Planet of the Ood is one of my favourite stories from Series 4, a morbid but also exultant and beautiful story featuring one of the best of the revival’s new alien species. It’s a cerebral tale bringing into intelligent relief some important real-world issues. Donna, the uncultured Londoner, was forced to contemplate uncomfortable parallels with the captive Ood in her own world, the phenomenon of sweatshops and third-world labour, when confronted with the revelation that the human civilisation of the future is built on the backs of an enslaved alien species. The episode’s discussion of slavery and the tyranny of profit, when untempered by morality, was done effectively and intelligently with the invocation of the imagery of concentration camps and racialism. Moreover, the PR girl Solana’s hesitant assistance of Ood Operations represented the way reasonable, ordinary people can become accessories to horrors just by being passive and permitting abuses to take place.
The episode itself was expertly produced, cranking up the emotiveness in all the right places to produce a beautiful, artistic work of television drama. The Ood were particularly good, and are one of the most well-conceived new alien species the revival has introduced. There’s something distinctly unnerving about them that belies their peaceable and docile nature. I tend to see them as a race of philosophers, a profoundly intellectual species that have been outrageously abused by other races out of prejudice. They’re a bit like the Jews in this way. The sequence showing the Ood singing in exultation when the Doctor destroyed the forcefield inhibiting their connection with the Ood Brain was truly stirring, the ecstatic high-point of the episode, and a genuine triumph of production. The music was also an excellent feature of this episode, and Gold was given the reins to produce something wonderful for the singing aliens.
Donna was excellent in this episode. As in The Fires of Pompeii, Donna shows what a caring, passionate person she is when confronted by the moral repulsion of humanity’s enslavement of the Ood. The poignant scene where Donna reacts to the Ood’s depressing “song of captivity” is the most powerful moment in the episode, not only in relation to the plight of the Ood, but for Donna’s characterisation, too, representing the moment where Donna’s romantic and naïve preconceptions about travelling with the Doctor were shattered, rudely thrust aside by the confronting reality. Additionally, Halpen was also a very well-written villain, who was played very well by Tim McInnerny. Halpen was made a three-dimensional, layered character who didn’t conform to the caricatured image of an evil, greedy, morally-deficient slave-driver. If Halpen was made a pantomime villainous figure, as would have been tempting, this episode almost certainly wouldn’t have been as effective as it was. The point of making Halpen an insecure, flawed, layered character rather than an unreal, crude caricature was to demonstrate that it’s not just evil men who can be implicated in evil. Much evil is prosecuted by otherwise decent people, like Halpen, who don’t think they’re doing any wrong.