Missed Opportunities of Biblical Proportions?

(Spoilers for the most recent Doctor Who Easter Special, Planet of the Dead, below. You have been warned.)Last weekend, just in time for Easter, the BBC aired Planet of the Dead, the first of 4 Doctor Who specials going out in 2009 in lieu of a proper series. And it's a piece of fluff, frankly. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Tennant's Doctor has had a lot of heavy episodes, and is heading for still more (including his no doubt heart-wrenching final) and he was due for a romp. And despite some of my notes here, I will say that I liked it. I didn't LOVE it, nothing was really that awesome about it, but unlike the last two specials, there was nothing I found tonally objectionable either (no, not even the flying bus).

I do find, however, that Russell T Davies missed some opportunities to tell a bigger and more interesting story, even inside the framework of a "romp". First is the idea that this is an Easter special. Aside from the Doctor eating chocolate, there wasn't much done with the theme, which is especially odd given all the Messianic symbolism routinely put out by RTD.
We have inklings, as if the story ONCE had a relationship with Easter, but the finished product does not. Christina (note the name) steals an ornate cup. The set-up makes you think it's the Holy Grail. It's not, it's some British historical artifact. The story takes place in a desert, which has a Biblical resonance, as do the alien "locusts" (but wrong Testament), but nothing happens in that desert that speaks of Easter. And though we have a story called "Planet of the Dead", there is no impending resurrection. We've been down that particular road with the Doctor before (The Doctor Dances where it works out, and Voyage of the Damned where it doesn't), so perhaps best not to tread that ground again. Still, if the Easter miracle boils down to giving a thief a new lease on life and a flying bus...

The other missed opportunity has to do with filming in Dubai. Now, I'm not privy to production issues, but it seems to me a patch of desert ground can be found in many places around the globe (even simulated), but Dubai itself has such a futuristic and unusual skyline (and interiors), it's really too bad they couldn't make use of it.
It's an alien/future city without the CGI. Maybe they're laying in the groundwork and waiting for some of those insane architectural plans to become a reality. Or money concerns, probably. I don't know, but there's nothing particularly remarkable about the planet they're on that couldn't have been CGIed or even rotoscoped in.

With the Who invasion of the US, it seemed that this story more than any other since the JNT days, specifically tries to cater to American television. First, you have a classic look double-decker bus proudly touting the show's "Britishness". This is an important component to Who's viability in other markets, it's what makes it unique and charming. However, to UK fans, it might have seemed like pandering to national clichés. Personally, I had thoughts of Iris Wildthyme's TARDIS Bus (it's bigger on the outside!), which made it an appropriate alternate mode of space-time travel for the Doctor.

Secondly, we have Michelle Ryan as the one-shot companion, a face recognizable to North American audiences thanks to the new Bionic Woman (doomed though it was), though I already knew her from the excellent Jekyll.
In addition, Lady Christina de Souza adopts the Catwoman's modus operandi right down to leaving a waving kitty behind. That's an American cue right there. This isn't the first time the Doctor almost adopts a cat burglar. It almost happened in the season that was not to be. In Season 27 of the classic series, had it not been cancelled, the new companion would have been Kate Tollinger who opens a safe and finds McCoy's Doctor there. Like Christina, she would have been a high society thrill seeker. A nod to her name should be filed under missed opportunities as well.

But how is she as a companion? Pretty good actually. Resourceful, with a tendency to trump the Doctor that hasn't really been seen since Romana. It's part of the essence of romp, however, that she be slightly too jaded by the whole thing. Her vulnerability doesn't show enough, and as a result, we have a tendency to believe in her character less. The Doctor refusing to take her aboard the TARDIS is a good moment, though they make it more about him and his recent losses than about her and her criminal conduct.

The other guest actor is stand-up comic Lee Evans as the nerd-fan Professor Malcolm Taylor (a character at least in part based on one in his comedy routines).
I don't know him at all, but he's ok. It's an outrageous character that's meant to be overacted, and is. Sometimes too much. Still, I think the kiddies will like his ebullience. And we have to have something for the kiddies. I mean in addition to the usual gross-out element (in this case, a race of giant flies that eat your planet's poo). Some have claimed that his costume is meant to evoke past Doctors, and that may be, though he reminded me more of Professor Rubeish from The Time Warrior. As an obsessed Doctor Who fan, he is of course the one to throw away cute references, Quatermass and all.

So a comedy romp with a few tense moments, the most meaningful one being the prophecy at the end about the Doctor's song soon ending. It returns us to the Ood's in Planet of the Ood, revealing that they were talking about him and not Donna in that instance. The prophecy also gives us a new piece of the puzzle: "He will knock four times." Many think this is a reference to the Master, who would indeed be a worthy foe to cause Doctor 10's demise. Pros: The sound of drums has four beats. Cons: RTD said he wouldn't ever bring back the Master. Pros: RTD is a notorious lie-spinning wizard. The other possibility is the Meddling Monk. Pros: Patrick Stewart has been approached for the role and quoted to say he'd like to work with his Hamlet co-star again. Cons: How do you save another Time Lord from non-existence? And the Monk is hardly the kind of foe who would want to cause the Doctor's death.

Waters of Mars is next, set to premiere around Halloween, and from the preview at least, seems like it'll be thematically relevant to that holiday. Creepy!

8 comments:

Jeff R. said...

The Master and the Monk (and, excluded for 'too soon' reasons, Davros) certainly don't exhaust the possibilities of singular, masculine Who villains, do they? There's the Valeyard, who sort of has to be dealt with as the regeneration count keeps climbing. There's also Omega. And, from the new series, there's Satan (who has an Ood connection, at that.)

I'm going to be peeved if he stays in still-getting-over-Journey's-End mode through the entire specials season, leaving no place to slot the relationship with River. (Unless, of course, that turns out be significant. They do keep mentioning her last name...)

Siskoid said...

I think most fans believe the Valeyard has been sufficiently dealt with by Doc6's "suicide" and Trial has never been popular anyway. He and Omega would be classic Who baggage that don't fit the current regime.

We're assuming it's an enemy, but it could be an ally the Doctor would recognize by his knock on the door.

As for River, I think we won't be seeing her and that their entire relationship will occur offstage, in between specials. (Thought I'd love for it to be more than that.)

Jeff R. said...

I don't mind not seeing River; it's just not having a plausible place between specials into which to insert those adventures that's the problem. And the Doctor still not being ready for even a standard companion-level relationship has ruled out the gaps on both sides of The Next Doctor...

I disagree about the Valeyard. Sure, the original story was rubbish, but it's a powerful idea (even more so now that he gets to tempt the Doctor with the fact that becoming him is the only way he can ever see Gallifrey again.) I also don't see how the end of Six explains anything (and aren't there more than a few EU appearances of the character after this event?) But it's probably not something you can get away with reintroducing without a bit more build-up. Which also applies strongly to the Monk.

Let's see...Jack's the only male ally around, really, and that's not special enough at this point. Think I'll stick with Satan as my guess.

Siskoid said...

I won't spoil you who the companion for the final two-parter is, but it's been revealed.

The NAs also have a future Doctor called Merlin... I think they're from "possible" futures and mutually exclusive. In other words, a Time Lord can change his own history.

Jeff R. said...

Actually, now that I think about it, at the end of this he's in the perfect mindset for River: a recurring series of adventures with the same person who never gets to board the Tardis seems about right. Getting all the way to the name may not be in the cards, but we don't know she doesn't know about regeneration, do we?

Checked out the casting spoilers myself...nice choices. I do think that "It" and "He" have to be different entities, I still like the Season 2 devil for 'It'...

The Irredeemable Shag said...

Great review! You make a lot of good points. However, I still feel that Lady Christina would have made a fun companion.

Wouldn't it be cool if the person knocking four times was the Christopher Eccleston Doctor? I know this would never happen, but it would be a cool scene in the Doctor's head as he regenerates. Sort of like the Virgin NAs when the Doctor would interact with his previous incarnations.

Whoever is knocking should be someone from the current incarnation of the show. Brining back a character from the original series (without appearing in the new series first) would not be fair to the current audience.

Again, great review!

The Irredeemable Shag
http://onceuponageek.com
http://firestormfan.com
http://twitter.com/onceuponageek

Siskoid said...

Did I sound down on Lady Chris? I really wasn't.

If she HAD been more than a one-shot, I would have welcomed it, and she would have been written slightly differently. As is, her "arc" had to be over and done with in an hour, which I think contributed to my nitpick.

The Irredeemable Shag said...

I think I would really have enjoyed her as a companion. Who knows, maybe Matt Smith will pick her back up. Unlikely, but a boy can dream.

The Irredeemable Shag
http://onceuponageek.com
http://firestormfan.com
http://twitter.com/onceuponageek

 

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