Doctor Who 4.15: Planet of the Dead review

Review

Planet of the Deadplanet of the dead review

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.
planet of the dead review

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.

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8 Responses to “Doctor Who 4.15: Planet of the Dead review”

  1. Zarius Says:

    My two major niggles are, ironicly for an RTD cheerleader, the tinkerbell ending (which I praised LOTTL for, and forgave The Doctor’s Daughter for)…I guess I wanted The Doc to be a d*ckhead for once and the distinctly smug Christina be given a rude awakening. It’d have hit the nail of realism on a relaxed and wonderful oddysey. POTD had diverse layerings, the gun pulled on Malcom, the psychic, the one big death of the lot…all those shades of grey filtering into a good strong story focusing on the themes of “nature vs nature”

    Actually, I’ve just rewatched it and found it to be a good coda to what IS, after all, something for the kids and ten little nit-pickers

  2. Steve Says:

    Seriously, Did you watch a different episode than I did. The whole episode lacked strong characters and any real purpose or moral. It seemed to be a collection of loosly strung together outright rip off’s taken from below par Sci-Fi channel movies. At the very best it was a collection of failed concepts from Mr T Davies note book. Absolutely one off the worst episodes I’ve seen (and I’ve seen few). Thank goodness Russell is moving on and his obvious plan to give the liquorice allsorts man a return will be avoided.

  3. John Nor Says:

    Hi Zarius. I didn’t find Christina to be too “smug”, though I understand the criticism.

    I happen to enjoy that Kandy Man robot Classic story, Steve. It’s interesting that Gareth Roberts is unmentioned in most reviews and comments (I didn’t mention him) but he is the co-writer and some (or perhaps most) of the ideas were his. Understandable though as this story was part of RTD’s five episode swansong.

  4. Jack Says:

    Planet of the Dead was a diet Doctor Who episode. If the cast and crew are only going to do a few specials this year, then the episodes need to be stronger.

    The Christmas Special, “The Next Doctor” was excellent because it provided a mystery about the David Moresy character, it gave us more information about this version of cybermen, and it presented us with stunning special effects and solid holiday story.

    Planet of the Dead did not none of that. It lacked the character development of Midnight, it lacked the threat of Satan Pit, Blink, or any of the other shows. The feeling of this show more like, RTD and cast and crew wanted to spend holidays in Dubai and they needed an episode to pay for it.

    Please try harder and give David Tennent better stories so that his Doctor exits with a bang and not a whimper.

  5. richardbooth Says:

    But, the story *doesn’t* ‘zip along’, does it? The Doctor & Co. arrive, spend most of the episode waiting for the aliens to reach them, and, when they finally do, they run away. The story has its fair share of funny moments (many of them involving Malcolm, a character who not only serves as an affectionate caricature of Doctor Who fans themselves, but also has the Doctor’s old job), but the episode feels rather less substantial than many of its regular length fellows.

    Initially, I thought I liked this more than The Next Doctor (which is really just an exercise in gimmickry that JN-T would have been proud of). In retrospect, I’m not so sure.

    As a story in its own right, this is fairly disposable fare, but, it may just work in the wider context of being the Tenth Doctor’s last ‘happy’ adventure, before things take a turn for the darker.

  6. John Nor Says:

    You said, Richard, “But, the story *doesn’t* ‘zip along’, does it? The Doctor & Co. arrive, spend most of the episode waiting for the aliens to reach them, and, when they finally do, they run away.”

    I thought the dialogue was had a zip to it though – the chat between Ten and Christina. The story can zip along without them running about.

    Also – interesting point about the wider context. I think the last three specials will have more of an “arc”, though of course there was some foreshadowing at the end.

  7. Basilena Says:

    I liked Lady Sarah’s character…reminded me of Vash ( ST TNG)in her criminallity ,sexuality. Rose bugged me because it took her so long to finally spit out her feelings, however, Glad The Doctor turned the lady down, though…good move…
    Sadly and gratefully watching everything RTD turns out for David Tennant…not being overly picky because I would probably be as dazed and impressed as Malcomn was and likewise only able to repeat that I loved him. I’ll miss him…not looking forward to a 23 yr. old Doctor…hey, demographics rule..at least he isn’t reincarnating as a precocious 13 yr old……….

  8. Alan Says:

    I just saw “Planet of the Dead” last night and was very disappointed. We’ve all seen the Dr. save the world with just his wits and a sonic screwdriver – but this was over the top. The bus and passengers are transported into an impossible position but the doctor easily converts a phone into a cross universe communications device and happily finds some stranded fly people within walking distance who coincidentally have some levitating wheel clamps and who then commit suicide. Malcom – albeit a great charactor, just happens to be on the scene and can close the rift. The dilogue between the passengers who take being transported to a barren planet quite calmly is dull. The doctor gets them home for dinner, gets jobs for the unemployed and someone delivers his tardis to him. Awful.

    Good points: quatermass reference, routemaster bus


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