Doctor Who episode 733: The Satan Pit (10/6/2006)
‘But I’ve seen a lot of this universe. I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods, and out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing, just one thing, I believe in her.’ After complaining she’s been given little to do this series, I eat my words. This is easily the strongest Rose episode since The Parting of the Ways. Perhaps more impressive because she doesn’t possess the powers of a god, she just engineers the death of one. Having apparently lost the Doctor to the pit, Rose decides to fill in for him, mobilising the survivors of the Sanctuary Base, inspiring them to find a way off Krop Tor, and ultimately sending the Beast plunging into the black hole. ‘We stopped him. That’s what the Doctor would have done,’ she declares. But this is all Rose Tyler and I love it.
Piper rises to the script, which starts off putting Rose on the back foot as the Beast, like the Voice of Saruman, pulls on the loose threads of each of the characters, and unravels them. Rose is, apparently, ‘The valiant child who will die in battle so very soon’ – which, despite the Doctor’s attempts to downplay it, seems to promise the audience forthcoming end-of-series tragedy. I like that the Doctor’s attempts to counter the Beast’s voice with his own, trying to talk the crew round, fall flat. RTD explores this to better effect in Midnight, but this is an interesting teaser. Although up against Gabriel Woolf at his Sutekh-smooth best, the Doctor was probably always onto a loser.
But the Doctor is unusually uncertain for this episode. He’s lost his TARDIS, he’s confronted with a threat beyond the limits of his own experience and has to examine his own beliefs for once rather than challenging other peoples’. This is juicier material for Tennant than last week’s runabout wackiness, and although it’s in the service of the twist, it’s a shame he has to spend so much of the episode talking to himself with no-one to bounce off.
Again, for all these were recorded at the “oh my god the money’s run out” fag-end of the series, there’s not much to give this away. The middle of the episode largely consists of people in the old standby of escaping through ventilation shafts while the Doctor’s scenes largely play against a black void, but the last 10 minutes, including the impressive CGI Beast, the spaceship escape and Toby’s death look fantastic. The only bit that annoyed me was Jefferson opening the door to the possessed Ood, despite Danny’s dire warnings, and immediately getting one of his guards killed.
Overall, for a story that wears its influences so blatantly (casting Gabriel Woolf, and pinching Pyramids of Mars’ plot with a bit of The Ark in Space when they use the shuttle’s power supply, and The Robots of Death‘s Red-eyed servants turning on their masters) this works really well. Sandwiched between the rise of the Cybermen and the return of the Daleks, and without RTD or Moffat’s name in the opening titles. it’s the most easily overlooked of the two-part stories. Which is a pity, because it’s aged much better than many.
Following on from the last TARDISODE, a crewman goes through the late Captain Walker’s belongings before everything starts going haywire. Plays like a deleted scene, it’s another really good vignette.
Next Time: Love & Monsters