‘He has woven himself in the fabric of your life since the dawn of time. Some may call him Abaddon. Some may call him Krop Tor. Some may call him Satan or Lucifer.’ A 21st Century reimagining of Pyramids of Mars with an even more intricate trap for an imprisoned elder god, and Lovecraftian slave monsters instead of mummy servitors. After a series and a half that largely hewed to the Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks model of day-after-tomorrow invasions of Earth and a universe full of exotic aliens, not all of them bad, this is surprisingly refreshing. It’s a shame Sarah Jane didn’t stick around – this is right up her street.
Matt Jones creates a credible atmosphere of dread, with language older than the Time Lords, a voracious black hole that looks like the Eye of Sauron gazing lidless at the planet below as it’s ravaged by unimaginable forces. It’s a good idea to get the Doctor, Rose and the audience on first-name terms with the Sanctuary Base’s crew so that we feel something when they start to get picked off, so despite the vague overtones of Season 21 (and particularly Frontios) this never becomes a Sawardian massacre. The death of Scooti sets the tone – she was nice, and we liked her – so that Jones doesn’t have to keep labouring the same point for the rest of the story.
James Strong’s direction lives up to his name: this returns to the show’s cliched quarry location but at night and with some CGI embellishments that convincingly transform it into an underground cavern. The Ood look fantastic, and the discrepancy between their weird appearances and soft-spoken voices, particularly once they start issuing insane threats, works brilliantly: no wonder they were earmarked for a comeback. There’s pace, atmosphere and scale – everything demanded by the script. It’s very efficient.
Being critical, the Doctor and Rose are stuck in their later Series Two holding pattern, totally into each other to an almost irritating extent (although the Doctor’s reaction to Rose suggesting getting a mortgage together is interesting). This is deliberate: their smug humour at the idea of leaving in the TARDIS is clearly hubris leading rapidly to a pay-off. Beyond this, they don’t have much to do: Tennant is still being asked to do slightly annoying “wacky” things like demanding a hug from Flane; Piper broadly has to stand around asking questions just as she has in pretty much every episode since New Earth – even her outrage at the Oods’ enslavement quickly fades. Playing a standard old-school companion isn’t the worst thing in the world, and Piper does it well, but when she was set up as the central character of the first series this is a pretty vertiginous drop off.
Putting that aside, this looks good, it all works and the cliffhanger is intriguing even if it turns out to be a misdirect. It’s all perfectly solid.
Captain Walker is dispatched by an imperial official to investigate the black hole, neither noticing an Ood promising that the beast shall rise. A neat prelude given Walker is dead by the time the TARDIS arrives on Krop Tor.
Next Time: The Satan Pit