Doctor Who: Easter Special 2009: Planet of the Dead

6

image In brief: Fun!

In-depth:

One down.

Three more to go.

Let’s get serious people!

To elaborate ““ this is it folks. Strap yourselves in for this adventure because it’s fun, tongue in cheek and a fast, furious ride. If you’ve read any interviews you’ll know that this is probably what RTD might call his last chance for a “˜light hearted’ romp in the Whoniverse. If you can call strangers on a London bus being dragged halfway across the universe by a wormhole and then being hunted down by an alien swarm “˜light hearted’.

But this episode doesn’t really dwell on the scary moments for longer than, well, a few moments. It’s about crashing through”¦

Plot ““ a masked thief steals a golden chalice from the “˜International Gallery’. She unmasks herself to the audience. Hi, Michelle Ryan. The police show up and her only chance of escape is to hop on a red London double-decker bus. Which she does. Plus fare. Like her style.

How does this intersect with the Doctor? Simple. Easy. After she’s on the bus, intercut with the footage of the police looking for her, we see some familiar trainers coming into focus. The swish of a brown coat. And the sit down next to Michelle Ryan in catsuit and introduce himself”¦

“Hello! I’m the Doctor! Happy Easter!”

This outing is just zoom. Within minutes of the opening titles, the Doctor pulls out a device on the bus as it starts to flash and make noise. He’s been tracking Rhondium particles. They led him to the bus. And now his device is going mad. In fact, so mad, his little spinning radar dish fritzes out with some sparks. Behind him, another passenger on the bus, Carmen, speaks to her husband Lou about the voices she can now hear”¦

As the bus passes into an underground tunnel, pursued by police who have also closed the other end, the Doctor tells Christina, played by Michelle Ryan, to hold on tight. The bus shakes. Quakes. Lights flash. Screaming.

And the bus never comes out the other end.

Blurred camera focus. Perfect Ten raises himself from the floor of the bus. Bright light emanates from the exterior of the bus. The motley group head to the bus’ doors. Ten steps off to survey the endless sandy dunes.

“”¦end of the line”¦”

The group quickly comes to terms with their situation physically as the two younger boy characters, Nathan and Barclay, quickly discuss the recent events of the Whoniverse. Specifically Earth being taken to the Medusa Cascade and all the planets in the sky. But they clearly note, it’s just them who have moved this time. Not the whole planet”¦ Nice touches like this are what make the episode connect with the viewer.

Perfect Ten gets down and dirty. No. Really. He kneels down on the sand and runs it through his fingers. Heck. He licks the stuff. It’s sand all right… but there’s something different about it”¦

Quickly the finger of suspicion is pointed at Ten. Everything was fine until he pulled out his device. Did he do this? The Doctor is emphatical (Microsoft says that isn’t a real word. I’m saying it is.) No. He was just tracking a minute crack in the universe that suddenly widened and gobbled them up whole. He’ll prove it. He goes behind the bus and throws sand into the distance”¦ a distance which then warps and bends to represent somekind of spatial anomaly.

The driver, thankful, strides towards the warp. Perfect Ten barks out to step back but the man refuses, steps into the breach, and his body convulses and his skeleton is glimpsed before it falls through the other end right in front of the police. Shocked, the chief officer calls a code one. They need experts.

“Call UNIT!”

And that’s it. I’m not going to detail much more of the plot. Not deliberately anyway as I have done. This is a review after all!

And so far it’s been cracking. All of that there, above, that took place within perhaps the first 15 minutes of the episode. Possibly even the first 10. Don’t tell me that isn’t fast. You’ve got characters, drama, situation, motive, continuity and invention all coming into play. Good work RTD and Gareth Roberts!

The people on the bus, except for Christina and Ten, are not played for fools. Nathan and Barclary are good lads, they don’t panic especially and receive instructions well. Angela represents the family aspects and probably gets the least development but she’s there mostly to represent that out of depth aspect. Lou and Carmen. Interesting. Their relationship together is sweet. Two people who have lived side by side for obviously a long time and care for each other very much. Carmen is the more curious cookie, but I’ll talk about that later.

Lady Christina de Souza. Good name. Marvellous name in fact. I like her. She’s clearly set up as a strong foil for the Doctor. She’s an extremely physical character. Loving the thrill of the danger, the chase”¦ She challenges him. Takes the lead away from him at one point, and yet she’s smart enough to know that as the “˜brain box’, she needs to defer to his knowledge in order for them all to survive. And she is no heartless villain either. There are some rather funny exchanges between her and Ten, personally I loved the part where Ten is forced to take a certain gold chalice from her and use it in a creative way to save the day to her complete and utter indignation, and she sticks to him like glue, determined to face things with him.

Would she have made an interesting full time companion? Oh without a doubt. This is a woman who could play against the Doctor, play with him, love him, hate him”¦ But the way the episode ends without giving her that opportunity, oh that’s much better. That’s much more delicious and so much more in tune with the representation of Perfect Ten that we have seen so far.

You’ll know it. And I hope you’ll agree with me.

Ah, Perfect Ten. How I adore thee. Let me count the ways”¦ You’re so comfortable. You’re so effortless. You’re this friend of mine that I know and yet don’t.

And now I can believe it’s time.

This familiarity was, possibly for the first time, unsettling. You’re going to be my Doctor. I just know it. I hope so anyway. But for the sake of the program, I can see why you want to go. It will keep things fresh. Keep us all guessing. You are absolutely fantastic in every single way, shape and or form. I love your giddiness, you’re energy, you’re humour, you’re darkness”¦ I sound like Malcolm. Oh God. But I get it.

Speaking of Malcolm! Let’s not forget the humans on the Earth side of the wormhole. Making a nice return appearance to Doctor Who is Noma Dumezweni as Captain Erisa Magumbo. She last appeared in Seasons 4’s “Turn Left”, as the same character, but from a different universe where she teamed up with Rose to ensure the Doctor lived”¦ Here. The circumsctances aren’t quite so desperate (at first). She’s just dertemined to take charge and protect the Earth. She could have easily been stock placement, but her awe at the Doctor’s conversation over the phone with her endeared me to her, and near episodes end her determination to stop the threat no matter the cost reviled her to me. Well played.

And then of course, there is Professor Malcolm Taylor as played by comedian Lee Evans. Hmm. Difficult. I’m tempted to say that it’s not a great performance because it seemed much like Evan’s usually forms of comedy. Socially awkward and physically hilarious. But that’s not fair because that’s how the character is written and that’s what it calls for. And Lee Evans does it so damned well. Loved it. I hope we see him again.

The alien threat. The Swarm, I’ll call them here. Some good CGI work for them on mass. Though I’m not too convinced by the ones up close and singular while moving… these are fantastical creatures though so I’m going to go with it for the thrill. No doubt the shots of the Swarm on mass and the single, hibernating member were perhaps most effective for spectacle and threat. And when you know exactly how dangerous they are, and what they secret of the sands is”¦ hmm”¦ how tempting it is to say”¦

The Tritovores. The humanoid insects. I’m not too sure about the design. But I loved the look of their ship on the outside, even shattered in two. And I have to give full props to their inclusion in the episode as information fillers with style. These particular creatures don’t speak any English so the Doctor has to translate for them, and it’s much more effective than when Martha conversed with the Hath in “The Doctor’s Daughter.” Perhaps that has more to do though with Ten’s character traits. Hmm. Penny for your thoughts”¦

And of course the visuals! To whomever at the BBC made that final decision to give the crew the money to go to Dubai and film outside of the UK and use a proper desert rather than a Welsh beach. Nicely done. It gave the episode a real scope and contrasted brilliantly with the dull, greys and blues of home back on Earth. It actually felt like an entire world of sand was just at their fingertips. I’m going to go so far as to say the entire look of the episode just fitted exactly what they intended.

So all in all”¦ a very good slice of fun. I was most definitely entertained and for a Saturday evening, that’s all I ask for. And honestly I’m not looking to be blown away by it. Save the real good punches for Tennant’s last two specials. It’s a two parter anyway. I want that to knock me off my feet.

Episodes end all is well that’s meant to end well. Perfect Ten provides a few characters that could do with some direction, well, with some direction thanks to a few words into Captain Magumbo’s ear. Shades of Martha Jones there, anyone”¦?

He denies Lady Christina the opportunity to go with him. Despite her asking. Despite her insistence. Despite how well they work together. Despite how well they jibed together”¦

Christina – “”¦so why are you smiling?”

Perfect Ten – “The worse it gets, the more I love it!”

Christina – “Me too!”

He’s still hurting.

And there’s a good reason for that.

See, Carmen, she has this low-level physic ability. Had it all her life. The episode gives examples, but for science fictiony (okay. Not a real word at all. But I like it) reasons, one of the suns on the desert planet has increased its potency.

And she gives the Doctor a warning. To take care.

Typical Ten. He’s cheery. Enjoy your lamb chops.

But she’s serious. You see, she has familiar words”¦

“Your song is ending soon.”

And more importantly, something is coming. From the darkness. It will find him. And she says one more thing that I’m far too evil to put here. You’ll just have to watch the episode. Or read a transcript. Or read someone else’s’ review.

Let’s just say I think it gives a pretty good idea about who is coming for Perfect Ten. Unless. You know. Russell’s just being a big tease.

But he wouldn’t do that!

Would he?

David Tennant, Russell T, Gareth Roberts, Michelle Ryan, all those involved with the making of this episode”¦ I salute you.

3 and a half wormholes created in space/time due to the amount of friction created by a massive Swarm of aliens speeding around a planet at high velocity out of 5.

Bring on “The Waters of Mars.”

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