James Strong

Doctor Who (2005) s02e09 – The Satan Pit

So, the title sort of gives away the big reveal. The Satan Pit refers to the giant hole in the middle of the planet, where they’ve already dug twelve miles down and sent David Tennant and Claire Rushbrook to investigate. She wants to go in the existing pit, as opposed to the tunnel they dug.

Tennant, however, doesn’t really think going into the pit is a good idea. Even if it’s not Satan. But it sure sounds like it’s Satan. What’s his story? Think Star Trek V. Yes, indeed, “Doctor Who” comes along and does Star Trek V almost twenty years later, makes it great, but also shows off what the “Who” franchise can do in contrast to what “Trek” can’t.

But the episode isn’t director James Strong or writer Matt Jones resting on their “gods in need of starships” laurels; it’s not even just a straight “Who” episode, with Tennant dealing with the Devil (or at least trying to convince Rushbrook they really don’t need to go investigate whether or not its Satan in the pit), while Billie Piper leads the humans above as their slave army of Oods turns lethal—the telepathic Oods prove susceptible to Satanic suggestion. So not only is it great Trekkie sci-fi, it’s great sci-fi action, and then there are all these great character arcs. Piper, captain Shaun Parkes, Rushbrook, Tennant—more about him abandoning Piper in their last moments versus fretting over what god needs with a starship (initially), plus Danny Webb as the security chief. It’s just a great episode. And a great two-parter. Definitely the most successful episodes of the series to date.

And it’s still the same technical team, which is a surprise. Strong just knows how to get Ernest Vincze to light better?

Perfect ending too. It all just works out so well.

If only the show can keep up this new momentum… they really do need to stay clear of the plant Earth. “Who” is better at the broad extraterrestrial sci-fi than the earthbound stuff. It also helps giving Piper and Tennant actual character arcs.

So big cheers for writer Jones and director Strong. They finally give Tennant a show deserving of him.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e08 – The Impossible Planet

The Impossible Planet has just what “Who” needs… right now anyway. There’s a new director to the series (James Strong) and a new writer (Matt Jones), and they give the series a push in a better (arguably best so far) direction. Is there going to be any momentum… probably not. “Who,” even the two-parters, is episodic not just in its storytelling but also its making. For whatever reason, Strong’s able to do a lot more with cinematographer Ernest Vincze’s DV lighting and Mike Jones’s editing than anyone else this season or last.

The titular planet has no name in the episode, not even a designation. David Tennant and Billie Piper go bandying about the galaxy and find themselves in some future time at an Earthling research station. The station is on a planet trapped in a black hole’s gravity well but immobile because of a huge power source. The researchers are digging to the core to discover what’s the power.

There’s Claire Rushbrook as the scientist, Shaun Parkes as the acting captain, Danny Webb as the security chief, Will Thorp as the archeologist (they’ve discovered some billion year old civilization), Ronny Jhutti is the tech nerd, and MyAnna Buring is the bosom-y maintenance tech. Because it’s 2006 and they’re still British, after all.

Writer Jones writes distinct characters with enough meat for the actors to flesh them out, with Strong directing the actors, which the show could use a lot more often.

Once Tennant and Piper get oriented—they also discover the humans have a bunch of slaves (called the Ood, who “need” to be slaves so it’s all right, otherwise they’d lemming apparently)—there’s a big earthquake (Impossible Planet quake) because black hole rippling the planet and the TARDIS falls in, stranding Piper and Tennant.

So as they get used to the idea of not just being trapped in a time and place—with Piper a lot more comfortable with the idea of homesteading with Tennant than vice versa—the researchers are just about to get to the core and they’re all about to find out exactly what’s going on. There are various hints—including demonic possession and the Ood acting weird—before it’s clear “Who” is about to try a different take on a very familiar fail of a different sci-fi franchise….

No spoilers (yet), but thank goodness they got the right director for this one.

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