Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead review, Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead DVD review
Starring
David Tennant, Michelle Ryan,
Lee Evans, Noma Dumezweni
Director
James Strong
Doctor Who:
Planet of the Dead

Reviewed by Ross Ruediger

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here will be probably be a time when “Planet of the Dead” doesn’t feel like such a colossal disappointment. When it can be grouped together and viewed alongside the three specials that follow it, it’ll likely be easier to appreciate what it amounts to, which is, as Russell T Davies has stated, “the last chance for the Tenth Doctor to have a good time.” The Doctor (David Tennant) does indeed have a splendid time in this outing, despite once again being thrust into a hopeless situation, but unfortunately, the viewer doesn’t fare so well. It’s not that “Planet of the Dead” is bad as much as it is total whiz-bang, balls-to-the-wall, non-stop eye-candy and action – which, for some people, will amount to bad. Thing is, it’s not actually any worse than any number of the other various action romps the new series has presented, but it doesn’t have the cushion of better stories surrounding it to fall back on. As the sole “Who” outing for a ten month period in 2009, one quite reasonably expected it to be something special, which it just simply isn’t.

The plot (so to speak): In present day London, a jewel thief is on the run. But this is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill criminal; the thief in question is the Lady Christina de Souza, and since she is played by Michelle Ryan (“The Bionic Woman”), she is very easy on the eyes, what with her long black hair, pale visage, and skin tight catsuit. Whilst trying to escape the fuzz, she hops onboard a double decker bus, only to be joined by the Doctor, who’s tracing some anomalies. Before you can say “Where’s the TARDIS?,” the bus, along with its passengers, is transported across the universe, via a wormhole, to the desert planet San Helios, which unfortunately doesn’t look quite as cool as Arrakis or Tattoine, but is clearly inspired by those fictitious worlds regardless. (The highly publicized fact that it was partially lensed in Dubai further added to some lofty expectations for “Planet of the Dead.”) Once there, the Doctor runs into an alien race called the Tritovores, who look an awful lot like the Vincent Price version of “The Fly,” and then later, a swarm race of aliens who are trying to break through to Earth so that they can consume every living thing on the planet (which is exactly what they’ve done to San Helios, hence the story’s title). Meanwhile, back on Earth, Capt. Erisa Magambo (Noma Dumezweni), who was last seen in Season Four’s “Turn Left,” and scientist Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans), both of UNIT, are busy trying to assess the situation and aid the Doctor through various means.    

“Planet of the Dead” is a misleading title, as it sounds like a very dark episode, which it is not, and further, it lacks the underlying heart and soul that’s so crucial to making “Who” what it is. The events unfold at a pretty rapid pace, and yet the whole enterprise manages to feel vaguely sluggish. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where it all went wrong, but a lot of it must have to do with Michelle Ryan’s character, who’s the temporary companion here, and yet displays none of the attributes we associate with that role on the series. She’s vain, smug, self-assured in all the wrong ways and not particularly interesting. It was no doubt a bold move for the production team to try for a different angle when approaching the companion role, but this one really has to fall under the heading of a failed experiment. By the time she flies the double decker off into the London night sky at the end of the 60-minute story, one’s reaction can only be “Good riddance.” Lee Evans’ obnoxious fawning over the Doctor is another problematic area, and it’s one we’ve seen all too much of in the last couple years on “Doctor Who.” OK, we know and get it – the Doctor rocks. Do we really need to see supporting characters slobbering all over him as though he’s a Greek god in every episode? In a normal action-oriented episode, we at least have supporting characters that we love to fall back on. Here we have a supporting cast that’s impossible to care about, since little or no time is devoted to developing them beyond their rather cartoonish templates. “The Waters of Mars,” which is teased after the end credits on this disc, should be debuting in November, and looks to be a considerable improvement.

“Planet of the Dead” marks the first high-def shoot for the series, and so this is also the first “Who” story available on Blu-ray. Much of my distaste for the tale comes from me being such a huge fan of the series and the fact that I had expectations. The Blu-ray version of this disc is actually an easy recommendation to fans of the format who don’t know much about “Doctor Who,” and aren’t likely to be annoyed by the same things I was. It’s a fairly self-contained story, and would likely be appreciated by high-def enthusiasts for its eye-popping visuals, if for nothing else.

Special Features: There’s but one extra this time around, but it is 60 minutes long, and so it doubles the length of the disc: An hour-long episode of “Doctor Who Confidential” takes a look inside the filming of “Planet of the Dead,” and as you might surmise, it’s about as exhaustive in its behind-the-scenes exploration as you can get. I’d say “shame there’s no commentary,” but really, with a plot that’s as paper-thin as this one, I have a feeling it wouldn’t have amounted to much anyway.

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