Thursday, July 09, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 4x15: "Planet Of The Dead"

Written by Russell T. Davies And Gareth Roberts
Directed by James Strong

Christina (to everyone): “Then we need to apply ourselves to the problem with discipline! Which starts with appointing a leader.”
The Doctor: “Yes, at last, thank you, so …”
Christina: “Well, thank goodness you’ve got me! Everyone! Do exactly as I say! Inside the bus immediately.”

It’s been four months since “The Next Doctor” and now, it is really is the beginning of the end for David Tennant’s reign as The Doctor. This year might only be giving us four specials but the promotion for the first one has been every bit as widespread as if we were getting a full season.

Opening wise, things go into Mission Impossible territory, although you can obviously substitute Tom Cruise and add Nimeuh into the mix instead. There’s a nice 1000 plus cup (from King Athelstan) and Christina managed to snare the thing without barely tensing a muscle.

She even got lucky for a few seconds when the police ended up arresting some random bloke but then, McMillan arrived on the scene and he seemed determined to bag her. Okay, I know robbery’s bad and all but it did seem that early on, he had a personal reason for wanting her caught. Maybe she stole off him once upon a time.

Christina did however manage to evade capture and boarded a bus. I usually hate when taking a bus if I have a lot of change to give the bus driver almost as much as they must hate me for it. Christina however found that diamonds made for a perfect substitute when she didn’t have a tenner handy on her.

The Doctor’s introduction in the episode was predictably light. He just waved his psychic paper, chomped on an Easter egg and offered a bit to Christina. Perhaps it’s the Time Lord equivalent of foreplay but Christina was a bit too distracted to really pay any real attention to him at the time.

However with an hour’s worth of story time, Christina had the liberty of spending a decent amount of time just thinking that The Doctor was an odd little man with that tracking device of his. The Doctor can’t just take a normal bus ride, it has to be disastrous and disaster was certainly the order of the day with this particular episode.

I know a lot of people were fearing that this episode was going to turn out to be another “Midnight” but I think we can credit both Russell and Gareth for coming up with some reasonably different here. The Doctor’s little device tracked a wormhole and soon enough, everyone in the bus went through the same wormhole.

It made for a good sequence and it did generate a fantastic ‘WTF’ look on McMillan’s face but more importantly, it also meant getting UNIT on board. For those of you hoping for anything remotely involving Martha (or perhaps the Brigadier at a stretch), then you’ll be disappointed. Martha’s neither seen nor mentioned at all in this episode but we do at least have one familiar face.

Captain Erisa Mugambo from “Turn Left” resurfaced in this episode to take control of the wormhole situation from the Brixton end of things. This episode certainly gave a lot more to do than her first appearance and I have to admit that I did love her for casually dismissing McMillan. Man, was that guy annoying or what?

On a different world, The Doctor and everyone else came to a place with three suns and a savaged bus and less than three minutes before at least one of the guest cast had to actually die. The bus driver who liked Christina’s diamonds found himself reduced to bones when he tried to go back through the wormhole.

Because of The Doctor’s knowledge of well, just about everything, we at least had to have one scene where his new friends showed some mistrust. Thankfully unlike the last time he was trapped with a group of strangers, this bunch opted not to kill him but to actually trust him.

They probably would’ve followed him too but Christina thought that she would make a better leader. I have to admire her guts for dethroning The Doctor, who certainly seemed baffled by her wanting to be in charge. Christina will probably not surprise a lot of viewers as a stand in companion but she’s certainly fun for the hour.

I did like her running through a list of pointers and even for acknowledging that it would be a good idea if she allowed The Doctor to explain to everyone what exactly was happening to them. The Doctor did that but more effective however was his method of getting people to focus.

He made the effort to try and learn some simple facts about Angela, Nathan, Barclay, Lou and Carmen and then he used them to try to get them to focus on getting home rather than fearing for their lives. Perhaps he should use this method more often when in situations like this.

Another high point was him and Christina quizzing each other. I know the flirting went a bit over the top but I kind of enjoyed their sparky dynamic and Christina did evoke some reminders of the Majenta Pryce character currently travelling with The Doctor in the DWM comic strips right about now.

Christina wasn’t exactly surprised when figuring out that The Doctor knew a lot about alien stuff but his curiosity was piqued when she was able to offer Nathan and Barclay a shovel and an axe when she got them to dig the wheels of the bus out of the sand for her. Christina’s not much for getting her hands dirty at this point in the episode.

As would be companions, Christina is probably the most morally ambiguous that David Tennant’s Doctor has had to deal with. Even though The Doctor does show suspicion of her when he’s not flirting back with her, its Christina who pretty much dominates the episode and naturally enough, it’s also Christina with whom he’s captured with by the Tritovores.

As aliens go, I’m not sure what to think. When I first saw the look of them a couple of weeks, I have to admit to thinking that they looked sort of lame and it didn’t help that the press were alleging that Russell T Davies himself was comparing them to the Daleks in terms of evilness.

Of course the press were utterly wrong about that. First off all, the Tritovores do not exude menace and secondly, they’re actually harmless. The Doctor and Christina were pretty much in no danger from them and it got quickly revealed that they had come to the planet for motives that were anything but sinister.

The unfortunate part was the reveal of the sand. Apparently the actual threat in this episode – a billion swarming stingray type creatures do their lifecycle (and subsequently open up wormholes) by going to other worlds and relentless devouring in order to survive.

As villains, they might not be intentionally evil but they are obviously dangerous and I have to admit to being suitably impressed with the CGI for them. They looked and felt genuinely threatening (they even killed the Tritovores) and there was a great moment when Christina nearly got killed by one of them when she took it upon herself to nab some Anti-Gravity clamps for the bus.

The funny part about that scene was Christina actually thinking it was the diamond that The Doctor needed. Their little conversation over the comms finally had The Doctor realise that Christina was a professional thief. It was predictable that Christina had an unapologetic attitude towards her mad thieving but I think I would’ve annoyed if she hadn’t.

For a strange reason, her motives for stealing worked for the character and even myself as a viewer. She wasn’t a female Robin Hood in training and she didn’t need the cash. Essentially she’s a bored rich girl in desperate need of adventure. You didn’t need Carmen’s low level psychic abilities to tell that being with The Doctor clicked all of those buttons.

However if you’re thinking it’s The Doctor who wound up saving the day or even Christina, it really isn’t. The award for heroism really had to go to Malcolm Taylor, UNIT’s dottiest doctor and surprisingly enough, a boat load of fun. Even the threat of having his brains blown out by Erisa didn’t stop him from actually allowing the wormhole to stay open long enough for The Doctor to get everyone home.

I have to admit to having some reservations about Lee Evans but I think I enjoyed Malcolm maybe a little more than Christina. His bumbling enthusiasm, mad words to describe wavelengths all worked fairly well for me, though I can understand why The Doctor was initially overwhelmed by Malcolm.

Plus if you’re a bit of a slash bunny, I think you might have enjoyed Malcolm telling The Doctor repeatedly how much he loved him. I thought at one point Malcolm was going to actually kiss The Doctor, which might have pleased those who less enthusiastic about The Doctor/Christina kiss (which literally was blink and you’ll miss).

With the swarm creatures that did get to Earth killed, the rest of this episode neatly tied itself up. The Doctor got a standing ovation and had a nice little moment with Erisa and Christina got to steal a flying bus and evade justice, much to McMillan’s annoyance.

The Doctor rejecting Christina is something we haven’t really seen on this series but even with David Tennant and Russell T. Davies pointing it out, perhaps it does make sense for The Doctor to be travelling on his own for a bit. I like the way that his pain over losing Donna isn’t being tossed aside because I still miss the fiery temp myself.

However the best part of this episode came with Carmen’s cryptic warning. We all know that death is coming for The Doctor. We also more or less know that the person who will knock four times is more than likely to be The Master but the look on The Doctor’s face when Carmen relayed that message is enough to wipe any flaw this episode might have. Death really is coming and like The Doctor, we’ve also got to wait a while for it to show.

Also in “Planet Of The Dead”

David Tennant and Michelle Ryan’s names were both in the opening credits for this episode.

The Doctor: “I’m picking up on something very strange.”
Christina: “I know the feeling.”

This is the first episode of the new series to be filmed in High Definition. Maybe I should’ve watched this at my sister’s.

Christina: “You’re called The Doctor?”
The Doctor: “Yes I am.”
Christina: “That’s not a name, that’s a psychological condition.”

Carmen: “Something, something is coming, riding on the wind and shining.”
The Doctor: “What is it?”
Carmen: “Death. Death is coming.”

We learned that Nathan lost his job, Barclay had a girlfriend called Tina, Lou and Carmen had dinner plans and Angela was heading home. Oh and the planet was called San Helios and we saw the Scorpion Nebula.

Christina (to The Doctor): “Wait a minute; you’re the man with all the answers. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

The Doctor: “We make quite a couple.”
Christina: “We don’t make any sort of couple, thank you very much.”

This is the 200th story in the series as a whole (the bus was called 200 as well). Just make sure you exclude “Shada”, accept all of “The Trial Of A Time Lord” as one story and “Utopia”/“The Sound Of Drums”/“Last Of The Time Lords” also as one story.

Erisa (to Malcolm): “I know. We all want to meet him one day but we all know what that day will bring.”
The Doctor: “I can hear everything you’re saying.”

The Doctor: “Malcolm, you’re my new best friend.”
Malcolm: “And you’re mine too, sir.”

I noticed this was also the first episode of the new series to be scribed by two writers but then again, the next episode will also have the same feat.

The Doctor (re Tritovores): “They believe me.”
Christina: “What, simple as that?”
The Doctor: “I’ve got a very honest face and the translation’s says I’m telling the truth. Plus the face.”

Christina: “That Lordship of yours ... the Lord of where, exactly?”
The Doctor: “Of Time. I come from a race of people called Time Lords.”
Christina: “You're an alien?”
The Doctor: “Yeah but you don’t have to kiss me either.”
Christina: “You look human.”
The Doctor: “You look Time Lord.”

Also these specials are still part of the fourth season, due to their production codes.

Christina (re swarm): “Those things are gonna turn the entire Earth into a desert. So why exactly are you smiling?”
The Doctor: “The worse it gets, the more I love it.”

Christina: “How does a crystal drive a bus?”
The Doctor: “In a super clever, outer spacey kind of way. Just trust me.”

Interesting that Christina wasn’t able to understand the Tritovores after they were able to understand her. Her full name is also Lady Christina deSouza.

Christina (to The Doctor): “So, let me get this right? You need that crystal, then consider it done.”

The Doctor (re cup): “What are you doing with this?”
Christina: “Excuse me! A gentleman never goes through a lady’s possessions.”

Did we really need to see that flying bus twice? Not so pleasant reminders of “Voyage Of The Damned” And The Doctor left the TARDIS at Buckingham Palace.

Christina: “What does the crystal do?”
The Doctor: “Nothing. Don’t need the crystal.”
Christina: “I risked my life for that.”
The Doctor (re Anti-Gravity clamps): “No, you risked your life for these.”

Erisa: “Doctor, I salute you, whether you like it or not.”

Noel Clarke narrated the Doctor Who Confidential for this episode and David Tennant has done a commentary for this episode which you can listen when watching the repeat on BBC3. This episode is due for release on DVD from June 29th.

Christina: “But you were right, it’s not about money. I only steal things for the adventure and today with you; I want more days like this. I want everyday to be like this. We’re made for each other, you said so yourself. The perfect team. Why not?”
The Doctor: “People have travelled with me and I’ve lost them. Lost them all. Never again.”

Carmen: “Doctor, you take care now.”
The Doctor: “You too, chops and gravy, lovely.”
Carmen: “No, but you be careful because your song is ending, sir.”
The Doctor: “What do you mean?”
Carmen: “It is returning. It is returning through the dark and then Doctor, oh but then. He will knock four times.”

The next episode, featuring Lindsay Duncan as Adelaide will be called “The Waters Of Mars” and will air before Christmas. Did anyone notice the cloister bell music during the trailer for the episode?

Christina: “We could have been so good together.”
The Doctor: “Christina, we were.”

Chronologically, this episode was actually based in April but given that Easter was mentioned, I think everyone figured that one out.

Okay, it’s not the best of specials and it certainly could’ve felt a little bigger but “Planet Of The Dead” wouldn’t make it on a short list of awful episodes either. The hints about The Doctor’s impending death were probably a lot stronger than the story itself but the swarm were menacing and Christina worked well as the companion of the piece, even if I did prefer Jackson Lake from the previous episode.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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