using and abusing other species. “Planet Of The Ood” spends a sizable amount of time exploring how the system works that’s been devised to keep the Ood down, and more importantly, it makes it clear that while plenty of other people know about it, the reason why Halpen and his lot have gotten away with abusing the Ood for centuries is because other people have chosen to keep the system in place – either because it doesn’t affect them, or because they benefit from it. This is shown on a micro scale with Solana, one of Halpen’s employees, who briefly seems to have the faintest of doubts about what her boss is doing, what she’s been covering up for years, before she throws the Doctor and Donna under the boss to keep her job and save her own skin.
Still, like most historical examples of slavery being abolished, the Ood receive some outside help from their human allies, particularly one of Halpen’s employees who’s been sabotaging his business for years. Mr. Halpen is one of many evil businessman villains in the RTD era: oppressing the Ood and treating them like cattle is a family business that he’s inherited, so naturally he cares very little about them (and his will is enforced over the compound by a truly sadistic head of security). He tries to keep up a calm front for good PR, but he grows increasingly unhinged the more things spiral further and further out of his control – and by the last act, he’s not only planning to commit genocide on the Ood out of spite for ruining him, he’s also willing to straight up murder other humans after he’s been betrayed twice in a row.
“Planet Of The Ood” really doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the Ood slave trade: the humans treat them like animals, they whip them, they keep them huddled together in cages, they spread enticing propaganda about them being a servant race who’s only purpose in life is to serve, they brainwash them so they’ll have Stockholm Syndrome for their masters, they suppress their hive mind so they can’t communicate well, and they even brutalize them by giving them lobotomies. As I mentioned in “Utopia“, Doctor Who has never made it any secret that the human race can be every bit as cruel or monstrous as the usual alien invaders that the Doctor fights every week, and sure enough, our kind are the villains of this episode. So there’s something very satisfying about watching the Ood finally rise up and kill their slavers en masse, and this episode is one of those rare humans vs. aliens conflicts where you’re quite happy to watch the humans die karmically.
The Ood spare the Doctor and Donna, because they were kind to them and stuck up for them, but everyone else on the planet is totally fucked. With their long-term plan, Keith Temple explores how there are violent and non-violent ways to pull off a revolution – both of them can be helpful, and both of them have a time and a place. Mr. Halpen’s own personal servant, Ood Sigma, played a very long game with him, waiting patiently for the right moment to turn on his ‘master’. It’s not so subtly foreshadowed throughout the episode that there’s something seriously wrong with Mr. Halpen – his hair is rapidly balding and his health is declining – and as it turns out, Ood Sigma straight-up poisoned him with a concoction that transforms him into an Ood. While the rest of Halpen’s lot gets killed, Halpen himself will spend the rest of his life as the thing he hates the most, and that is some sweet, sweet karma that even the Doctor can appreciate.
“Planet Of The Ood” is helmed by Grahame Harper, who is very fond of his extreme, uncomfortable close-ups (like virtually all the shots of the Ood advancing on people, aiming to kill them), as well as some tightly-cut chase scenes. Harper is very good at creating and maintaining tension, so he goes a long way towards invigorating the action sequences in this episode – like the Ood’s siege on Halpen’s facility in the third act. “Planet of the Ood” is mainly set inside an industrial complex resting on a snowy arctic planet, and like the Series 3 finale, the episode was filmed inside a quarry, so there is some pretty beautiful outdoor scenery to be found this week, aided by some wider CGI backgrounds.
The special effects work from the Mill is a bit more noticeable this week – particularly during a hilariously goofy scene where Ten is forced to run for his life and is eventually almost killed during the world’s deadliest game of skill crane – but it’s integrated well enough with the physical environment: like the establishing shots of Ten and Donna trekking through the snowy mountains of the planet, or the shots of our heroes peering down at the Ood brain (a gargantuan CGI creation) inside Halpen’s lair. Like Murray Gold’s score for “Midnight” later in the season, his work in “Planet Of The Ood” is filled with a lot of new material, and it doesn’t rely much on pre-established melodies for Ten and his friends. The biggest musical callback is another playful, euphoric expansion on “Donna’s Theme”, when she’s enjoying living out her dream. Murray writes a lot of eerie, inhuman, and hauntingly beautiful wails for the Ood in this episode, akin to whale songs, which utilize a lot of tenor and soprano voices in a choir – the most notable of which is “Songs Of Captivity and Freedom“, a sorrowful and morose lament performed by Mark Chambers.
“Planet Of The Ood” is a pretty solid installment of Doctor Who and a good way to round out the opening episodes of Series 4, giving Donna and the viewers two hard-hitting episodes in a row about the ethics of the show to fully break them in to TARDIS travel.
* “The file is irrelevant, sir” “Oh, really? And why is that?- Auuggghhh!” “Have a nice day” Damn. Like “Gridlock”, this episode did not waste any time with the traditional, pre-credits murder.
* “What do you think?” “It’s a bit cold” “But look at that view!” “Yep. Beautiful, cold view”.
* “Molto bene. Bellissimo, says Donna, born in Chiswick. All you’ve got is a life of work and sleep, and telly and rent and tax and takeaway dinners, all birthdays and Christmases and two weeks holiday a year, and then you end up here. Donna Noble, citizen of the Earth, standing on a different planet!”
* “A rocket! Blimey, a real proper rocket! Now that’s what I call a spaceship! You’ve got a box, he’s got a Ferrari. Come on, lets go see where he’s going” You’ve got to love how Ten looks offended on the TARDIS’ behalf.
* “The last time I met them, there was this force, like a stronger mind, powerful enough to take them over” “What sort of force?” “It was the Devil” “If you’re going to take the mickey, I’ll just put my hood back up”.
* “Look at us. We’re everywhere! Is that good or bad, though? I mean, are we like explorers? Or more like a virus?” “Sometimes I wonder”.
* “Hello. Tell me, are you all like this?” “I do not understand, miss” “Why do you say ‘miss’? Do I look single?”
* “A great big empire built on slavery” “It’s not so different from your time” “Oi. I haven’t got slaves” “Who do you think made your clothes?” Savage Ten.
* “Take it away. I can’t bear it. I’m sorry” “It’s alright” “But you can still hear it?” “All the time”.
* “I spent all that time looking for you, Doctor, because I thought it was so wonderful out here. I want to go home”.
* “I could sell this. You could offer up different colors- Wauughh!” The Ood who killed that obnoxious guy mid-sentence is officially the most savage Ood in this episode.
* “Well, do something. You’re the one with all the tricks. You must have met Houdini!” “These are some really good handcuffs!” “Oh well, I’m glad about that. I mean, at least we’ve got quality!”
* Ten and Donna look positively horrified when the Ood show up to bump them off next, and for good reason. The Ood are cute in their own way, but they’re also scary as hell when they’re on a rampage.
* “You murdered him” “Very observant, ginger”.
* “Have you poisoned me?!” Well, duh.
* “Oh, dear. Funny thing, the subconscious. Takes all sorts of shapes. Came out in the red eye as revenge, came out in the rabid Ood as anger, and then there was patience. All that intelligence and mercy, focused on Ood Sigma. How’s the hair loss, Mr. Halpen? Oh, they’ve been preparing you for a very long time. And now you’re standing next to the Ood Brain, Mr. Halpen, can you hear it? Listen…“.
* “It’s weird, being with you. I can’t tell what’s right and what’s wrong any more” “It’s better that way. People who know for certain tend to be like Mr. Halpen”.