A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “Planet of the Ood”
Am I the only one who finds it a little hard to sympathize with the Ood? They’re just so ugly! But maybe that’s the point: because they’re tough to look at, their deeper feelings and rights were easy to overlook. So they became slaves, unwilling servants to fourth-millennium humans living polished lives across several galaxies.
Last time we saw the Ood was in “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit,” when they were possessed by the devil. Now they’re under control of something equally malevolent: humans. After setting the TARDIS on random, Donna and the Doctor land on the Ood-Sphere, the icy home world of the Ood. There, humans have opened Ood Operations, a company that harvests and sells the Ood for 50 credits apiece. We don’t know how that would translate to dollars, but it’s probably not much. The Double O (as Ood Operations calls itself) claims the Ood were born to serve, though lately they’ve been rebelling. The Ood appear to be infected with a disease called “red eye,” which makes their eyes all bloodshot—and makes them kill people.
The World War II themes were pretty overt here. Ood Operations’ snowy labour camps share several aesthetic commonalities with the concentration camps seen in major Holocaust movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist. This is also one of the first Doctor Who episodes I’ve seen that explicitly criticizes contemporary capitalism. Donna is horrified that humans have turned to slavery, but the Doctor insists it’s not so different from her time. “I haven’t got slaves!” Donna responds. To which the Doctor says, “Who do you think made your clothes?” Donna is offended, and accuses the Doctor of taking a “cheap shot.” But it’s that same sense of denial that has allowed the Ood to become slaves.
As mentioned above, the Ood’s nasty faces have made it hard for me to sympathize with them. But this episode, we also see their fragility. A creature who must carefully hold a second brain outside its body can only be fragile: it must take care of its brain, it can’t be reckless. The way the Ood carefully hold their brains in their hands also makes them look like they are making an offering—and in a sense, they are. As Donna points out, a creature like the Ood is so vulnerable that it has no choice but to trust whoever they meet. They are constantly “offering themselves”—and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, humans took advantage of that vulnerability.
In “The Satan Pit,” the Beast called Rose a “valiant child, who will die in battle so very soon.” It was one of the more chilling moments in season two, a precursor to the devastating finale. Three episodes into season four, we’ve been given another freaky tease. As the Doctor says goodbye to the newly freed Ood, one of them tells him, “I think your song must end soon.” The Doctor asks what he means, to which the Ood responds, “Every song must end.” Of course, we know that means the end of David Tennant’s tenure as The Doctor—but the Doctor himself isn’t aware. Which makes me wonder: if the Doctor can travel through time, why isn’t he aware of his own future forms?