TV EYE: Doctor Who – “Planet of the Dead”

Better late than never – and, as usual, fear the spoilers…

We’re in a very odd year as Doctor Who goes – it’s essentially a terribly drawn out farewell to both Tennant and RTD. We know what’s going to happen, and we now have a much better idea of the shape of the rest of the year (The Waters of Mars will be screening sometime in November, and the two-part regeneration story at Christmas), and with RTD having said that the trajectory is understandably dark for the final three episodes, this was his last chance for an all-out colourful romp. Now, the all-out colourful romp is usually the kind of New Who episode that has me assuming the brace position in preparation for total disaster, but Planet of the Dead confirmed for me the feeling that RTD and co have been basically learning how to make the show as they’ve gone on. Planet of the Dead basically contains a whole heap of the stuff that a couple of years ago would have bugged the hell out of me – but here it’s carried off with enough crowdpleasing energy to almost cover the fact that there’s hardly a single original ingredient in the entire plot. The DVDs of the week are everything from Tomb Raider to Pitch Black to Flight of the Phoenix, along with a more positive spin on S4’s episode ‘Midnight’, there’s yet another alien race that follows the “let’s just stick a normal animal head on a human body” strategy, and it’s even got Lee Evans in it, a performer who has the same effect on me as nails down a blackboard.

And yet, Planet of the Dead was great fun – it’s the epitome of the seasonal special, an eye-catching bit of crowdpleasing nonsense that rattles along at an enjoyable pace without ever doing anything tremendously surprising or original. If anything, it’s the confidence of the execution that makes it work – I saw it in HD, and the extra definition does make a difference, giving a much more movie-like sheen to a very movie-like episode. It’s Who going the blockbuster route, and while the execution is hardly classic, it’s one of the most consistent and successful of Who’s nonsensical blockbuster episodes – far better than the messy Voyage of the Damned, more satisfying than the interesting but flawed Next Doctor, and less likely to make me want to hurl myself through a plate glass window in the way The Runaway Bride did. In fact, it’s pretty much the best standalone special since The Christmas Invasion, which also had its fair share of flaws to balance out its strengths. Seeing Planet of the Dead in a massed crowd at Eastercon definitely helped – it’s the kind of episode that’s definitely much better with an audience, and while it lacks any major shocks, there were still some stylish and well-executed sequences, from the Bus chase itself to Michelle Ryan’s descent towards the crystal. It didn’t reinvent anything, it didn’t bowl me over, and I would have preferred that the overseas location be a bit more varied – the desert looked great, but I’d loved to have seen the Tenth Doctor clambering through a geniune rainforest, for example. But then, there’s a whole variety of things which could have been done differently, but I’ve learned with Who that the best way for me to enjoy it is to enjoy what’s there, not complain about what isn’t. And overall, this was an entertaining episode with its fair share of annoyingly silly moments and which could certainly have been stronger, but isn’t a bad (or unrepresentative) way of kicking off RTD and Tennant’s long farewell.

Michelle Ryan did a pretty good job as the temporary companion – the kind of character who’s useful for an episode, but would likely have gotten grating over time. I was in a slight quandry at the end – I liked the fact that the Doctor turned her down, but part of me wanted it to be because of the fact that she is, let’s face it, an unapologetic thief – she’s doing it to help her dad, but it’s hardly the best of intentions. And yet part of me knows that this sort of moral judgement would have been a bit odd coming from the Doctor, and it would have pitched the tone a bit too dark. But I’m interested by the fact that the Doctor has seemingly made the firm decision that he’s travelling alone right now – a completely understandable choice after what happenned to Donna – but it does make me intrigued to find out exactly how they’re going to solve this problem. Because obviously, once the regeneration occurs and Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor arrives, there’s going to be a new companion, and while there’s a certain degree of ‘New Doctor, New Personality’, to a certain extent it’s still got to fit with what’s gone before, and they’ll have to find a way of getting the Doctor back into the idea of travelling with someone (which might necessitate a very different Doctor/Companion setup). Just off the top of my head, I suspect we might get a companion who actually has to persuade the Doctor to let them travel with him – playing the idea that the Doctor has essentially turned into a serial bachelor who won’t make another commitment for fear of hurting/getting hurt, but then he meets someone who simply won’t let him play that option. It really wouldn’t surprise me if it was something like that – after all, they’ve got to make it work emotionally, as well as in terms of story. Might be different, of course, but it’s going to be fascinating to see exactly where the show goes once the Moffmeister finally gets control.

And of course, anyone who’s been keeping one ear to the internet will have a pretty good idea who the mysterious “he” mentioned in the gloriously unsubtle bit of foreshadowing is who’s going to be knocking four times – and all I can say is, I hope it’s not quite as painfully bad as their last appearence…

One thought on “TV EYE: Doctor Who – “Planet of the Dead”

  1. I’ve got a feeling that we look for different things in Doctor Who, as I found the Easter special fun on initial viewing, but not terribly good on reflection.
    Michelle Ryan is very attractive but I’m not convinced she can actually act – certainly I found her cut-price Lara Croft rather irritating and unempathic. And does the Doctor have to snog all of them? The way the Tritovores where killed off was obviously because they could think of no other way to deal with them (which RTD actually admits in Confidential). But most of all I could really, really do without all these secondary characters, like Malcolm, worshipping the Doctor: it’s not funny it’s just embarrassing.
    On the other hand, Tennant continues to be able to pull off the various turns of character with aplomb. I don’t think we realise how much we’re going to miss him when he goes.
    Mind you I seem to be one of the few people who actually like ‘The Runaway Bride’ (come on, it features a car chase involving the TARDIS!) so what do I know…


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