The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, by Simon Bucher-Jones (and Matt Jones)

Next in the excellent Black Archive line of short books about individual Doctor Who stories, this looks at a two-parter from Series 2 of New Who, a story where the Tenth Doctor and Rose are stranded on a planet orbiting a black hole which imprisons, well, the Devil. The author, Simon Bucher-Jones, has written several Who novels, and also did the Black Archive book on Image of the Fendahl (and a more recent one on The Hand of Fear). He does not mention if he is related to the author of the TV story, Matt Jones, but their surname is the fourth most common in England and the most common surname in Wales, so chances are that they are not.

I don’t seem to have made a note about this story when it was first broadcast. When I first rewatched it in 2013, I wrote:

 I fear this is becoming a boring refrain, but I had forgotten how good The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit actually is. I think it is our first proper base-under-siege story in New Who (perhaps arguments can be made for The End of the World or Dalek, but I won’t) and perhaps it’s a return to that comfort zone of Old Who, with the difference of a more diverse base crew than Old Who would have had (the black guy would never have been in command in the old days, and the smart woman would never have been chief scientist). The scarily different bit is not so much the monster – though it is well done, both the descent to the pit and the technical realisation of a superhuman incarnation of evil – but the Ood, who are very creepy indeed. Having a slave race never works out well in Who, but here the message is that by exploiting the Ood, humanity has opened a potential route for its own destruction. Terrific stuff.

Rewatching it now, I was again pleasantly surprised. David Tennant is always watchable, but here the chemistry between him and Billie Piper is at its peak. It also struck me that the plot element of the TARDIS being lost on a world where a more cosmic battle is playing out had been done before, and worse, in Frontios.

This is not one of the small (but growing) number of New Who stories to have been novelised, so I’ll jump straight into the Black Archive book, which is short and punchy.

The first chapter reflects on just how few New Who episodes are set on other planets, compared to most of Old Who (apart from the Pertwee era), the reasons for this, and how this shapes the sort of programme it becomes.

The second chapter, the longest in the book, goes in depth into the physics of black holes and how they are portrayed in fiction, notably in The Three Doctors in Old Who as well as the Disney film. I had not realised, or had forgotten, that the term “black hole” was coined as late as 1967, only a few years before The Three Doctors was shown.

The third chapter, almost as long, looks at the Devil as portrayed in Christianity, and satanic creatures as portrayed in science fiction (rather than fantasy) in general and Who in particular. Its second paragraph is (with footnotes):

As Sherlock Holmes – with whom the third Doctor has often been compared (as the Master has with Moriarty)119 – remarked, ‘The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.’120 The Doctor might well have said in The Daemons, and almost will say in The Satan Pit, ‘The universe is big enough for us. No Devils from before it need apply.’
119 While the fourth Doctor dresses like him in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977), the third arguably does so all the time: while he doesn’t affect a deerstalker like the theatrical or televisual Holmes, he does have an inverness travelling cape.
120 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of The Sussex Vampire’, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes p73.

The fourth chapter looks much more briefly at the Ood and the problematics of slavery.

The fifth and final chapter looks even more briefly at the Doctor’s fear of domestication, ie of settling down with Rose, even though he obviously loves her.

A first appendix apparently has a graph in the paper version, absent from the electronic publication, listing all of the alien planets to date in Doctor Who.

A second and final appendix very briefly goes back to the Beast, making the connection with Sutekh and with Abaddon in Torchwood, points that I felt could actually have been folded into the third chapter.

As usual with these books, recommended, even though there’s very little about the production process of the TV show in this case. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)