This is the first and possibly only Easter special ever of `Doctor Who'. And if you're expecting aliens in Easter Bunny costumes handing out poisonous Easter eggs to everyone and the Doctor stopping them, then you're in for a disappointment. `Planet of the Dead' is a rollicking romp of an adventure with a red double-decker London bus ending up in the middle of the desert on the alien planet of San Helios. And there the Doctor meets a new friend Lady Christina de Souza (played by the lovely Michelle Ryan of Eastenders' fame and who I've seen in `Mansfield Park' with Billie Piper). The 200th story of 'Doctor Who' (though there's been lots of dispute about that amongst fans).
The story starts off with a burglary at London's International Museum (Cardiff Museum to be exact which I was in only last weekend). The burglar is Lady Christina and she's on the run from the police after stealing a long-old gold cup once belonging to King Æthelstan. She eventually gets on a London bus heading for Victoria and is soon seated next to by the Doctor who's on for the ride. The police chase after her in the bus as it goes through a tunnel. Then the bus enters a `door in space' and journeys through a wormhole ending up on the desert planet of San Helios. The Doctor has to try to find a way to get everyone back to Earth and Christina is on hand to help out.
It was a very sunny weekend that Easter back in 2009 when I saw this on transmission and on its repeat, as was the alien planet itself. Filmed in the exotic deserts of Dubai, this story sees the Doctor on another adventure saving a group of people on a double-decker bus with the help of a potential companion. And it's an amazing group of people that work together. This includes Angela Whittaker (played by sweet lovely Victoria Alcock who's recently been in a Big Finish Colin Baker audio called `Power Play'); Nathan (played by David Arnes, who's currently working with Lisa Bowerman in `Bernice Summerfield'); Barclay (Daniel Kaluya) and Lou and Carmen (Reginald Tsiboe and Ellen Thomas (the latter who I've seen briefly in an episode of Rev)). The Doctor gets everyone to calm down and hold onto the things they're looking to when they get home as he promises they will get home.
There's more brilliant casting in this story including Adam James playing D.I. McMillan (not Dai McMillan for people to know); who's been chasing Lady Christina for some time with her thieving lately and is starting to lose it. There's also Noma Dumezweni playing U.N.I.T. captain Erisa Magambo (who last appeared in 'Turn Left'
with Catherine Tate's Donna Noble), finally making an appearance in the normal universe and taking charge of the situation and relaying important info to the Doctor about the `wormhole' in space.
But the biggest guest star to feature in this episode is Welsh stand-up comedian and actor Lee Evans playing Malcolm Taylor, U.N.I.T.'s new scientific advisor. I remember seeing Lee Evans in `Mouse Hunt' with Nathan Lane years ago when I was younger and became aware he had his own stand-up comedy show. Here he's playing a character who's a big fan of the Doctor's and is quite nutty and bizarre to look at and hear from e.g. making names for his own units of measurement like Malcolms and Bernards. But eventually it soon becomes clear that Malcolm's very bright and clever and the Doctor calls him a genius at some point. I love the phone conversations the Doctor and Malcolm have and the moments when they keep hanging up on each other when they're busy or in a rush. They finally meet towards the end of the episode and Malcolm goes `Oh, I love you!' giving the Doctor a big hug. To me it was a very funny and slightly weird and unusual moment, but it was great to watch Lee Evans in this. He did seem to go over-the-top at some point with explosions and attacks from stingrays happening all over the place, but apart from that it was great to watch him.
Of course the guest star worth mentioning is of course Michelle Ryan playing Lady Christina who I absolutely enjoyed watching. She's really sassy, smart and very sexy. She comes prepared with everything in her rucksack including a shovel, a hammer and her sunglasses in the desert. She and the Doctor get on like a house on fire and seem to work pretty well as the potentially new Doctor-companion set up. The Doctor works out uncovering her mystery as she's a thrill-seeker looking for an adventure rather than just thieving for the sake of it. She has this cool, feisty and rather sharp attitude to her, but she does come across as being really compassionate and `honourable' as the Doctor calls her. As the Doctor says, `they're made for each other' and Michelle comes across as a really good actress.
There are two types of monster in this story. The first are two insect-like beings called Tritovores and they really do like fly-people with heads having huge bulbous eyes with various eye perspectives. The Doctor gets to speak in their language as they sound so insect-like with their hissing and groaning, since the TARDIS isn't around to translate. They are rather sweet these aliens, even though my mum doesn't like insects very much, and they do seem rather funny. Just remember not to kiss one of them as Christina wants to avoid, when they're here on the planet looking for `dung'. These two Tritovores (played by Paul Kasey and Ruari Mears) are mistrustful of the Doctor and Christina at first when they take them to their ship. But eventually they believe what the Doctor tells them through the use of their translators (and possibly the Doctor's `honest' face), and they help the Doctor and Christina out with getting off this planet. It's a shame they got eaten by the stingrays when fighting and defending Christina and the Doctor.
The second type of monster as I mentioned before are the stingrays. This is a swarm of devourers of death that fly around and around in the planet's sky that goes all over. There's no evil intent with these creatures except for the fact they eat anything. I love it when the Tritovores' probe gets eaten and the Doctor gets annoyed going `everything on this planet gets eaten!' The stingrays are shielded with metal as they're the ones forming the wormhole in order to go through and attack and devour the Earth as they've done with San Helios. The planet has become a desert because of these stingrays with the cities, the wildlife and its people turning them into sand. That is a horrifying concept and unnerving one, particularly in such a light-hearted episode as this.
Eventually however in the final moments of the story, the stingrays gets defeated as a U.N.I.T. battle takes place; the Doctor gets the bus back home with everybody on board through the wormhole and Malcolm seals off the wormhole closed preventing any more stingrays getting through. It all ends on a happy note as the Earth and the Doctor manages to save everyone. He even gets a kiss from Christina as a reward. The bus flies through the air using anti-graft devices from the deceased Tritovore spaceship and the Doctor lands the bus safely for everybody to disembark.
Christina is ready to go and join the Doctor on some adventures, but the Doctor's not having it. He's not ready to take on another companion, as he's still suffering from the loss of Donna and Rose following the events in 'Journey's End'
. It's a such a shame since the Doctor and Christina seem to be the perfect companion team-up and it would have been great to have seen some more adventures with those two. Maybe Christina will return again in some form or other. Perhaps Big Finish could do some Tenth Doctor adventures on audio and in that long gap between `Planet of the Dead' and `The Waters of Mars'. Christina could return to have those adventures with the Doctor, which would be fantastic. The Doctor however grants Christina to be free from the police using his sonic screwdriver and she escapes in the London bus and flies off to have adventures on her own. So maybe she will return to `Doctor Who' someday. I hope so.
But the Doctor's song is ending as Carmen gives him a terrifying prophecy of doom. As it's coming to the end of his era, the Tenth Doctor has no idea what's in store for him. But it doesn't seem good and as Carmen wearily tells him `it's returning from the dark' and that `he will knock four times'. That gave me the shudders when I heard it as it did for the Doctor. I didn't know what was to come when I heard that prophecy being foretold, but from the look of the Doctor's face it's terrifying and doesn't look good for him. It's exciting and yet terrifying to look forward to.
On this DVD, there's the Doctor Who Confidential making of documentary for `Planet of the Dead' called `Desert Storm'. It's about an hour or so and covers pretty most of what I've been saying about `Planet of the Dead'. It features interviews with director James Strong, executive producers Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner, producer Tracie Simpson, David Tennant, Michelle Ryan, production designer Edward Thomas, etc and is narrated by Noel Clarke (who played Mickey Smith).
This story was fraught with a troubled production to which I commend the production team for braving through. There was so much bad luck happening with the making of this story, what with a bus getting damaged on the way to Dubai and bad weather conditions on the first day's shooting. It's amazing how they managed to brave through it to getting this episode completed and it looks fantastic. Praise must go to James Strong the director who did a brilliant job with being patient and also for Russell T. Davies for solving the problems after laughing so much.
I like how in this documentary they made reference and showed clips of past Doctor Who stories set abroad including `City of Death'; `Arc of Infinity'; `Planet of Fire'; `The Two Doctors'; `The TV Movie'; `Daleks In Manhattan'/'Evolution of the Daleks' and `The Fires of Pompeii'. It really made my day seeing those clips of classic 'Doctor Who's as Russell T. Davies does well in connecting the new series back to the classic series with some nostalgia. And it's amazing how Doctor Who goes to great lengths in filming a story abroad when they can.
So `Planet of the Dead' is a good old romp. Not the best Who story I've seen, but it's definitely not the worst. It's dosed with Douglas Adams styled humour and wonderfully written by Russell T. Davies with co-writer Gareth Roberts, and brilliantly directed by James Strong. And it has some wonderful performances by David Tennant and Michelle Ryan who are potentially the new TARDIS team that would have been. A light-hearted fun adventure and rightly so before the darkness dawns in David Tennant's final hour as the Doctor.
The next story with the Tenth Doctor is 'The Taking Of Chelsea 426'