Doctor Who #821: Planet of the Dead

"Seriously? The Lord of where?" "It's quite a big estate."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Apr.11 2009.

IN THIS ONE... A double-decker bus is sent to a desert planet and threatened by a voracious swarm.

REVIEW: The Easter special isn't very Eastery, aside from the Doctor eating a chocolate egg and almost spilling the beans on the truth of the Resurrection (keep it secular, Doc). I'm not even sure it's that great a 200th story (not that the 100th, The Stones of Blood, felt that special either). What it's really about is giving the viewers an amusing action romp in between much heavier episodes. And that's fine. A heist, an iconic red double-decker bus, a trip to Dubai to shoot on the dunes, evil alien monsters, good gross-out aliens for the kiddies, and a supporting cast of people like you. There's really only one emotional moment, and it's when the Doctor gives the passengers of the 200 hope by making them talk about, and remember, what they were going to in the first place. It's halfway between Midnight and Father's Day, but it worked. But mostly, just sights, sounds, physical daring-do, and zingers.

Such a story needs a companion that isn't a tortured soul like Jackson Lake was, though it's the second time in a row the companion takes a leadership role, and it suits him somehow. All this to say, Lady Christina doesn't have a whole lot of depth. She's more an archetype. She's Catwoman. And while Michelle Ryan is beautiful, sexy, charming and quite capable of doing the stunts required of her, the characters themselves acknowledge that she's (too much) like the Doctor. She's not an audience identification figure, because she's a superhero like the Doctor is, and so slightly unrelatable. Nevertheless, I do like her, and share her incomprehension when the Doctor refuses to take her with him. Imagine this hadn't been the Year of Specials. Planet of the Dead would have been the first episode of Series 5 and Lady Christina would have become the new companion. I wouldn't have been opposed. Just cut out the kiss and the callous bit when she finds dead people in her hair. I guess she can still be one of those characters, like Jenny, who are out there somewhere having crazy spin-off adventures we're never told about, flying bus and all.

The other big guest star is UNIT, and that's where RTD gets into self-congratulatory mode, and as with the end of The Next Doctor, threatens to bring the whole enterprise down. I was glad to see Captain Magambo at first - she helped save the universe in Turn Left - and like how she took control of the situation right away. I'm less impressed with the manufactured jeopardy she creates by pulling a gun on her hapless scientist Malcolm Taylor, only for the point to become moot and amidst the smiles and hugs, everything is forgotten. Malcolm (comedian Lee Evans) is the more irritating element here, however. It's not the absent-minded professor bit, it's the #1 fan of the Doctor bit. When the Doctor shows up, he hugs him and starts saying how he loves him over and over again... What is that?! Even Tennant doesn't seem to know what to do except grin and bear it. It's rare for the 10th Doctor not to have a comeback like that. Even he seems to think it's all too much. That's because it is. WE'RE the fans, guys. The characters on screen don't need to steal our thunder.

A few words on the newest prophecy about someone knocking four times? RTD really loves that stuff, doesn't he? Why can't prophets ever articulate their visions into something that's less ambiguous anyway? I find it all a bit hackneyed by now.

VERSIONS: The End of Time DVD includes a longer scene with Lady Chris giving tasks to the bus passengers, and an extension on the scene where Malcolm has a gun to his head.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, Missed Opportunities of Biblical Proportions? spends a lot of time talking about what might (should) have been.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Harmless pablum, mostly. Pretty to look, etc. But if you're only going to make four episodes this year, they perhaps need to have a little bit more to them.


CiB said...

My problem with this is how stupid everyone looks at the end. We're told UNIT brought the TARDIS to the wierd gateway that a double decker bus survived going through largely intact. At no point do they tell the Doctor this, nor does at any point does the Doctor say "You know what the TARDIS is being UNIT, I left it at X, bring it, chuck it through and I'll have these folks back in minutes, no peril involved."

The bus needs a few minor repairs (indeed, judging from how quickly they get it moving, it's less damaged than most cars that are involved in minor crashes), so for a more robust vehicle like the TARDIS would likely be virtually uneffected. But no one even seems to realise they can do this, despite UNIT finding it and bringing it to the portal.

Siskoid said...

I thought the same thing. I just didn't wind up writing about it.

The whole climax is slow and badly paced. They close the portal way late too, and the Doctor just flies around London for no reason before finally calling UNIT and telling them to shut it down.

Bill Doughty said...

Malcolm was grating, but I did enjoy his units of measurement, particularly that the Bernard was named for Bernard Quatermass. I always get a kick out of the insinuations that the Doctor and Quatermass exist in the same universe.

Siskoid said...

Yes, the Quatermass reference was fun (though it doesn't necessarily mean those stories take place in the Whoniverse; we can make believe it does).


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