The Doctor boards a double-decker bus in London, on the trail of a space-time disturbance somewhere nearby. But to his dismay, the bus drives straight through the disturbance: a wormhole that deposits the bus to a rough landing on a barren desert world. Among the assortment of passengers on the bus are a slightly psychic woman whose abilities have been enhanced by the trip through the wormhole, and a mysterious and surprisingly well-equipped woman named Lady Christina de Souza, who quickly teams up with the Doctor, if only because he seems to be the only one who knows what’s going on – and she wants to know why. When a group of insectoid bipeds called Tritivores find the travelers, it becomes apparent that the double-decker isn’t the only recent arrival on this distant world. There’s another race on this planet as well – one which created the wormhole, and intends to widen the wormhole leading to London. Their objective is to feed on everything and everyone on whatever planet they swarm to; their only obstacle is a Time Lord and a resourceful woman who’s almost as mysterious as he is.
written by Russell T. Davies & Gareth Roberts
directed by James Strong
music by Murray Gold
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Michelle Ryan (Christina), Lee Evans (Malcolm), Noma Dumezweni (Capt. Magambo), Adam James (D.I. McMillan), Glenn Doherty (Sgt. Dennison), Victoria Alcock (Angela), David Ames (Nathan), Ellen Thomas (Carmen), Reginald Tsiboe (Lou), Daniel Kaluuya (Barclay), Keith Parry (Bus Driver), James Layton (Sgt. Ian Jenner), Paul Kasey (Sorvin), Ruari Mears (Praygat)
Notes: Michelle Ryan may be best known on both sides of the Atlantic for starring as Jamie Sommers in the short-lived NBC remake of The Bionic Woman. This marks the second appearance of Noma Dumezweni as UNIT’s Capt. Erisa Magambo, first seen – albeit in an alternate timeline – in season four’s Turn Left; this is the first time we’ve met her in the Doctor’s “home” timeline. The Doctor’s reference to an incident involving a giant robot was, in fact, the first adventure of the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in Robot (1974/75), which also involved UNIT. The desert scenes were filmed in Dubai, though the plot point of the bus being heavily damaged was helped along a little bit by damage incurred during shipping of a real double-decker to the location. In some respects, the character of Lady Christina vaguely resembles the character outline for Kat (sometimes referred to as Kate in the sparse documentation of that character’s development) Tollinger, a feisty female burglar who would have been introduced in the never-made fourth season of Sylvester McCoy‘s era, had it gone into production in 1990. Planet Of The Dead was also the first Doctor Who adventure to be shot on high-definition video, though the first Doctor Who-related HD production was actually the first season of Torchwood.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: With far too little Doctor Who hitting our screens in 2009, every story needs to count, and Planet Of The Dead is a nicely atmospheric tale, but a little short on plot. The desert filming location in the United Arab Emirates adds a lot to the proceedings: this is easily the most effective foreign location filming that Doctor Who has seen since 1979’s City Of Death, and it really adds to the story rather than just telegraphing the message that the BBC just spent a lot of money to send cast and crew to a far-flung location without it really being reflected on-screen.
For all of Planet Of The Dead‘s abundance of atmosphere, however, other elements are lost. The plot is just about the simplest “go get the sci-fi McGuffin so we can escape before the big bad arrives” story imaginable. The supporting guest stars do well enough, but unlike, say, Midnight, there isn’t enough time to really get into either the characters or the guest stars’ portrayal of them. The one guest star who can command any attention here is Michelle Ryan as Lady Christina, a cross between the prototypical Perfect TARDIS Companion and Lara Croft, and it’s interesting to turn the usual Russell T. Davies Doctor Who holiday special trope – that we’ve met an ideal traveling companion for the Doctor, but they can’t sign on for a tour aboard the TARDIS – and turns it on its ear: the Doctor is the one who won’t take Lady Christina with him, not because doing so might help her to escape justice (he seems more than willing to do that), but because he’s tired of watching his friends get hurt – or worse – just for the privelege of traveling with him. Whether or not Davies is aware of it, one wonders if co-writer Gareth Roberts drew Davies’ attention to the fact that the extended Doctor Who universe already has one mischievous woman in a space-hopping London double-decker: the fan-fiction writers will surely already be planning a collision between Lady Christina and Time Lady Iris Wildthyme.
Advance publicity drew attention to the Tritivore creatures, though I found them just a little bit of a letdown. Maybe it was necessitated by a tight budget, but their elaborate bug-head makeup was let down a bit by their simple, one-piece zip-up jumpsuits – jumpsuits whose zippers aren’t suited to the hands that we’re repeatedly shown early in the show. To cite a random example, the Hath from The Doctor’s Daughter combined an elaborate makeup with a somewhat more interesting costume; the Tritivores just needed a little more style to make them visually interesting below their necks. It’s not often that a costume stands out enough to make me take notice because it’s that good or that bad, but this is just such a case. C’mon – even the Autons, renowned for their boiler suits in the 1970s, have gotten more stylish than that.
Despite not having a full season to play it out, Davies begins to build a breadcrumb trail of hints toward the imminent exit of the tenth Doctor, with a hint that the bringer of his fate will “knock four times” – coincidentally (or not), hearkening back to the Master tapping out the sound of drums in his head with four knocks in The Sound Of Drums. Planet Of The Dead is a light romp, but it may be the last such story of David Tennant’s tenure judging by the attached preview of the next special, The Waters Of Mars.