Written by Keith Temple
Read by Silas Carson
Planet of the Ood on TV was a Doctor Who story that wore its social conscience firmly on its sleeve, delivered intensely arresting visuals, showed the wonder of Donna Noble adapting to the universe on her first alien planet, and brought a huge amount of fascinating detail to the story of a species that, while visually arresting, had rather been written off on their first outing.
In the generally excellent The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit by Matt Jones, the Ood were introduced to us with a degree of contempt as a “basic slave race” who, if not given tasks, would wither away and die.
There’s a good deal that could be written about their subsequent psychic takeover by “the Beast” being a representation of them discovering the difference between right and wrong and subsequently exacting vengeance on the humans who treated them so poorly, but it’s acknowledged even in Jones’ own script that the Doctor too treats the Ood with a degree of shabbiness – he’s “unable” to save them, because there’s so much else to do, meaning he prioritizes human lives over Ood lives, and the Ood we meet are therefore all consigned to oblivion in a black hole.
The Economy of Slavery
Keith Temple, in giving us Planet of the Ood, took us behind the notion of that human belief that the Ood were “born to serve” and delivered a story of vast corporate cynicism, slavery, industrialised mutilation (effectively amounting to lobotomy) and the ways in which whole societies of “haves” are encouraged to turn blind eyes to the brutalization and othering of the “have nots.”
Planet of the Ood also deals with the ways in which such abhorrences can be tackled, and revolutions masterminded – and with the extremes to which those in power will go to keep control of their empires.
It was pretty powerful stuff on TV, and in the novelization, Keith Temple goes a couple of degrees further in showing us the squalor in which Ood are “processed,” evoking the smells of filth and cauterization as their true selves, their “hand-brains” are excised from them early, their psychic song muted by surgery and their “translator balls” attached.
It’s absolutely a story with resonances in the British Empire – colonization, theft of precious assets (in this case, the giant brain that links all the Ood together), and the enslavement, infantilization and brutalization of a whole race. But as the Doctor points out, there are still plenty of Ood-equivalents in our modern world – economic slave workers who get no choice in their labour, or the punishments for failure to produce enough in a given time. We are not particularly any different from the humans of the Earth Empire who turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Ood because it facilitates the ease of our own life.
A Book Full of Extras
There are other great additions to the Planet of the Ood novelization, some of which it would be criminal to spoil for you. The process of transfer when it comes to Red Eye is exquisitely and heartbreakingly described in a prologue we never saw on screen. There are delicious little digs at the government of Boris Johnson, with no alcohol being allowed on the platform, but Halpern and his potential Ood-buyers living it up in booze-fuelled parties.
There’s even a positively delicious tie-in to the other great servitor of Classic Doctor Who, the Voc Robots – robots had been done away with some time earlier, and the Halpern family had stepped in to fill the gap in the market with their organic, oh-so-convenient slave race. Much more is made here of the commercial pressure that a robot renaissance is putting on Ood Operations, and it helps to put the whole story into a significantly broader context than was managed in the TV version.
There are also significantly more details in the book about Ood biology, which leads to a very particular missing scene missing from the TV version which, in the book, adds meaning, visual flair, and a certain righteous fury to a part of the Ood revolution of which only a handful of seconds is seen on screen.
All of these additions, tweaks and amendments help to make the novelization of Planet of the Ood much more immersive, broad, and emotionally intense than the version we got on screen, good though that was. Oh and yes, in case you were wondering, we get a much more visceral and well-delivered Halpern-Ood transformation, and a slightly more grisly death for the unfortunate Dr Ryder, than proved possible to deliver in the on-screen version.
The 4k Version
As you’d expect, we get a lot more sense of the motivations of some of the villains too – Halpern and Commander Kess in particular. The sense of the powerful people despising their victims comes through very much more strongly here than even the likes of Tim McInerny and Roger Griffiths were able to convey on screen, and adds to the psychological truth we find in the story, when looking at the world around us (Paging Suella “My dream is to send immigrants to Rwanda” Braverman).
So, in the best traditions of, for instance, Ian Marter and Terrance Dicks on a good day, what the planet of the Ood novelization gives us is essentially what we saw on screen, but in a broader, deeper, 4k UHD way, with significant extra detail that wasn’t deliverable within a family TV show back in 2008.
And yes, feel free to hyperventilate slightly there – it’s been 15 years since Planet of the Ood hit TV screens. That’s as far away from now as the Key To Time season was from An Unearthly Child. You’re welcome.
And then, on top of the bigger, broader, harder-kicking and more fundamentally heartbreaking version of an already pretty big, broad, hard-kicking and heartbreaking TV story, you add Silas Carson (voice of the Ood, forever) on reading duties.
That feels like more than an act of genius, it feels like an act of pure necessity for this story, and it works superbly well. First of all, of course, Silas is exactly that – the unmistakeable voice of the Ood. That’s a choice that, like having Dan Starkey as the go-to everyday Sontaran of choice, has been vindicated every time Silas has stepped up to a mic.
But secondly of course, Silas Carson is very, very good with his voice. That means he’s good here at rendering the poisonous capitalism of Halpern, the fly-by-nightery and instincts of the Tenth Doctor, the widening understanding of Donna Noble, and a lot more within the course of the book, to deliver both the personalities and the pace that the book demands to still feel like a pitched race to the end of a criminal, monstrous empire and the freedom of the Ood.
In their on-screen versions, the two recently novelized Tenth Doctor stories, Planet of the Ood and The Waters of Mars are probably on par, with Mars perhaps taking the honours by virtue of the Time Lord Victorious twist and the insane monster make-up.
In their audio novelizations, I have to give the rosette to Planet of the Ood for the work that’s been done to expand the believable universe of the story, and the pitch-perfect narration of the book throughout by Silas Carson.
That’s a powerful combination, and it’s intensely to the benefit of audio-geeks and Who-fans alike that Planet of the Ood on audiobook finds both creative powers at their peak.