The Commodity Strikes Back
Thoughts on ‘Planet of the Ood’
A very beautiful episode to look at. A stark pallet of whites and blues and greys, the exterior scenes harshly bathed in cold light… counterpointed by the dark warehouses and the red haze of the Ood rage.
Series 4 continues its apparent intent of readdressing moral lapses on the part of the Doctor/show. The inexcusable laxity of the treatment of slavery in ‘The Satan Pit’ (and the invisibility of the issue in the preceding episode) gets repudiated here. Big time.
Some would rather have had a story about a race that actually did crave servitude… but J. K. Rowling has already given the nation that sort of thing with her innately and happily subservient House Elves. And I don’t believe a sentient life form could evolve that wanted to be a commodity. Indeed, to even suggest such a thing may be to fundamentally misunderstand what consciousness is.
This may be a straightforward polemical tale, but there’s nothing wrong with that. This is about ruthless, corporate capitalism exploiting people that it sees as nothing but a resource to be used. Sentient beings cut and sliced and spliced into shape as customisable toys and then packaged, branded, priced-up and shipped out in boxes. People in pacakaging. The gimmicks with their voices say it all: it’s like changeable novelty mobile-phone covers only with people.
This is a parable about commodification. About people turned into products and merchandise. About how relationships between living people become like relationships between things through the logic of the market. Halpen is, in his way, as much a victim of the commodification syndrome as the Ood. We see glimmers of decency in him, not least when he sends Ood Sigma back to his people. But he’s trapped within the logic of the impersonal system. Like the PR girl who – oh joy, oh bliss – does NOT have a yawnsome “crisis of conscience” but does her job, stays within the psychological confines of the system and stays true to her corporate loyalties. The PR/marketing slime in the hospitality lounge are as lobotomised as the Ood. Sharp suits and empty heads and crippled consciences.
Mr Halpen’s ultimate comeuppance is to become the thing he owned and traded in. That amazing gore moment that also, through the context, manages to be poetic, beautiful and moving. And satisfying. It’s a fantasy, but a pleasing one. Let’s put together a chain-gang starring Warren Buffet, Phil Nike, Rupert Murdoch, etc. See how those bastards like being at the bottom of the pile. Maybe sometimes, empathy must be imposed.
The episode does not flinch from showing the brutality or the necessity or the moral justifiability of violent revolt. No patronising sermons to the oppressed about non-violence.
The Doctor’s remark to Donna – “who do you think made your clothes?” – was quite startling at the time. Under most circumstances, such little eruptions in mainstream drama can be accounted for as mere twinges of liberal guilt… but in a story like this one, which explicitly endorses violent revolution… well, it seems to have a bit more integrity than that.…