Sunday, 25 September 2016
The Impossible Planet written by Matt Jones and directed by James Hawes
This story in a nutshell: An old fashioned New Adventure novel turned into a two part spectacular...and a pretty good one at that.
The Idiots Lantern and here. David Tennant and Billie Piper have something of a controversial relationship in the history of Doctor Who, fandom seems to have had an allergic reaction to them working together but as far as the general public are concerned they can do no wrong. Their chemistry this season is palpable but their carefree existence and smugness lacks the hip unity of Piper and Eccleston's relationship, it feels far more selfish. And yet it scores on such a domestic, emotional level that the audience at large could really buy into it. The Impossible Planet is where things shift up a gear, where we're building up to that extraordinary climax to the season. This is back when the relationship between the Doctor and the companion was as important as the plots, where the beats between them have a real impact. This episode exposes the richness in their partnership, both the characters and the actors. The Doctor's quiet despair at being trapped without his TARDIS is rectified slightly by the sweet moment where he and Rose talk about settling down, both of them too shy to admit they would choose to live together. This truly is a love story, the only time you could point to a Doctor and companion and swear they were so wrapped up in each other that it could actively be called a romance. Rose's admission that 'everybody has to leave home' and that being trapped in this situation is not so bad because she is with him are possibly the most mature scenes the character has ever had and all the better because they are understated and bashfully performed. Bravo. Also Rose's gentle kiss of the Doctor's helmet suggests an intimacy between them that surpasses anything we have seen before without stripping them of their dignity and getting all sweaty. It's just the two of them and for one they aren't so obsessed with each other that the situation feels insignificant. Instead the scenario that is playing out is as operatic as their relationship. The two work in real harmony.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'The bitter pill. I like it.'
The Bad: The cliffhanger is utterly deceptive, especially the way it is filmed. It looks as if something terrifying is rising out of the pit but we discover in the second episode that that wasn't the case at all. The crane shot really makes you believe that whatever is below the base is on its way out.
The Shallow Bit: It's the base of the good lookers. Fortunately they can all act too.
Result: I remember when his two part story first aired vividly, I did not have high hopes for the story. Whilst I loved Matt Jones' novel Bad Therapy, a very sweet character piece in the final third of the New Adventures, I couldn't stand Beyond the Sun, his Bernice Summerfield novel and I regularly found his column in DWM the most annoying thing about the magazine. The episodes themselves seemed to have the least compelling 'wow factor' in series two (no sign of Cassandra, Queen Victoria and werewolves, Sarah Jane or Giles from Buffy, Mickey as a companion or the return of Steven Moffat, Cybermen or Maureen Lipman as the villain). The trailer wasn't exactly thrilling and the best thing you could say about it before it transmitted was that 'that bloke from Casualty is in it'. Oh what a stupid fool I am. Hype is one thing (who wasn't disappointed with New Earth?) but a show firing on all cylinders and proving what it can do in every department is another and that is exactly what The Impossible Planet does. It is practically flawless technically and I genuinely feel it had the strongest cast yet assembled for the new series until this point (the two parters two thirds into series three and four would eventually surpass it in that regard). The Impossible Planet was a wonderful surprise, an episode that restored the the faith in series two after three mixed episodes in the middle of the year. The script is exemplary, heavily edited by Russell T. Davies and is on par with the best of the year. Matt Jones has written a damn good script, on par with the best of either year. The story is packed with great ideas and they are dramatised very well. This is a textbook case in how to effectively build up tension, spend the first fifteen minutes setting the scene and introducing the mystery, then mid-episode introduce some major problems for the characters to react to before your big reveal in the last third which gets everybody on the edge of their seat thinking it has all gone to hell. Jones has written an extremely strong cast of characters, so successfully thought through that the death of somebody we have only known for twenty minutes has a major impact. Whilst the cast are responsible for bringing these people to life, they really don't have anything to work with if the script is lacking. At this point it was the strongest ensemble to date and the chemistry between the actors is palpable The Impossible Planet is real edge-of-the-seat drama and an attempt to be scary that succeeds on just about every level. It's a great example of Doctor Who doing its best to give you nightmares before you go to sleep. It's almost a shame it is broadcast in the daylight. Do yourself a favour and tape it and watch it later in the dark on your own. I was captured by this when it was first broadcast and it holds up very nicely almost a decade later: 9/10