John attended the Hurricane Who Bon Voyage Party in Orlando this past Saturday. After socializing with our old friend Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon) and John Leeson (the voice of K-9), the evening was concluded with a screening of the the Doctor Who Easter special “Planet of the Dead.” John’s review follows, but beware of spoilers for the episode!
Written by: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts
Special Guest Stars: Michelle Ryan and Lee Evans
Directed by: James Strong
SYNOPSIS: Lady Christina de Souza has pulled off a heist worthy of Danny Ocean, but unfortunately her exit strategy needs a bit of work. She decides to hitch a bus away from the scene. She would be worried about the police on her tail, but she’s distracted by the skinny gent in the brown suit fiddling about with a weird gadget. Soon, she gets totally sidetracked when the bus takes an unexpected detour across the universe and onto a desolate planet. Christina and the rest of the passengers seem to be marooned on this planet, but the man who calls himself The Doctor is more optimistic. Can they can get back to Earth before the swarm arrives?
ANALYSIS: The only bad thing about this special is that, now that it’s over, we have to wait another god-knows-how-many months before the next special. The idea of The Doctor being marooned on a bus in the middle of a hostile landscape is reminiscent of RTD’s superlative “Midnight” in the previous series. Fortunately, the similarities end here. This time The Doctor has the cool, keen intellect of Lady Christina on his side. “Cool” is definitely the best word to describe Lady Christina as a companion. The idea of a jewel thief as a companion to The Doctor was originally devised for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in the classic series, after Ace took her leave. Sadly, we all know where that went. My only lament for Lady Christina is that she is so freakin’ cool that the fact that she is just a one-time companion is saddening. Then again, who knows? Donna came back, maybe we’ll see Lady Christina again. Michelle Ryan is totally solid in the role, striding alongside David Tennant with total confidence, and the wordplay between the two is juicy and playful.
“Planet of the Dead” marks the very first time in the new series where two writers collaborate on a story. This time, Russell T. Davies teams up with Gareth Roberts (“Unicorn and the Wasp,” “The Shakespeare Code”). The team-up is a resounding success. The story progression moves at a brisk pace that keeps the audience on their toes, yet still gives us ample time to enjoy the characters. Davies and Roberts do a fantastic job of bait-and-switch as we try to deduce who the real heavy is in this tale. In the beginning, our heroes’ every move is being observed, leading you to think that whoever’s watching them is responsible for the swarm coming their way. So it does come as a surprise that the insect-like Tritovores are just as much the victim as The Doctor and his crew, and the real menace is flying in droves towards them.
This, of course, is the classic race against time scenario, which is always an excellent basis for a tension builder. The Doctor and Lady Christina struggle to find a way to get back to Earth before UNIT seals the gate in order to keep the swarm coming through the wormhole. Since we’re on the subject, I like how this episode takes a cue from the stellar Sontaran two-parter in the previous series by showing UNIT as a far more competent group than they were in those episodes, no longer constrained to shooting at bulletproof monsters. Additionally, they have suitable help on the scientific front in The Doctor’s absence: Dr. Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans, Mouse Hunt and There’s Something About Mary). An excitable scientist assigned to help The Doctor from the Earth side of the wormhole, he is also a huge Doctor fan. I’d say more about that fact, but my words just can’t do it justice. Suffice it to say, Evans lends his exceptional talents as a character actor to make Malcolm extremely memorable — even eerily reminiscent of any convention-goer who just met their favorite actor.
Adding insult to injury, vis-à-vis the substantial gap between this story and the next, are the terrifying hints towards The Doctor’s impending demise. At the conclusion of this story, the words “Your song must end” return with a foreboding sense of dread, along with a terrifying warning telling us that someone is returning from the darkness. Aaaaargh, Russell T. Davies, you sadist! I’m already going through withdrawal symptoms as it is!
ESSENTIALLY: A consistently intense story which injects us with another dose of pure joy. With its sharp story, dialogue, and characters, we are put on constant high for the hour. The side-effects, however, leave us with an even bigger craving for the next story — which, by the way, is called “The Waters of Mars” and will premiere god knows when…