Doctor Who: Planet Of The Dead review

The only Doctor Who episode we’ll get this side of the year, and it just about did its job, reckoned Simon.

You’ll have to forgive me. If all best laid plans had fallen into place, I’d have actually got to watch Doctor Who on Saturday night and had a review up sooner. But best laid plans don’t work that way, and instead, thanks to the miracles of Sky + – quite possibly humanity’s finest achievement – I finally got to see the episode last night.

And got pretty much what I expected. This was effectively the last standalone David Tennant episode of Doctor Who before he embarks on the specials that will bring his tenure in the Tardis to an end, and it was by turns ambitious and predictable. Still quite entertaining, though.

Clearly, a bit of cash had been spent on it, and this was most evident by the fact that the producers had shipped out a London bus to the middle of the desert. Alas, it’s my sad duty to inform them that their efforts were in vain, as my wife remarked “that looks really fake” (for the record, she uttered not a sound when said bus started to unconvincingly fly around). Despite my protestations that the bus was really there, she wasn’t buying it.

I was, though, and I really liked the idea of a group of people stranded in the desert under attack from a swarm of strange attackers. But then I liked it when I read it in Michael Crichton’s book Prey, too.

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Who, though, to be fair, made a fair fist of it, even when you suspected that the usual cast of British thesps were going to be cannon fodder. They were the passengers on said bus, which ended up driving through a wormhole to a planet on the other side of the universe, where all, as usual, wasn’t as it seemed.

However, before we’d even got this far, we’d had Michelle Ryan’s audition for the next Tomb Raider movie (right down to the accent and the work of the costume department) as thief Lady Christina, who we saw at the start nicking some very badly protected golden trinket, that you just knew was going to play some vital part in the episode’s denouement. Ryan, I thought, was perfectly fine, and as she boarded the bus, she made for a solid one-off companion for the Doctor. The pair had some decent dialogue, although I never bought a romance between them, and thought that the snog could easily and safely been left on the cutting room floor. Ryan though – as fans of Bionic Woman can testify – is a better actress than her EastEnders days would lead you to believe, and as a one-off character, Lady Christina wasn’t half bad.

Nor was Lee Evans as UNIT’s latest recruit, Malcolm, who turned out to be arguably the highlight of the episode. I’ve never been a huge fan of Lee Evans, and wasn’t over enamoured with his casting, but thought he fit this a treat. He also get the best laughs out of the script, with his invented units of energy (Malcolms and Bernards), and I’d be quite happy for him to return to the show in the future (Russell T Davies has hinted of a possible spin-off for him).

But back to the mysterious planet, and there two alien races to contend with. One was the Tritovore, who turned up, did not a fat lot and went away again, leaving behind a receipt for another insect-driven costume, and a bit of lunch. They were sound enough, just not given anything of particular substance to do, and were safely tucked away long before the finale. The bigger threat were flying together en masse in a swarm, with airborne carnivores looking to devour anything that got in their path. Not much did in this episode though, as through a series of developments, by the time they got close enough to the aforementioned bus, it could, er, fly. It did lead to an impressive shoot out back in London, though, when the bus came back through the wormhole and brought a few of the critters with it. Barely anyone on the bus though seemed to have a graze on them, though (save for the long-dead driver). It was, certainly, the safest episode to be a Doctor Who extra in.

Yet as a self-contained episode, Planet Of The Dead was passable enough. It never really fully gelled for me, and the ending of Lady Christina flying off into the sunset I could have lived without. But was it entertaining? Yes. Was it vintage Who? No. Did I get excited when the woman out of Teachers proclaimed that Tennant’s time was coming, and that they would knock four times? Hell yes. I’m easy like that.

I’m glad, though, that the next time we see Tennant – in The Waters Of Mars – we’ll be closing in on the ending of his story. Much though I’m happy to sit through one-off specials, I still prefer it when things are leading towards something on the whole. And that’s why, for me, the Planet Of The Dead turned out to be a decent distraction from the upcoming specials that we really want to see.

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