Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Satan Pit written by Matt Jones and directed by James Hawes

This story in a nutshell: ‘The Pit is Open and I am free…’ 

Mockney Dude: What is the objection to the Doctor and Rose really liking each other? That does seem to be the big problem that people have with this combination of characters, that they are really rather fond of each other to the exclusion of all others. It does make them a little selfish and a little blind to the people around them and it does make them appear unbearable smug at times because they are so deliriously happy together. But that’s people in love. And I think that is the big issue. That the Doctor should never fall in love, and god forbid it is with a young girl from Earth. Well guess what, shit happens. Planets get destroyed, guilt gets heavy and then pretty chavs walk into lives and turn them upside down. You genuinely feel the connection between the Doctor and Rose in this episode probably more so than in any other story this season except the climax because the stakes are so high and the danger feels so real. There’s no real time for them to make moon eyes at each other because they are constantly on the run. And yet that connection is stressed because they are scared that they will never get to see each other again, perhaps never get the chance to say how they feel. When the story keeps them busy, Tennant and Piper can really shine together because they both get a great deal to do and their desperate need to get back to and protect one another really sells the feeling they have. The Doctor knows he’s getting old because his instincts are to retreat. You can see the positive approach that the tenth Doctor takes having a real impact as he smooths everybody’s brow after they have taken a psychological beating from the Beast. Leaving the Doctor out of the action was a sound idea because it forces him to have a multifaceted dialogue with a guest character and his scenes with Ida are beautifully written. He’s forced to think about his opinion rather than just react to situations (as he has a wont to do in the new series) and it presents a considerate, thoughtful man rather than the manic geek in space that we have seen up until now. Tennant’s best moments throughout his run would be more thoughtful, conversation scenes like this (his heart-breaking conversation with Joan at the end of The Family of Blood, the scene when he catches up with Jack in Utopia, most of Midnight, the gut wrenching moment when he tells Adelaide she is going to die in The Waters of Mars). These are the moments where Tennant is forced to prove his talent, which he has in spades. When the Doctor is asked outright what he believes in, what he has faith in all he can give are ambiguous answers. Perhaps he doesn’t know anymore. He comes frighteningly close to asking Ida to tell Rose he loves her. It’s a moment where I caught my breath. The scenes of the Doctor reasoning the history and the backstory of the Beast from the facts he has to hand really allow his intelligence to shine through. It reminds me of the scenes between the Creature and the fourth Doctor in Creature from the Pit. Except there are no blowing of protuberances this time. Which is odd, given this is the new series and a gag about blow jobs is just around the corner. When the Doctor has given up hope, along pops the TARDIS. Is that the her he was talking about that he believed in?

Chavvy Chick: I really like faltering the moment that Rose stresses for the Doctor to tell her that the Devil doesn’t really exist. When he’s silent, she asks again. Piper underplays the moment and you can see the fear in Rose’s eyes when he cannot take all the monsters away. Sometimes they real and you have to deal with them. Rose is brave enough to put her life in danger to protect other people nowadays. Her travels in the TARDIS have really changed her. When everybody else has given up, Rose is encouraging them to think their way out of this impossible situation. We haven’t seen this kind of writing for her character since the previous season. She’s a ruthlessly efficient organiser and gets everybody doing what they do best. I can see this Rose taking an important position on Pete’s world. Billie Piper does some of her best acting when she is desperate and struggling; when she was sent home in the TARDIS in The Parting of the Ways, struggling against the wall that separated her and the Doctor in Doomsday and here where she is forced onto the rocket and away from the Doctor for good. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I don’t want to die on my own.’
‘That’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.’
‘The stuff of legend…’

The Good: Like a really good Terry Nation script, the previous episode piled peril on top of peril so the situation seemed calamitous and so if the threat to the base destabilising was handled with reasonable swiftness then there is still the problem of the homicidal Ood and the possessed Toby to keep the pace running furiously. It’s an absurdly busy and exciting opening to the episode, there are very few Doctor Who stories that kick start with this much forward momentum. That dirty, grungy base still impresses me after all these years. Unlike many Doctor Who locations this one really feels lived in. Who doesn’t have that mad little voice in your head saying jump over the edge of a cliff? It’s a wonderful expression of fulfilling the need to experience, to dare, to venture into the unknown. This really was a time when Doctor Who could make comments on wonderful moments of human existence like that. This is a story that dares to explore psychological horror in quite a profound way, the Beast terrifying his victims by preying on their worst psychological fears. I love how each taunt reveals a new shade about each character, effortlessly adding layers. The Doctor is the killer of his own kind, Zachary being terrified of Command, Mr Jefferson haunted by the eyes of his wife, Ida still running from daddy, Danny the little boy who lied, Toby the virgin and Rose the lost girl who will die in battle very soon. It capitalises on previous continuity, it offers glimpses into the future and it offers tantalising pockets of backstory for these characters that suggest a life outside of this story. It’s fantastic writing. How delightful to see the return of the old-fashioned ventilation shaft – no wonder so many classic fans have a fondness for this story! The Doctor descending into darkness is an exceptional visual, he is literally venturing into the unknown. In the midst of all this drama there are still small moments of levity – I love how everybody is admiring everybody’s arses as the crawl down the ventilation shaft – we’re definitely not in classic Who anymore! Cor Sarah Jane, lovely buns you’ve got there! Bugger off Harry! There’s a moment when the Ood turn the corner and its spaghetti shakes like a rabid dog’s jaws hunting its prey. They are such an original design. Self-sacrifice is tenapenny in action adventure…so why does Mr Jefferson’s sacrifice feel genuinely upsetting? I think it is because he has been presented as imperfect character with a shady past just trying to do his best. You’re rooting for him because he feels like a real person. That deft bit of editing where Toby reveals himself to be still be possessed to the Ood before screaming for help from his comrades is priceless. I love the idea of a prison which is in itself a trap. If the prisoner escapes, the gravity field collapses and the planet falls into the black hole and kills him. It makes sense of so much of the story to this point. Toby’s rage in the shuttle as the Beast possesses him for the last time is a genuinely unsettling moment of horror for children watching this show. It is and adult behaving in a horrifically unpredictable manner. I love the manic energy of the scene and how it never let’s up until Toby is out that window and flying in the dead of space.

The Bad: Maybe the CGI Devil lacks subtlety…but by God it looks fantastic. I just can’t imagine this snarling beast with Gabriel Woolf’s silky intelligence nestled inside.

The Shallow Bit:
Toby Zed might be a slightly blading geek…but I would.

Result: A terrific second part to a near flawless two-part serial, The Satan Pit has a few minor faults that hold it back from perfection (that still goes to Human Nature/The Family of Blood) but if I were to point at a story in the early days of Doctor that ticks all of my boxes, this would be very high on the list. It’s almost the perfect fusion of classic Who (base under siege, ventilation shafts, monsters, suspense and slower scenes that allow for some complex dialogue) and NuWho (a stylish production, pacy action, emotional drama, complex characterisation). Maybe it’s just me and I am completely biased but I cannot think of a large cast like this in the Moffat era where the characters feel this real. There is just something about the interaction between them, the chemistry, the information we are given and how they react to the situation that just sells them completely as a group of desperate people trying to get out of this situation alive. When these people lose their lives it really means something. It’s superbly cast, and that is just one aspect of a genuinely impressive production that feels like it has had more time than usual lavished upon it. Even Murray Gold’s score feels less like a collection of emotive themes and geared perfectly towards the atmosphere and the action. An overly hyped relationship by the audience at large and a overly criticised relationship amongst fandom, the Doctor and Rose get magnificent treatment here. They are separated for much of the story and work extremely well within their own storylines but there is always that longing feeling of worry for each other’s safety that permeates every scene. And given the dire situation they are in it is perfectly natural and believable. The moment they are reunited at the climax I was punching the air for them, such was the efforts they had to go through to find one another again. And with the lingering threat of Rose’s death it is a reunion with a bite. It’s some of the best characterisation they had all year and they are given excellent dialogue to speak. I wish Doctor Who could bring together all facets of a production (writing, direction, acting, music, editing, lightning) this synchronously more often than it does these days but for those of you who disparage the new series against the classic version might want to check out this story. It’s doing so many things well to please both sets of fans and that is a very hard task to pull off. Taken as a whole this is one of the strongest entries in the past ten seasons, a bedtime horror story told with intelligence and directed with style: 9/10


Ben Kinsman said...

I will never understand why this episode, or the previous one, aren't talked about more when the conversation of "The best Nu-Who episodes" comes up. Everything about this episode, to me at least, is what the new series should be, not just adding in little nods to classic who for fan service or bringing back old monsters but by using the same similar style of episodes and working to make characters feel like people and not just actors looking scared as the Doctor fixes it all. It may just be my opinion that most of Moffat's scripts feel like they were written under the awareness that Doctor Who is quite popular on social media and therefore creates stories that have "editable" moments, this story manages to just focus on making an adventure work and puts in great care in making sure that each (apart from a few moments) have some weight behind them. Excellent review for an excellent story.

Anonymous said...

A good but not great episode but what makes this story one of the few tolerable ones in the otherwise dreadful series 2 is the stunning design elements, great direction and brilliant Murray Gold score. Sadly the good work is undermined by the faffing around with the unnecessary Rose/10th Doctor "romance" elements, particularly the cringeworthy domestic scene in the first part and the "I believe in her" nonsense. Ooh, the other good thing is that lovely raspberry top Billie wears. Really gorgeous and another big thumbs up for the design people. This episode pops in the RTD era because of how poor this element was until the dazzling early Smith/Moffat era which took design and the use of colour to another level.

Joe Ford said...

Good thing they did get the design elements right in the Smith/Moffat era, they got so much else wrong.

Anonymous said...

The 10/Rose romance is my least favorite thing of the RTD era, an era I otherwise love. That and the hero worship

Anonymous said...

This is such a classic 2-parter. Those final 10 minutes where the planet and rocket plunge towards the black hole is some of the tensest drama that I've ever witnessed, aided by one of my favourite scores of any Doctor Who episode. I loved The Beast- Gabriel Woolf was so much better than in Pyramids of Mars, and this is one of the strongest guest casts that I've witnessed. Some great horror elements and enough base-under-siege elements to please me on top of the already-amazing story. I say with no reservations that this is my favourite ever David Tennant and RTD story, and I'd even go so far as to say that it's my favourite modern era story. A true classic 2-parter which I give a fully well-deserved 10/10