“The Satan Pit” is the conclusion of a story written by Russell T Davies to try and take the Doctor out of his scientific certainties and into areas of experience for which he is ill-prepared. It’s a tale of leaps of faith, of myth and reality, and knowing what to do when faced with an impossible choice.
Here are a few things that you should keep an eye out for, the next time you watch.
When it came to creating the Beast, there was a concern that there would not be enough money to make a decent CGI monster, so several alternative (and cheaper) designs were considered, such as a withered old man, or one enormous eye, or even a creepy young girl (not unlike the the avatars of the Senior Partners, in TV’s Angel, or possibly Wednesday Addams). In the event, the budget stretched to create a fully CGI Beast after all.
The pit scenes were filmed in an open quarry, so scriptwriter Matt Jones had to prepare a couple of extra comments to cover the fact that the floor of this cave, 10 miles under the surface of the planet, could be covered in rainwater, or even snow. The Doctor would have said this was poison rain (or snow) caused by the condensation of subterranean gases.
Danny comments that they could stop the Ood with a virus, something that they didn’t have on board. In a moment of pure sarcasm, Rose replies by sniping, “Well, that’s handy, listing all the things we haven’t got. We haven’t got a swimming pool either. Nor a Tescos.” Tescos is an informal reference to the British supermarket chain Tesco, formed as a chain of grocery market stalls in 1919 by Jack Cohen. He named his organization Tesco after selling a shipment of tea from TE Stockwell, and took those initials and added them to the first two letters of his surname.
While the Doctor is thinking aloud as he abseils down into the pit, he mentions a few of the demonic creatures he’s come across in his time. This was a deliberate decision by Russell T Davies to try to create what he called a “Russian doll” effect around the Third Doctor story “The Daemons,” by some distance the most infernal of all Doctor Who‘s stories to date. The Doctor mentions the Kaled god of war (as referenced in both “The Daleks” and “Genesis of the Daleks”), Draconia (from “Frontier in Space”) and Daemos, home planet of Azal in “The Daemons.”
By contrast, the non-Earth religions he lists earlier in the episode—”The Archiphets, Orkology, Christianity, Pash Pash, New Judaism, San Klah”—are all new to Doctor Who. The Church of the Tin Vagabond did pop up again in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures entitled “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?,” in which Sarah Jane claims to have defeated the Patriarchs of the Tin Vagabond.
The Doctor makes the claim that black holes are a Time Lord invention—”Gravity schmavity. My people practically invented black holes. Well, in fact, they did”—which is a reference to the Eye of Harmony (also known as Rassilon’s Star), a power source that derives from the creation of a black hole and makes time travel a possibility. The Eleventh Doctor described how they would take a star (“Rip the star from its orbit, [and] suspend it in a permanent state of decay.”) in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” This was first discovered by Rassilon, who found the Eye of Harmony in a “black void” (according to events in “The Deadly Assassin”). The Doctor Who TV movie also shows part of the Eye of Harmony on board the TARDIS.
This is not the first time the TARDIS has been used to tow troubled vehicles out of harm’s way. In “The Creature from the Pit,” the Fourth Doctor prevents a world-destroying collision between stars by using a gravity beam (and a hastily constructed metal covering) to tow a neutron star off course. A similar beam was used by the Seventh Doctor to steer a flying bus that has crashed into a satellite and is plummeting towards the Earth in “Delta and the Bannermen.”
The Doctor makes this comment, concerning the freedom of the Beast: “This is your freedom. Free to die. You’re going into that black hole and I’m riding with you.” This is similar to a deal the Third and Second Doctors made with the rogue Time Lord Omega in “The Three Doctors.” Stuck in an antimatter universe, and with his body having been destroyed by exposure to a black hole, the Doctors offer him freedom in the form of an explosive flute that wipes out his reality for good: “I promised him his freedom and I gave it to him. The only freedom he could ever have.”
The Doctor refers to himself and Rose as “the stuff of legend,” a phrase that, while fairly commonly used these days, has a worrying historical precedent if you’re the Doctor. John F Kennedy, when writing about visiting Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II had this to say about Adolf Hitler: “He had boundless ambition for his country which rendered him a menace to the peace of the world, but he had a mystery about him in the way that he lived and in the manner of his death that will live and grow after him. He had in him the stuff of which legends are made.”
Two moments of dramatic foreshadowing occur in this episode. One onscreen, one not. According to the DVD commentary, the final scene in the TARDIS where the Doctor says “the stuff of legend” was the last major scene shot for the 2006 series, and therefore Billie Piper’s last scene as a Doctor Who regular cast member. Her contributions to Rose’s final episode—”Doomsday”—had already been filmed. This follows the moment where the Beast describes Rose as “the valiant child” who will “die in battle, so very soon,” referring to her forthcoming exit from the TARDIS, and indeed, the Doctor’s universe.
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