DOCTOR WHO - PLANET OF THE DEAD Review



BBCHD - 11th April 2009 - 6.45pm


Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley...ding, ding ding goes the bell. That'll be the cloister bell, I suspect. The one doomily bonging all over the trailer for the Novemberish special, The Waters Of Mars. The clanging noise is definitely the sound of this particular little folly nosediving into the sands of Dubai. Was it me, or did this just feel like one big dollop of deja-vu? The story, slight as it was, seemed rather overstuffed with references as if it required some significant shoring up to pass muster. Everything from bits of The Highest Science, Iris Wildthyme (time travelling buses and commuters being dumped on alien planets) to The Langoliers, Pitch Black (the nasty manta-rays), Flight Of The Phoenix (stranded in the desert), Lara Croft and 50s pulp SF, with added Giant Robot joke. There’s even a quite unnecessary shoe-horning in of an Easter eggs reference simply to acknowledge that, you know, it’s an Easter special.

...silk purse and sow's ear


Nothing seemed particularly original or fresh this time round and that's a shame because the production side of the programme stepped up to the plate, providing the much needed scope and glossiness for the show's first outing in HD. Director James Strong certainly seized on the opportunities this afforded to make Planet Of The Dead the sweetest, most calorific eye candy he could. Signature crane shots of the bus in the desert, lush travelogues as the Doctor and Christina go exploring, lens flaring silhouettes of Tennant, and dissolves between London and the alien planet. It looked good but shooting in HD is a double edged sword judging by this initial attempt. For all the gorgeous desert vistas you get to see how really dreadful the weather conditions were when they were shooting in Cardiff. No hiding that rainfall now. The CG effects also will need to improve because, for all the fairly good shots of the Swarm, we got a number of rather iffy, cartoon moments of flying bus. The ratio between how small the story actually was and how jazzy it all looked suggested silk purse and sow's ear to me in this instance. For goodness sake, if you are going to shoot your flagship programme in HD then let's have a big enough story to reap the rewards from it.
What is this, The Crystal bloody Maze?


We never really get to know any of the passengers on the bus properly, which is unusual for a RTD script. Compare how successfully he writes for a similar character ensemble in Midnight and the difference is remarkable. None of them make much of an impression and this does make you care less about them. The life-cycle of the metallic ray creatures is interesting and as a metaphor for the way blind greed can bring down civilisations it works quite well in these economically turbulent times. Tennant, as ever, simply slips back into the role and is pretty much on automatic pilot. There is that terrific scene where the Doctor asks each of the bus passengers about their 'chops and gravy' destinations, the witty translation banter with the Tritovores ('trite' is probably the best word to describe these fly headed, jump suit wearing, ray gun brandishing, self-sacrificing cliches) and the Billy No Mates confrontation between him and Christina as she unsuccessfully begs for the spare TARDIS key. I liked the way that the script offered us the Doctor and Christina as similar in their independence, where the Doctor reminisces on his own theft of the TARDIS and acknowledges her a kindred spirit, whom he sets free because he’s not really fit to judge her past actions. Michelle Ryan was good enough in the Lara Croft role for me to want her to pop into the TARDIS with Tennant so it made a bit of a change for him to turn a protege down. However, points deducted for the rather obvious need for Christina to repeat her Mission Impossible act to recover the crystal when she's already done the goblet stealing in the pre-titles. What is this, The Crystal bloody Maze?. And just where is she going to take that flying bus? It's not a spacecraft and she might be waiting a while before another wormhole pops into existence. Air traffic control is going to spot her eventually.
Lee Evans predictably did his goofy, physical comedy nonsense


I'm liking Captain Erisa Magambo as the new face of UNIT and once she gets herself and the troops sorted out (e.g. all shooting straight and not fawning over or saluting the Doctor everytime he walks by) then it might be worth bringing her back. I would have cheered if she had shot Malcolm and the attempt at raising the tension in that scene simply didn't work because the editing failed to compress the time between Magambo raising her gun at Malcolm and the Doctor driving the bus through the wormhole. And why did only three of the Swarm make it through the wormhole. Did the rest all stop for a bit of a breather? Unfortunately, both Lee Evans and Adam James did not find themselves in my good books. As D.I. Macmillan, James seemed to be borrowing Tom Chadbon's dumb show as Duggan from City Of Death but without replicating any of the charm and, as Malcolm, Lee Evans predictably did his goofy, physical comedy nonsense and, rather disturbingly, seemed to attempt to shag the Doctor's leg like a forlorn puppy at the end of the story. All that "I love you" crap was neither endearing nor particularly funny.

The word 'romp' is being liberally bandied about to try and deflect us from Planet Of The Dead's shortcomings and I suppose it just about qualifies for that status. A slight story, visually impressive, but with its fair share of cliches, wafer thin characterisation, cannon fodder nice aliens, nasty but dull aliens and stretches of dubious acting. It really only moved into gear when Carmen glared at the Doctor and predicted his demise. Cue cloister bell. Day return to Mars, please.

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15 Responses to “DOCTOR WHO - PLANET OF THE DEAD Review”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Surely Midnight succeeded in its characterisations because, apart from brief topping and tailing of the episode, we remained on the bus with just those few characters. In Planet of the Dead there were too many other things. We left the bus, we went on the other alien ship, UNIT appeared, there was the stuff with Malcolm and, of course, lots of Christina as Ryan was the 'special guest star'. If they wanted all the rest they should perhaps have had no other passengers or maybe just Lewis and Carmen. They just put too much in.

    Andrea

  2. Damien says:

    Where to begin? It was even worse than a regular Christmas 'special'! For the love of...RTD, STOP RIPPING OFF OTHER MOVIES AND SHOWS! At least don't make it so blatant. Does RTD have any original bone in his body? Does he even understand that this show is supposed to be related (even distantly) to science fiction, rather than pulling the plot totally out of his backside (which would explain the excrement eating The Fly-men)? Urgh!!!

    And if the whole 'plot' wasn't stupid enough, he casts Michelle Ryan as a companion - someone with zero personality or acting ability. She annoyed the hell out of me. Almost as much as the stupidly cast head of the military/Unit woman, who projected as much authority as Britney Spears would have. And she points a gun at the obligatory idiot/dork genius professor for refusing to follow orders, ready to shoot, but later all is sweetness and light?

    Moffat, where are you?

  3. Abu Yair says:

    I thought the episode showed all of Russell Davies shortcomings' as a writer and none of his strengths. We have the usual characters (the nice black couple, the blonde cockney mum, the babe) in their usual setting (disaster movie), aliens lit with green light, the cgi vortex, the skeleton, UNIT with their big guns...

    For me, Lee Evans was at least a breath of fresh air compared to the other characters we've seen before, and that boring patronising message about the wonders of family life coming from a guy who's led a show-biz life without the pressures of actually supporting and raising a family.

    I hope that the new producer will give us something more original.

  4. I say, it wasn't THAT bad!

  5. FRANK says:

    The backlash starts here! Ha! Ha!

    Only messing. I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. It felt a bit too tired to me. Looked lovely in HD and that's a major achievement for the series but quite honestly I'm so done with the Tenth Doctor. Let's get the Eleventh wheeled in! It is time for a change.

  6. Yeah, poor old Ten IS getting a bit tired. But I have very high hopes for the last three specials. I think they will be amazing.

    (I'm unspoilered, so I dunno what I'm basing this on... call it women's intuition!)

    This episode would been better if it had lasted for 45 minutes.

  7. You've got two more specials to go Frank, pace yourself.

    I have a couple of bones to pick with you, in a "so much better to do this over a beverage" manner -

    The Langoliers? Well, then, so was the last Moffat two-parter; if "our cast arrive somewhere and are totally alone" is Langolesque, then Library/Forest counts.

    Desert movies - I was sorely disappointed they didn't go for the obvious visual refs to "Larry of Araby", or even Dune. I don't think anyone was referencing Iris Wyldethyme for the very simple reason that, outside fandom, no one has ever heard of her. I do think a double-decker bus is London-iconic, which is what they were intending, and ends up being that staple of Who, the Mundane doing the Extraordinary.

    I can't remember the companion's name, because she got tagged as "Lara Croft" very early on. The use of the descent line twice is to show, in the first scene, who she is and that she has said bit of kit. Why? Because it would have raised howls among the fans if we hadn't seen it. Can you imagine? "Oh, that backpack is just another sonic screwdriver!" and "lazy writing!" to name but two. So, gun loaded, fired, reloaded and placed on the mantle in act one.

    I was confused as to why Lara exited the museum via the roof, but then went back inside to make her getaway. Surely if you're a daredevil acrobat thief on a rooftop you have more interesting means of getting away without strolling through the museum and unmasking in full view of the ubiquitous CCTV?

    Other than that, fun stuff.

  8. Who-a-Palooza says:

    One thing I missed from your review... what did you think of the foreshadowing near the end?

    Your song is ending?

    It is returning, through the dark?

    HE WILL KNOCK FOUR TIMES??

    I think we all know just who it is that traditionally knocks four times... endlessly... rythmically... taptaptaptap... taptaptaptap.... taptaptaptap....

    What did you think of that? I'm torn between it being a little overdramatic, and it being completely awesome because it was so overdramatic.

  9. Who-a-Palooza: me, I thought it was completely awesome :-D

  10. FRANK says:

    I enjoyed the foreshadowing for the next three specials but wasn't that impressed by the preceeding 55 minutes it took to get us there. The 'he will knock four times' is surely a reference to the Master? Or is that a bit obvious?

    Yes, where were the 'Dune' and 'Larry Of Arabia' references! I demand them! Strangely you should think the Iris Widthyme reference was too obscure. Someone just emailed me and declared that they had indeed nabbed Iris' bus for the special. If you know your stuff you'll see the obvious references I expect. It's that balancing act between nods to the fans and trying to keep the great unwashed entertained.

    The descent line business is fine but a very obvious set up for the character from the get go. And yes there would have been an internet storm if we hadn't seen it coming. But beyond that Lady Christina was rather thinly sketched in. I did like her and feel maybe they should give her another outing.

    It looked very pretty but it lacked substance for me. Much more excited about the next three.

  11. Max says:

    Just watched it. Anybody notice the fly-alien's velcro where his little purple light is missing. It's even in the photo in your review. And they change sides in one shot...

  12. Anonymous says:

    What I found odd in the story was the fact that this bus is stranded in a desert but at no point does the situation SEEM dire. Carmen's portents of doom and the manta swarm provide that, but never the desert itself. I mean, nobody comes close to dying of thirst or heat stroke. Christine's got her shades, though, so that's all you need I guess. No pleading for a drop of water. So for me the desert location was a squandered opportunity which merely became window-dressing. I expect they'll next end up in the arctic in shorts and nobody will complain of frostbite.

    There was also the silliness of the story which undermined any seriousness in it. That has all been mentioned already. But the flying bus reminded me too much of the bus in Delta and the Bannermen (a story I'd just as soon forget) and the flying Winnebago in Spaceballs.

  13. Nimbus says:

    Well, they were only in the desert for a couple of hours. Just because you suddenly find yourself in a desert doesn't mean that you immediately need water. Also note that it wasn't a desert due to environmental reasons but because the Manta Rays had eaten everything less than a year ago (the sand was sort of their excrement).

    Anyhow, I rather enjoyed the episode. I admit that it felt more like a regular 45 min episode that had been stetched to an hour instead of a "Special". Still, it was good fun. I'm easily pleased!

    I'm also looking forward to the next three specials (yes, three! One in Oct/Nov time - the Waters of Mars - then a two parter at Christmas & New Year). Regarding the portents, could the "Your song is ending" have anything to do with Prof River Song?

  14. Nah. She's already snuffed it.

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