Planet of the Dead
Lady Christina: You look human.
The Doctor: You look Time Lord.
Episode star rating:**** (out of a possible five)
Doctor Who has always overtly recycled the imagery and ideas of films, from The Daleks (or if you prefer, “The Dead Planet”) onwards (e.g. the 1960 film of The Time Machine), and this story continues this tradition: right from the pre-credits sequence – a wild mash-up of The Pink Panther films and Irma Vep. That Maggie Cheung film Irma Vep seemingly supplies the extreme catsuit imagery that Michelle Ryan is rocking.
Once we arrive on the planet with the bus, it’s The Flight of the Phoenix (for the desert-stranded craft) and Pitch Black (for the Stingrays.) On top of all there is some recycling from RTD’s own Midnight, as he acknowledges through the Tenth Doctor’s dialogue – “Humans on buses, always blaming me.” However, even with familiar elements, the story feels fresh, and zips along even as the bus is stationary in the sand.
Specifically the plot mechanics were fairly refreshing: a groovy Sci-Fi idea with emphasis on Sci was at the core of the story, with the Swarm Bio-Cycle of the Galactic Stingrays. Not exactly Hard Science Fiction, but it had the widescreen scope of Space Opera novels with the Galaxy-spanning menace being properly alien rather than something out of the Chronicles of Narnia (e.g. Cat People or Rhino Men.)
Malcolm continued the tradition of Doctor-Who-fan-analogue in Nu-Who, and there was a shout-out to Doctor Who and the Giant Robot during his chats with the Doctor. The banter between the Lady and the Lord was great (reminiscent of Seasons 16 and 17 and E-Space with added spiciness). Lady Christina’s descent to grab the crystal recalled The End of the World‘s rotating fan-obstacle for the Ninth Doctor – an adventure story trope that the viewer accepts because it’s fun. I eventually appreciated the the Doctor’s flanneling about the crystal McGuffin, as there was a clever reveal as to his actual plan, which seemed more satisfying than the rod gadget of the previous Special at Christmas. RTD loves his “vertical movement” (refer also the New Earth lift, The Satan Pit which he must have suggested, Gridlock and so on) and the story certainly has a lot of it.
Lady Christina in the end joins the ranks of Companions Rejected For The TARDIS, but in contrast to Adam from Dalek, this time the Doctor says (I’m paraphrasing here) – it’s not you, it’s me.