Nu-View #18: Special Surprise

Planet of the Dead (Series Four Special; 2009)
Viewed 03 Jun 2014

Doctor/Companion: Ten, Lady Christina de Souza
Stars: David Tennant, Michelle Ryan
Preceding Story: The Next Doctor (Ten, Jackson Lake)
Succeeding Story: The Waters of Mars (Ten, Adelaide Brooke)

    Having finished the Ninth Doctor's tenure last time, the Ladies and I are ready to leap into the Tenth Doctor's debut. Fate is, however, against us.

    It turns out that my Doctor Who evangelism is as disorganized as the rest of my life right now. Around New Year's I'd loaned my DVDs of Series Two to a friend whose kids were just getting into Who, and never asked for them back. I only discover this oversight for our WhoFest viewing plans as the Ladies are setting themselves up with wine and snacks.

    Not to waste one of our increasingly rare opportunities to spend time together with each other and the Doctor, we decide to postpone our watch-in-order exercise for another time and select an episode that we collectively know less well, at jE's request. It's an unexpectedly good choice; not only has jE seen it only once, but we discover that jA has never seen it at all! (I'm not sure how this egregious error came about; it's good we're correcting it now!)

    So off we go on the Lonely God's last "romp." First we meet our bored, aristocratic cat burglar as she takes advantage of the "worst security system ever" (as jA puts it). For someone who's meant to be so clever, Christina's a bit of a dullard for ripping off her identity-concealing mask whilst still inside the museum she's in the process of robbing.

    But then the Doctor arrives on the scene (that scene being, of course, the Mighty 200—a.k.a., a London double-decker bus). Things, of course, go wahooney-shaped, and Christina, the Doctor, and all the other passengers end up stranded on a dead planet. We're only a few minutes into the episode, and the Doctor is telling everyone—without telling them—just how much trouble they're in. "I can't help it," interjects jE. "I still think he's the best Doctor ever. I mean—just his face. He doesn't even have to say anything." (And this from the one of us who grew up watching the show...)

    I'm a little surprised; I enjoy the episode more than I did when it was brand new. I wasn't terribly keen on Christina at the time, but now I find her less obnoxious than I'd recalled. (Perhaps it's a comparison with the Companions since that colors my perceptions.) She's almost unbelievably clever, but that may just be because of the narratives we've been fed for so many decades in all our media. (By which I mean, there are plenty of clever women; they just don't tend to show up in stories—at least, not as often as they exist in real life). So I find her much more likable this time.

    I also continue to love the comic relief provided in the character of Malcolm. We'd all love to be the brilliant human the Doctor calls upon to help him out of a pickle, so Malcolm is some good, vicarious fun. (And it's tough not to enjoy the references to Quatermass.) Further, his comic nature makes for a good contrast when there's a serious, tense moment between him and UNIT Capt. Magambo at the end.

    The Ladies' reactions are effectively exactly what the production team wanted; they laugh at all the comic moments, watch with quiet tension in a the serious ones, and spout irreverent observations when the story is somewhere between. ("What sort of storm is that?" wonders passenger Angela. "A really scary, metal storm," jE answers.) Despite my initial misgivings, I enjoy watching, and the Ladies seem to have a good time.

    General reactions:

    • jA - "These were the days of good writing on the show."
    • jE - "She should've been the next Companion, and it should've been an adventure series."
    • mrfranklin - Not as distasteful as I remember.

    While the others were full of praise for PotD, I had more reservations. I certainly enjoyed it more than I did five years ago (Egads! Has it really been that long?), but I found myself looking at the script very differently after a year-and-a-half spent revising a novel. In a general sense, though, the adventure holds up better than I'd anticipated. I might even watch it again some day.

    Verdict: Thumbs up

    Looking ahead: The Christmas Invasion (no really; I mean it)

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    Comments

    Maybe I let my preconceptions about Lee Evans cloud my judgement, although I actually liked his character in Something about Mary, but for me his character here grated horribly. Maybe I hated his cod Welsh accent, I don't know. Although the Quatermass reference was quite good

    The idea of an aristocrat thief seemed to have been carried off OK for me and I reckon she could have been a good companion, but there you go, not my decision. All in all 6/10 for me, and the aliens in the other spaceship reminded me of Josiah in Ghostlight, but I suspect that was coincidental

    By Wholahoop (not verified)
    mrfranklin's picture

    See, not being a Brit, I usually don't know shit about any of the guest cast, so come with no preconceptions (which can be good or bad, depending on the situation). Also, the Welsh accent seemed comical rather than grating to me—again, no doubt due to the fact I'm American rather than British.

    Totally didn't get Ghostlight from the bug-aliens. Would have to think on that a while...

    By mrfranklin
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