Well that was rather good, wasn't it? It's been a long time since we've had a proper horror story on Who* and they really pulled out all the stops this time to give us a 12A version of Event Horizon. In fact, it was all rather unsettling, almost as unsettling as going to the BBC's Doctor Who site right now with the sound on your computer turned on. Go on, I dare you.
Back to the plot.
The Doctor and Rose land on a really alien, far away planet that (yes, yes!) looks very much like a quarry. Actually, they land in a mining colony. Good old mining colonies. What would Doctor Who do without them? Or quarries for that matter.
It's an old planet, with writing on the walls so archaic the TARDIS can't translate it. The planet is in geostationary orbit round a black hole, which, as the Doctor points out to make sure everyone gets the episode title, is impossible. They also find the Ood, who are some odd slave-creatures with tentacles for mouths and who like to communicate telepathically.
So far, so creepy. But we then skulk around in the dark for 45 minutes, having the heebie-jeebies put into us, as it becomes apparent that there's something rather scary and demonic buried below the surface of the planet – something that's already having a rather scary effect on the Ood, as well as the inhabitants of the mining colony.
I really, really liked this one. There were some genuinely frightening moments that should hopefully still have younger viewers traumatised. Direction, set design, effects, dialogue, plotting: all were first rate. And for the first time since the show came back last year, there was some decent, atmospheric incidental music that didn't make you cringe in despair.
Billie Piper finally relocated her acting talent this episode and turned in a fine performance. David Tennant** was on good action hero form, but it was also nice to see the Doctor getting to be all scientific for the first time in 20-odd years, de-stigmatising maths for school kids everywhere and thus bumping up the UK's future GDP by a couple of points. The cliffhanger was a little drawn out, but the impending coming of the Beast from the pit was a fantastic ending all the same.
All in all, it seems, much like last year, that it's not till around episode eight that the production team really manage to get their groove back. But when they do, they really can turn in some fine tele. Unlike last year, though, which had about two episodes that I would voluntarily watch again (maybe only one, actually), there's four from this season that I'd happily watch again, so clearly they're improving as well.
One last thing: it seems that if you want to someone to do the voice of Satan and you want it done right, you need to hire Gabriel Woolf. Last heard on Doctor Who as the voice of Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars (Sutekh/Set/Satan - you see?), a performance that scared the bejesus out the nation and Mary Whitehouse back in 1975, the delightful 73-year-old made a triumphantly scary return as the voice of the Beast. I think he needs to start voicing his own greetings card range. He'd make a fortune.
PS: Not sure what long-term Who fans are going to make of a third explanation for Satan on the show***, but frankly who cares?
Footnotes to avoid my relentless parenthetic text
*Tooth and Claw was of the horror genre but not especially horrifying, unless you find the idea of a man turning into a wolf horrifying. Which it isn't.
** Sigh. Here you go.
*** Fourth if you count The Awakening
- June 12, 2006: Satan Pit: What a let-down
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My review of the Torchwood episode Dead Man Walking