8 June 2016

The Satan Pit

2006 +10
A clever, exciting watch from start to finish.

“The devil is an idea,” says the Doctor at one point in this fascinating second part which mixes up traditional action, an astoundingly big monster and some philosophical debate in a glorious package. It’s an episode that brims with the confidence of success yet also continues to grow the series in interesting new directions. It’s easy to imagine a story like this in the old days only it would limit itself to the threat of the possessed Ood. `The Satan Pit`, rather like the Beast himself, is wilier than that and has the Doctor and Ida discuss the idea of the devil while trapped at the bottom of a 10 mile abyss. I remember watching this at the time and being constantly wrong footed as to where it was going especially when we get to see the Beast and it can’t speak at all. That his mind has been separated adds another jeopardy in an episode that first time round keeps you guessing. 

For a story set on the edge of a black hole in the far future, it has a lot of realism on display. The fallible but bold characters are well sketched to provide a real mix and there’s even a very unusual scene that commits the supposed televisual crime of having more than one person talking at once in the way that people do in real life. The style of the production supports the desperate momentum of the crew trying to escape but down below a different sort of happening is going on.
The monster in this story turns out to be such a stunning realisation. It’s impossible not to imagine just how extra powerful that 70s classic `The Daemons` (referenced here) would be had Azal looked like this and not a bloke with things stuck to him. The real trick of the narrative though is that this demon doesn’t say a word though his roar alone is enough to shake the TV! The expected sonorous tones of Gabriel Woolf though are absent.
So is it the actual Devil? There is, the Doctor muses, a devil in almost every religion (even Draconian!) and it is usually depicted as a cloven hooved horned beast. The idea being that perhaps it is this Beast that inspired such tales is intriguing though the story doesn’t actually confirm this because how could it? All they are is unproven tales, dusty myths. The Doctor, challenged by Ida as to whether he has a religion gives the only answer an explorer could give- that he still believes there are things he hasn’t seen. In which case, the argument might run, how can he, or anyone, know whether there is a devil or not?
The scene where the Doctor alone works out what has happened and the Beast’s mind is elsewhere, literally, in the head of Toby Zed squares the plot. This plays into what is a masterful finale in which Rose’s faith in the Doctor returning from the seeming oblivion of the pit means she has to be dragged to the escape ship.
Even the more conventional side of the story delivers some curveballs. One pleasing aspect is the way Rose takes charge of the crew showing once again how she has developed over the course of her time with us. The sacrifice that Jefferson makes is powerfully rendered despite being the sort of thing we’ve seen many times before. The question of whether Toby is still possessed keeps us guessing until that marvellous moment when they’re escaping from the ducting and he just puts his finger on his lips to tell the Ood he is.  James Strong and the production team bring some exquisite touches to matters, using light and shadows and having church organ music playing in the background when matters become more intellectual.
The ending is exciting yet does not seek to answer all of the questions pondered earlier. We never really find out that much about the Beast and the Doctor is left to ponder the idea that he won’t be able to translate the language either. And there’s a lovely tribute to all those dead Ood as well. This is obviously one of the best stories of modern Doctor Who and one that certainly proves the series has sometimes become richer and deeper than any classics of old.
Tardisode: As with last week’s this depicts events that happened prior to the Doctor’s arrival, in this case we see someone called Kurt looking through the now deceased Captain Walker’s belongings and happening upon the book of ancient scribbles which promptly bursts into flame. When another crew members arrives, she finds him with some of the symbols on his face.

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