Saturday, 15 June 2013

Planet Of The Dead

Originally Broadcast 11th April 2009

Written by: Russell T. Davies & Gareth Roberts

In a nutshell: On the run from the police, cat burglar Lady Christina De Souza escapes by via a bus that drives through a wormhole onto another world. And who else happens to be on the bus? The Doctor!

Review: After the ‘doom n’ gloom’ of The Trial Of A Time Lord, I thought the best place to go next is on a great big fun romp in space and nothing says that more than  Russell T. Davies script! I’m quite excited to be watching Planet Of The Dead because of a few things. This is the longest episode I’ve reviewed for my blog (notching up a running time of 59minutes), it’s also my first David Tennant episode and I usually watch these on my laptop screen but for this episode I’ve got a great big TV with the sound blaring out at me. So, enough of all this, where are we?

The pre-titles is a bit of a mish-mash. We start off with the cat burglary before finding out our thief is a bit posh and not afraid to ditch her lover to save herself. The dialogue between her and the driver is just good fun for the family as is the arrival of the Doctor who, of course, has to get on this bus! The set-up really tells us it’s Easter (as we’re in Doctor Who’s first ever Easter special!) but it is soon to drop the theme once we learn when we are.

After we’ve emerged on the other side of the wormhole, there’s a really odd still shot of the Doctor’s face. It’s clearly a directorial decision, but I’ve never really got it. Why is it here? The episode is set up with ease and perfection. We get to know the characters and the story very quickly so it’s easy to slip into for new viewers only watching because it’s Easter and they’ve heard Tennant’s going to regenerate soon. Ten minutes in we get a scene of the ‘gang’ in the bus talking to each other, learning about themselves. It’s a great way for us to know these people very quickly, each of them given different and strong traits so we can identify them with ease. The low-level psychic ability of Carmen is a bit farfetched but we can use her for some scary lines and to forward some plot points so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

What a location!
After a motivational speech by the Doctor and the arrival of UNIT where, somehow, there’s already a report to be read on the events (that was fast!), Christina and the Doctor begin to learn more about each other. It’s great to see the Doctor try and piece things together when we already know the answers. Afterwards the Doctor phones UNIT and it’s a great scene. I always like when scenes are written about how great the Doctor is and how he’s admired by the people who know him and then UNIT’s latest scientific advisor is only Lee Evans! I’m not a fan of Lee or his stand-up but I think he just works in this, he’s great at those little comedy moments here and there, making the character shine. Despite the Doctor being funny, his storyline is a bit serious so we need a character just like the one Evans gives us to provide some comedy.

The Tritovores aren’t really that great, but without being a disappointment either, they’re just pretty routine. Davies has often said how he likes his aliens to be based upon animals or insects. The only problem with this is, whilst they can look impressive, the idea is a bit stale, dating back to 1950s B-Movies. There’s also a dodgy line as we enter their ship about Christina saying how she likes extremes. This is more than made up for by the Doctor’s reaction when he puts power back into the Tritovore ship. Tennant’s so comfortable in the role of the Doctor now and really shines in the role. The problem I had with his Doctor in the past two series is how he became routine in the role, rattling off the same expressions and reactions to things. Here, however, it feels natural and the Doctor comes off as a great big ball of fun.

There’s a big info dump aboard the alien ship as the stakes are raised and raised and we discover the reason behind the wormhole. I’m never convinced by timing in episodes and when the Doctor says the stingray-aliens are twenty minutes away. I don’t believe it! The same thing happens when the bus is travelling back through the wormhole near the end of the episode. The aliens are right behind the bus yet can’t make it through to Earth in time. It’s pathetic and very obviously faked to make the plot easier to solve.

The Doctor and Christina: What a team!
When Christina, on Kirby wires, is falling to the bottom of the ship to get the crystal, it allows for a nice chat between the two characters where the Doctor discovers the truth about De Souza. The episode has been spent setting up the comparisons between the Doctor and the Lady and there’s another here about the Doctor stealing the TARDIS from his own people. The crystal has been grabbed by Lady Christina and it’s going to be a race to get back to the bus but, before that, we need to kill off the Tritovores in a pretty unconvincing manner so we don’t have to take them back to Earth or expose them to the other characters in the bus. It’s all a bit weak, really.

Murray Gold’s score teamed with the editing really brightens up the scene where we run back to the bus. It really pumps up the level of excitement and leads us nicely into the final section of the episode. I really don’t like how the episode is solved with a whole series of ‘McGuffins’ which we don’t understand (clamps and some sci-fi jargon to close the wormhole) but the fact Christina has to sacrifice the cup of Athelstan is a big development for the character, putting the lives of others before her own fortunes. After this, Christina doesn’t get a whole lot to do as a companion so it’s decided she’ll be bumped up to standing next to the Doctor in the driver’s seat. It’s quite right she gets to share some of the ‘action’ lines as she is the companion for the story so they shouldn’t all go to the Doctor.

“I don’t believe it. Guns that work!” The whole shooting scene is here, I think, just to try and give the kids an explosive finale because, once the bus has started flying, there’s not really a spectacular finish except for Murray Gold’s exciting score and everyone stood around a bus clapping gleefully. The episode has finished but we have five minutes of plotlines to wrap up in a bit of a boring fashion. The Doctor has to offer UNIT some new employees and mention how he’s going to send the stingrays onto uninhabited planets. How can he do that? How many planets are there he can send them to? It all seems a bit weak to me.

Lee Evans as Malcolm. Brilliant, funny and loveable.
With the writers punching into us how ‘made for each other’ the Doctor and Lady Christina are, it’s just that the Doctor doesn’t want her. I like how we’ve spent the episode without him dwelling on the loss of his companions until the very end when he has to say no to a new companion. It works brilliantly and sadly, as I want the Doctor to travel with someone even though he can’t in his own eyes. They do ruin the scene a bit with the fluffy lovey saving of Christina so she won’t get arrested. It’s all a bit pants and cheesy, isn’t it. This is the thing I dislike about Russell’s writing, how everybody has to be saved at the end of it and DI M wagging his finger at the bus doors. It gets a little embarrassing.

And as the Doctor steps into his TARDIS, it’s with heavy hearts as he’s been given a warning that his end is coming. There are quite a few weak points in this episode and it isn’t the greatest, but it gets an unfair reputation. I’ve always loved this episode because, as it’s described in the Confidential episode, this is the last bit of fun for the tenth Doctor before it gets serious and he has to die. That, and the obvious manner in which David Tennant loves the part, are what makes this episode really special.

The Doctor's final days. He will knock four times...

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