The Impossible Planet

Region 1
box set

Region 2
box set
Region 2
plain 3-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 178, starring David Tennant)
  • written by Matt Jones
  • directed by James Strong
  • produced by Phil Collinson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 2 episodes @ 45 minutes each:
    1. The Impossible Planet
    2. The Satan Pit
Story: The Doctor and Rose find themselves on an exploration base on the planet Krop Tor. The mission specialists are drilling down to the center of the planet to find the incredible anti-gravity power source that keeps the planet in stable orbit around a gigantic black hole, yet no one is quite prepared to believe the secrets and dangers waiting for them in the dark pits below....

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Episode One picture-in-picture commentary by David Tennant (The Doctor), Shaun Parkes (Zachary), & Visual FX Producer Will Cohen.
  • Episode Two audio commentary by actor Ronny Jhutti (Danny Bartok), director James Strong, and editor Mike Jones.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: You've Got the Look (10 min.) with Tennant, Strong, Paul Kasey (Ood), MyAnna Buring (Scooti),
    executive producer Russell T. Davies, production designer Edward Thomas, creature effects designer Neill Gorton,
    producer Phil Collinson, and underwater cameraman Mike Valentine.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Myths and Legends (9 min.) with Tennant, Strong, Parkes, Davies, Billie Piper (Rose Tyler),
    Will Thorp (Toby Zed), and script editor Simon Winstone.
  • David Tennant's Video Diaries
  • Deleted Scenes

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

There will probably be a lot of Doctor Who fans out there trying to tell you that the reason why this story is so good is that it is just so effectively scary. Most of them probably don't really get it. The fact that it is so scary is just the icing on THEIR cake.

I will tell you that this is in fact the best Doctor Who story in the first three years that Davies and company produced since reviving the show in 2005, and it is the best because it does so well at just getting everything right. Most of all, it seems to understand, better than ex-producer Philip Hinchcliffe, better than ex-writer/script editor Robert Holmes, better than current head-writer/executive producer Russell T. Davies, better than all the horror Who fans out there, what really lies at the core of good science fiction when the genre is at its most definitive. Science Fiction's primary story beat is exploration, whether it's exploring a place, a new scientific concept, a social idea, a character, a culture... whatever. "The Impossible Planet" goes to the top of the rankings primarily because it just never stops exploring, no matter what other great stuff is going on. Hats off to writer Matt Jones! In fact, Jones should come out and take a bow, before Russell T. Davies takes credit for all the good ideas in the interviews on the DVD extras.

To start off, where David Tennant's first seven stories all mysteriously failed to give us the simple, satisfying effect of the TARDIS materializing, "The Impossible Planet" now delivers. Too bad the effect is a bit queasy this time around, but this gives the Doctor the first in a long, long line of questions to answer in the adventure.

The series' two regular characters present themselves to the audience and waste no time in getting underway with the explorations. They start with the construction they find themselves in, proceed to some ancient writing and its ramifications (very nice cultural touch), and then discover what is probably the best new alien race to debut on the revamped show. The Ood have arrived, with one of the best prosthetic designs ever produced for television, and a mysteriously unnerving character to boot. Nice!

Meeting the rest of the base's crew is not the greatest display of fascination or charisma, which in a way adds to its realism. Most importantly, this section introduces us to the characters quickly and efficiently covering basics like names, functions, and general disposition, and still leaving room for more interesting mysteries and developments to spring forth later. Better than so many earlier Doctor Who offerings that leave you still wondering which character was which when the episode credits roll. Good job.

"Krop Tor: The Bitter Pill"

Only after all this do we get to find out exactly where we are for this adventure. We know we're out in the frontiers of outer space, but for those who had any doubt, this is not just another run-of-the-mill space craft or orbital station. We've finally landed on an alien planet that is truly alien and not making any attempt to copy the Earth. Sweet relief; we thought it'd never happen! It's got its own ancient lost civilization and culture, whose secrets are locked in a truly ancient language that gives everyone translation challenges. And to make it truly bizarre and give it even more eye-candy, it's in orbit around a beautiful black hole. Awesome. Note also here, that the characters are now exploring astronomy and physics, as the how and why of the place's set-up is made into another major set of questions to be answered during the adventure. Very on-purpose. This is why it's called science fiction, ladies and gentlemen.

I can't think why science officer Ida Scott rags on about the planet not having a name, when she later proves that she knows that the Veltino call it "Krop Tor". Okay, so if that's the only name we know it's got, then that's its name. Sounds good to me.

It really is beautiful having so many different cultures in one story, the Ood from who knows where, the undiscovered one on Krop Tor, and reports of even more cultures commenting on the planet in question. Cool. Of course, we're not without the usual Russell T. Davies love-in for the human race, which early on here seems to be presented a little weirdly, threatening to jar one out of context.

The typical formulaic base-defense bottle-story dynamics come into play for a while, as the narrative explores both day-to-day life on a deep-space base between Humans and Ood (with a little help from a rendition of Ravel's "Bolero"), and the idea of a TARDIS-less Doctor settling down, onto which Rose clumsily throws her domestic hopes. No, we don't think so, Rose. And just what is happening to Toby? His exploration of the ancient language yields some truly bizarre results. This section of the story fills itself with questions, spectacle, and danger.

Just when you think you may have this story's structure pegged and think it may be settling down into a familiar formula, it shifts gears again, and begins its greatest literal geographical explorations yet, with the Doctor taking a lead role. Sweet.

The build up to the cliffhanger is truly exquisite. Having shown us so many curious visuals already, it begs us to imagine even more as questions abound, and new twists and dynamics in the following episode seem inevitable.

It is a shame that this episode makes no attempt to follow the fine example set in "Rise of the Cybermen" (story no. 176) when it refrained from embedding an ad for the next show directly into the end credits. Those ads really suck, and are really out of place in the DVD box set presentation of the actual show. Hide them somewhere on the last disc as an extra, and let the episode credits run in peace to a good music cue without the ads. Particularly on the multi-part stories, if the episode and cliffhanger has done its job well, there's no need to make a separate ad for next week. The viewers should already be hooked.

The following episode works through a lot of good old-fashioned sci-fi action and strategy countering sessions, managing to satisfy most of what might be expected of it while still pulling a lot of twists and new dynamics as well. It also offers the Doctor a shining role while deeply exploring questions of faith, belief, mythology, legends, and fear. And it's also tastefully peppered with a little humour to help relieve the enormous tensions it builds so well. The full range of what works best in sci-fi is all here for your indulgence.

I'll have to save the remainder of the nuts-and-bolts of my review for the In-Depth Analysis version only..... Suffice it to say, this is what a Doctor Who story should be, with just one small caveat. Good stuff.

Musically, there's a lot going on in this one, although it takes a while to get up to speed. New material composed specially for this story includes a distinctive crescendo sting, a warped and wistful string solo expounding a theme for the grand and ancient lost civilization, and a softer conventional string section touching the human heart of the piece, all combined into a single track called "The Impossible Planet" available on audio CD. Other new music highlights include a distinctive action-exploration theme with fast-paced trumpet triplets and pulses, a pounding theme heralding the arrival of the enemies, and some deep mellow bass notes providing a steady purposeful undercurrent for many of the more level-headed exploration and strategy sessions.

What may be even more interesting are the large number of tracks imported from previous stories and re-used here, with the versions from this story often ending up on audio CD instead of the originals, mostly due to better orchestral sound this time around. Nice. "New Adventures" then further merges with the staccato trumpet sound for many of the middle action cues, helping the music continue to sound fresh in the mix after several previous "straight" uses. There is one piece I thought they really shouldn't have re-used, but you'll find out about that in the In-Depth Analysis version of this review.

Music by Murray Gold
"The Impossible Planet",
"New Adventures",
"Rose in Peril",
"The Lone Dalek",
"Finding Jackie",
"The Doctor's Theme",
"Rose Defeats the Daleks", and
"Tooth and Claw" are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who by Murray Gold
Silva Screen SILCD1224

More info & buying options

So there you have it, a second epic classic for this new Millennium of Doctor Who. Hands down the best story of Season 28, also known as "Series 2" for those of you only counting the new version. If only all stories could come somewhere close to this level of inspired content, the new Doctor Who series would be much better off. While there are now a few incredible stinkers to wade through this season, there is also further great stuff yet to come....

This story has become available on DVD.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Region 1
14-episode boxed set
for the North American market:

Region 2
14-episode box set
for the U.K.
Region 2
plain 3-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Love and Monsters"

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