Saturday, October 1, 2016

An Often Pointless One-Off: "Planet Of The Dead" Is Less-Inspired Doctor Who!

The Good: Good chemistry between The Doctor and Christina, Some good special effects
The Bad: Light on character development, Christina outshines The Doctor, Despite being packed, the plot is fairly predictable.
The Basics: If Pitch Black were an episode of Doctor Who, it would be "Planet Of The Dead."

There are a number of genre works that are so extensive that it is hard to imagine what has not been done by the work yet. In the case of Doctor Who, the fifty plus year history of the franchise makes it hard for the show to do something that feels new. So, when something new pops up on Doctor Who, it is hard not to be inherently biased toward it. That said, new does not always mean a great execution. Such is the case with the episode "Planet Of The Dead."

"Planet Of The Dead" is a one-shot episode that was part of the denouement of David Tennant's Doctor. Following "Journey's End" (reviewed here!) there were a series of specials that led into the two-part exit for Tennant's Doctor and his journeys in that time period have The Doctor flying solo - without a Companion. "Planet Of The Dead" is initially engaging because it features The Doctor, sans Companion, TARDIS or (apparently) sonic screwdriver. But, despite the original-feeling set-up, "Planet Of The Dead" quickly transitions into something that feels troublingly familiar.

Opening in modern London at the National Gallery, Christina rappels in behind the security team guarding a chalice. The thief makes her getaway on a bus, where she is almost immediately joined by The Doctor. The Doctor is scanning the area, tracking a small hole in the fabric of reality, when the bus passes through the hole and it transported to a distant planet. The bus driver quickly illustrates the consequences of attempting to simply pass through the wormhole unprotected. While Christina takes charge inside the bus, back on Earth, UNIT is called in to investigate the wormhole on their end. UNIT Captain Magambo creates a defensive perimeter at the edge of the wormhole.

On the bus, Carmen exhibits genuine psychic abilities and she believes that something horrible is coming for them. As a storm moves in on the stranded bus, The Doctor manages to get a call in to UNIT and its crazy scientist Malcolm. Malcolm has developed a way to measure the wormhole, while The Doctor and Christina discover the impending storm is made of metal when they are captured by an insectoid alien. Using the computers on the insect aliens' ship, The Doctor discovers where the bus materialized and what a horrible predicament they are in. As a swarm of aliens descends upon the bus and the downed alien ship, The Doctor realizes that Earth is in danger from the swarm passing through the wormhole to devour Earth!

"Planet Of The Dead" has a lot in common with "Midnight" (reviewed here!), in the way that The Doctor is trapped with a bunch of strangers without real aid available to him while being hunted by an alien force. "Planet Of The Dead" includes a number of ambitious elements, from the fun new almost-Companion to the addition of a psychic to the insect race with telepathic translators. Unfortunately, the episode is packed without truly coming together.

In many ways, "Planet Of The Dead" underwhelms because it is a one-shot. The Doctor and Christina have great chemistry and David Tennant and Michelle Ryan (Christina) play off one another amazingly well. Christina being a thief allows The Doctor to have the episode's lone moment of decent characterization where he confesses that he was a thief, in stealing the TARDIS. The Doctor's unwillingness to kill the swarm creatures fits his established character, more than growing him.

But elements like Malcolm calling while The Doctor and Christina are running force the episode's humor. The science of "Planet Of The Dead" is particularly wonky; a wormhole ten miles in diameter over London would have all sorts of things colliding with it. And the idea that a scientist could both analyze and synthesize a solution to the wormhole on Earth (in our era) in just a few hours is problematic, if not ridiculous. Then again, the episode features a flying bus.

Ultimately, "Planet Of The Dead" is one of those episodes that does not feel unpleasant when one is watching it, but it does not hold up over much scrutiny.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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