Doctor Who
Series 2 - Volume 4

Starring: David Tennant
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: PG
Available 07 August 2006

Rose finds herself farther from home than ever before when the TARDIS lands on a desolate world in the orbit around a black hole. Trapped with an Earth expedition and the mysterious Ood, the time travellers face an even greater danger as something ancient beneath the planet's surface begins to awaken...

The two-part story The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit is not the absolute highlight of David Tennant's first season as the Time Lord (that honour must go to The Idiot's Lantern or Army of Ghosts/Doomsday). It marks the new show's first full foray on to an alien world, with no scenes set on or near Earth, though its themes of human endeavour and, of course, the devil remain distinctly Earthbound.

However, this is certainly the revamped programme's scariest storyline to date. Writer Matt Jones (author of the Doctor Who and Bernice Summerfield New Adventures novels Bad Therapy and Beyond the Sun, Children's Ward writer and producer of Shameless, among many other impressive credits) and director James Strong (Doctors, Holby City) work in many strange and sudden sights and sounds to unnerve you and make you jump. Then there are the oh-so-creepy tones of Gabriel Woolf as the voice of the Beast ("Don't turn around").

The involvement of Woolf, who played the similarly diabolical Sutekh the Destroyer in Pyramids of Mars, makes it tempting to imagine a connection between Sutekh and the Beast. Both villains are said to have been known by many names, including Satan. Is Sutekh some sort of incarnation of the Beast? We know that the Beast's legend has influenced countless civilisations, including our own, so maybe he influenced the Osirians, Sutekh's people, too. A more explicit link is made to the similarly satanic Dæmons, when the Doctor refers to the planet Dæmos.

Another connection with Who's past (though almost certainly coincidental) is the story's homage to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The notion of the Beast as an ancient and powerful evil originating from a time before human civilisation is inspired by Cthulhu, one of Lovecraft's Great Old Ones. The octopoid appearance of the Ood is also strongly reminiscent of Cthulhu.

Who's literary mythology has its own versions of the Great Old Ones, including Cthulhu, who featured in the New Adventures novel White Darkness. Subsequent books, such as All-Consuming Fire, went on to establish that many of the Doctor's mightiest foes, including the Animus, the Great Intelligence, the Nestene Consciousness, the Gods of Ragnarok and Fenric, are survivors of the destruction of a previous universe. These beings were altered because of the differing physical laws between the two universes and many of them lost their corporeal forms altogether as a result of the crossover.

There lies a slight problem with this story. When the Beast claims that he has existed since "before this universe was created," the Doctor states that this is impossible: "No life could have existed back then." But we know that, in the worlds of Doctor Who, life did exist prior to the creation of the present universe. Even if you discount the novels, the dead pilot and his ship in Terminus came from a previous universe.

It is notable that the Beast also states that he originates from: "Before time and light and space and matter." This could mean before our universe was created, but not actually during the existence of the previous one - despite the different physical laws of the prior universe, there would still presumably have been time, light, space and matter in some form or other. It could mean that the Beast somehow existed in a no-man's-land between the destruction of the previous universe and the creation of the current one. Or it could mean that he existed before the creation of any universe. For more musings on this subject, click here.

Aside from that (rectifiable) little quandary, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit is hella good.

An ordinary man, Elton Pope, becomes obsessed with the Doctor and Rose and their mysterious blue box. But when his investigations bring him to the attention of the enigmatic Victor Kennedy, his harmless hobby plunges him into a living nightmare...

Love & Monsters is an episode that has split fandom right down the middle. There are those who love its experimental style and high level of comedy, and there are those who loathe the fact that the Doctor and Rose (Billie Piper) are only in it for a few minutes. Then there's the silly Abzorbaloff (Peter Kay, recycling his Brian Potter voice from Phoenix Nights), a monster designed by a schoolboy for a Blue Peter competition.

Given that the episode's raison d'etre is to showcase Abzorbaloff, it's ironic that the revelation of this ridiculous creature is the one and only area, I feel, in which the story comes slightly unstuck. Prior to this point, Kay's performance as Victor Kennedy is superbly arch.

However, what the critics overlook (or choose to ignore) is that the plot offers the perfect excuse to be silly. What makes this episode so experimental is that it is Doctor Who's first venture (on television at least) into the realm of the unreliable narrator. Everything is told from the point of view of Elton (Hustle's Marc Warren) and so it might not be the literal truth. Thus the Doctor, Rose and the monster at the beginning of the show might not really have been running around like characters from Scooby-Doo. This episode is, in fact, Who's answer to The X-Files' brilliant Jose Chung's "From Outer Space". The X-Files connotations are reinforced by the conspiracy theory angle and by the Mark Snow-style riff used as Victor Kennedy's theme.

Russell T Davies's script also has a lot to say about fandom itself. LINDA (London Investigation 'n' Detective Agency) is a neat metaphor for a fan group. Its members meet to discuss their shared interest in the exploits of the Doctor. The members become friends and thus widen their interests and activities. Then Kennedy turns up and spoils everything by taking it all so seriously.

Kay and Warren aren't the only high-profile cast members. Their group also includes Harry Potter and Bridget Jones actress Shirley Henderson and comedy actor Simon Greenall, from series as diverse as I'm Alan Partridge, Modern Toss and The Charlotte Church Show. Even Bella Emberg puts in a cameo appearance!

The humour is also more risqué than usual, with even the suggestion of oral sex (not that the kiddies would notice, though).

So what if the Doctor and Rose only appear for a few minutes? Instead we have some splendid Jackie (Camille Coduri) scenes.

Love & Monsters: what's not to love?

Richard McGinlay

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