Science fiction author H. P. Lovecraft once wrote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

Fear — the one emotion that mankind is all too familiar with — finds itself as a rather prominent theme in most works of science fiction, with Doctor Who being no exception to this observation.  Many episodes thus far have dealt with this subject matter, and in a myriad of ways, from the old terrors of centuries’ past, which tend to be more oriented towards the supernatural and mythical ways of seeing the world, to the burgeoning horrors in the remote future, rooted largely in the dangers of highly sophisticated science.  The Impossible Planet presents an altogether different point in the Doctor Who narrative — the conflation of a pre-mythic past and a faraway future — and with incredible results.

It is from this premise that many dichotomous themes begin to interact, the first of many being science and religion.  The Doctor and Rose find themselves in the frontiers of outer space, set in an far-off planet inhabited by a small group of humans who appear to have achieved an impressive level of scientific understanding and advancement.  They have built themselves an intricate web of tunnels, and are drilling their way into the center of the planet in order to explore the unknown.  Yet in the midst of empirical truth and scientific order is the intrusion of the unexplainable — the realm where science ends, and faith and myth begin.  The planet, for reasons unknown, is safely revolving around a black hole, miraculously spared from its deathly force.  The planet’s mere existence is beyond the laws of physics, and yet there it is, existing incomprehensibly — a mystery beyond the human mind.

We see The Doctor at his most scientific, as he makes mathematical computations and works with formulas.  (Even Rose displays her own knowledge of the workings of the black hole!)  Yet there is something ominous about the Doctor’s answer — “66 every 6 seconds” makes a clear reference to 666, the Number of the Beast.  All throughout the episode, many other elements denote this mythical number: computer readouts (66.6), pressure statuses (60), the room where the TARDIS was parked in (Storage 6), and even the drill head’s position (point 16).  Science, it seems, has truly conflated with what was once believed to be religious tradition and mythical knowledge.

Certain occurrences that were also once thought of to be archaic find their place in this highly-modern world, one of which being the concept of slavery as illustrated by the Oods.  Rose could not understand why, in the midst of human advancement, the need to subjugate lesser beings to human will still exists.  And I do agree.  Humans normalizing slavery — which is essentially a regression to the “old ways” of doing things — is an indication that technological advancement is not always what defines human progress and growth.

Yet — just to play devil’s advocate (pun intended!) to Rose’s observation — the Oods do bring about some important questions about free will.  Is it still slavery if the Oods crave nothing else but service?  If they “pine away and die” without orders?  If they have “nothing else in life”?  Or is enslavement defined instead by the one who subjugates?

The character Toby is also central to the tension between the scientific and the mytho-archaic.  As an archaeologist, he attempts to make sense of the ancient civilization that had once thrived on the planet, but fails.  Even the TARDIS could not decipher the language he attempts to decode — and that in itself is very telling.  Toby’s quest in the name of science is brought to an end when he is possessed by an unknown, evil Force.  He could not explain just what had taken over his free will, or what enabled him to stay outside the base without any suit or breathing apparatus.

The moments leading to his demonic possession are in themselves very terrifying.  The temptation to turn around and see — all while being prohibited from seeing — plays around with the very primal human instinct to know what is there.  At the same time, it echoes the dangers of seeing and knowing, as reflected in the well-worn Biblical story of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt.

On the topic of demonic possession — it has, in recent times, been thought of as mere superstition, and even science has come to the forefront of taking into account this once mysterious phenomenon, attributing it instead to epilepsy or schizophrenia.  Yet there are times when the horrors are real, and science is not enough to explain it.  With every frontier man crosses, it seems as if the undiscovered becomes all the more palpable.

I find it interesting that Rose — and not The Doctor! — is the first to discover that something is amiss.  One of the Oods begins to nonchalantly quote ominous passages from the Bible (“The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit to make war against God”), which it attributes to some kind of an electromagnetic interference.  Yet the Oods do eventually become possessed by this very dark force they speak of, swinging from benevolence to frightfulness.  They emphasize the pre-mythic quality of the next enemy The Doctor is about to face.

Ood: He has woven himself in the fabric of your life since the dawn of time. Some may call him Abaddon. Some may call him Krop Tor. Some may call him Satan, or Lucifer…

Danny: Captain, it’s the Ood. They’re out of control!

Ood: Or the Bringer of Despair!

It is The Beast, the very personification of evil, the one archetype for fear and damnation that has been burned into the human subconsciousness.  An image of it actually flashes across the screen for a split-second, building up the tension for what could possibly be an incredible two-part story.

Advertisements