The Tenth Doctor and Lady Christina standing in front of a wrecked red double-decker bus in the desert.

Doctor Who – Planet of the Dead Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: Planet of the Dead
  • Story #: Season 4.5 Story #2
  • Episodes: Movie Length
  • Discs: 1 (Part of “The Specials Collection” – 5 discs total)
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 4/11/2009
  • Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Michelle Ryan (Lady Christina de Souza)
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD, NTSC
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 3/26/2010, now hosted on Dreamwidth

This review will be a little short, because there really isn’t much to Planet of the Dead. Not that it’s a bad episode of Who, or that there’s anything really wrong with the story. It’s just fairly basic. Planet of the Dead is pretty much a straight forward adventure plot. The only slight nod to something else going on is the character of Camille – a psychic, who ends-up having a warning for the Doctor. But we’ll get to that.

This story starts with a jewelry robbery at the “International Museum”. This introduces us to Christina, full name Lady Christina de Souza, who as a bored member of the aristocracy, steals for the adventure, not the money. Trying to get away from the cops after the robbery, she boards a local red double-decker bus. She’s followed on board by the Doctor. Both have bluffed their way onto the bus – Christina paying the fare with her diamond earrings, and the Doctor paying his with his psychic paper. The Doctor is trying to track down some sort of time/dimensional disturbance when the bus literally drives through a wormhole to another planet.

The cracked-up bus arrives on a desert planet, all its passengers alive and well. Because of the three suns in the sky, it’s obvious to everyone that they are on another planet, not just moved in space. Briefly, a few of the passengers accuse the Doctor of causing their predicament, but they quickly realise that the Doctor will help them out.

They also see a crashed spaceship. The Doctor and Christina go to investigate, finding fly people, and the spaceship. Eventually, the Doctor gets anti-grav clamps from the ship and uses them to fix the bus. He offers the fly people the chance to escape, but while they are debating one of the nasty stingray-like aliens is loose in the ship, causing destruction and the two fly people are crushed to death. The Doctor attaches the clamps to the wheels of the bus, and uses the ancient gold chalice Christina stole to get the incompatible drive working.

With a little help from Malcolm, a UNIT scientist, he successfully returns the bus to earth. UNIT cleans-up the few stingray-things that get through the wormhole and the Doctor helps Malcolm to permanently seal the dimensional hole so it doesn’t re-open on its own. It should be noted that Malcolm is quite possibly the best part of the entire story. He’s bright, funny, totally in awe of the Doctor (almost a “fan”) and a bit socially awkward. However, when the UNIT Captain orders him to close the wormhole before the Doctor and the bus have returned, he refuses, rightfully standing up to her.

Christina takes a bit of getting used to, but I think she could have made a good “real” companion. To me, any of the temporary companions from the various specials don’t really count as companions, including Christina. But, because of her background as a thief, she could have been a companion, like Leela, that the Doctor had to teach and train. And, I think the season of specials might have been improved by having at least one companion that traveled in the TARDIS with the Doctor. However, that also would have been contrary to RTD’s theme for the abbreviated season/series 5 which was that traveling alone is bad for the Doctor’s mental well-being. (After all, Doctor # 9 arrives back on earth, newly regenerated and companionless).

This brings me to the final point. At the end of the episode, Christina walks up to the Doctor by the TARDIS and first asks him to show her the stars. When that doesn’t work, she explains that she needs excitement and adventure and she wants to travel with him. He refuses. She practically begs him to let her travel with him. He almost relents. But then he says no, and lets her get carried off by the police (though he uses the sonic screwdriver to loosen her handcuffs and she escapes the police car and runs off). It’s after he’s refused to have her as a companion that Camille shows up to warn him.

“You be careful because your song is ending, sir.” – Camille
“What do you mean?” – The Doctor
“It is returning. It is returning through the dark.  … He will knock four times.” – Camille
Planet of the Dead, BBC

This ends up hanging over the Doctor’s head for the next three specials. I think that refusing to have a companion was a temporal nexus for the Doctor. Christina might, like Donna definitely would have, stopped the Doctor from messing-up at Bowie Base in Waters of Mars (review forthcoming). The Doctor had said at the end of The Next Doctor that he just couldn’t handle having companions anymore because they leave him, and he ends up with a broken heart. He tells Christina, “People have traveled with me and I’ve lost them. Lost them all. Never again.” The Doctor is trying to protect himself from loss and is still reeling from what he had to do to Donna (and he’s in mourning for her). Yet, he doesn’t realise just how much he needs to have a companion with him. That’s very much a Russell T. Davies thing – that the Doctor needs humans to keep him sane, and in return, he offers his human and non-human companions the adventure of a lifetime.

And because I forgot them on my last review – the special features.

The DVD contains the Doctor Who Confidential Special for Planet of the Dead.

Doctor Who – The Next Doctor Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Next Doctor
  • Story #: Season 4.5 Story #1 (Doctor Who Christmas Special)
  • Episodes: Movie Length
  • Discs: 1 (Part of “The Specials Collection” – 5 discs total)
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 12/25/2008
  • Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), David Morrissey (The Next Doctor)
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD, NTSC
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 3/22/2010, now hosted on Dreamwidth

“Who are you?”  – The Doctor (DT)
“I’m the Doctor, the one, the only, and the best! Rosita, give me the sonic screwdriver.” – Next Doctor (DM)
“What?” – The Doctor (DT)
“And get back to the TARDIS.” – Next Doctor (DM)
“What?” – The Doctor(DT)
“If you can stand back, sir, this is a job for a Time Lord!” – Next Doctor (DM)
The Next Doctor (David Tennant and David Morrissey), BBC

I really enjoyed The Next Doctor when I saw it on BBC America nearly a year ago, and it some ways it was my favorite of the five specials for David Tennant’s abbreviated last season. In part what makes The Next Doctor so enjoyable is that it does what Doctor Who does so well. The script is fun, yet has an element of angst that underlies everything. And once the mystery of ‘Who is The Next Doctor?’ is actually solved, you’re only halfway through the episode – and the Cybermen show up in a Steampunk tour-de-force.

The Next Doctor begins with Tennant’s Doctor’s TARDIS landing in Victorian London at Christmas. This is continuity with every single Christmas special in the Russell T. Davies new version of Doctor Who – all have taken place in London at Christmas. The Doctor is walking around a snowy London, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, smiling and enjoying himself. He finds a street urchin and finds out its Christmas Eve 1851. Then he hears a strange noise and a woman screaming “Doctor!” He runs over to help. He is then standing right next to her, when she continues to scream, “Doctor!”, much to our Doctor’s confusion. Suddenly, David Morrissey shows up.

Our Doctor (Tennant) is confused, and it’s cut to opening credits. The first half hour of the special then is really a mystery – What’s going on in London this time? And is Morrissey really a future incarnation of the Doctor or not? But despite the fun – the feeling of “this is how someone would play The Doctor if he was told about him without seeing the show” – the tone of solving this mystery, especially the mystery of just who the Next Doctor is, has a melancholy tone from the very beginning. It soon becomes apparent that there was an accident, and the Next Doctor touched a Cyberman data storage device, which downloaded data about the Doctor into his brain, causing his amnesia and causing him to think he was The Doctor – but was that the only thing to cause his distress? Slowly, our Doctor and the Next Doctor, through returning memories, realise that he is in deep, deep shock. So much so he’s dropped, as our Doctor explains, into a Fugue State. This shock was caused by him witnessing the brutal murder of his wife at the hands of the Cybermen and the kidnapping of his son. And that’s what Doctor Who can do so well – it’s not just about fighting monsters or special effects. It’s about the drama. Here’s a man who’s lost his wife. Seen his son kidnapped. And been so shocked by it that his entire personality was submerged and he assumed a new one. Suddenly, The Next Doctor, isn’t the light adventure romp we thought it was going to be.

Meanwhile, the plot for the second half of the special has already been hinted at – and now it becomes the focus of the action. It’s Cybermen, folks. Hints of this have been given up to this point, but now the Cyber-Steampunk plot moves to the front of the plot. We meet a woman who is so vexed by the limitations placed on her sex in Victorian Britain that she finds the heads of local orphanages and workhouses and brings them to the Cyberman for the installation of the little Cyber-control ear-buds. These men then bring all the children in their charge to a warehouse to be used as a disposable workforce. Yes, you read that right a disposable workforce. Again, we’re not exactly dealing with kiddie plots here. However, once the kids show up the Cyber Lieutenant reveals his hand – the woman will be converted to be the Cyber King. However, much to his shock – she retains part of her personality and becomes a Cyber “King” who wants revenge on all the men in London for the wrongs she’s suffered as a woman. It should be noted that this is the second time in New Who a woman has been able to overcome Cyber-conversion and keep at least a part of  her own personality (In “Army of Ghosts” / “Doomsday” the female head of Torchwood resists Cyber-conversion by repeating over and over again “I must do my duty” – she resists long enough to destroy some Cybermen before being destroyed herself). Similarly, the woman in “The Next Doctor” is obsessed with the wrongs she feels she’s suffered at the hands of the men she turns over to the Cybermen. And she has no mercy towards the children she uses as a workforce. Before long a giant King Kong-like Cyber Factory is threatening London. The Next Doctor, his companion Rosita, and the Doctor fight it off. Somehow, the second half of the episode doesn’t work quite as well as the first half, even though it’s much closer to what one normally thinks of as Doctor Who. More time needed to be devoted to the woman’s motivations – What made her so desperate as to throw in her lot with the Cybermen in the first place for example? We’re left to make our own assumptions. But there are still some great moments, such as after the Doctor helps The Next Doctor (now revealed to be Jackson Lake) to rescue his son when our Doctor goes to fight the Cyber “King” by himself.

“But I should be with you.” – Next Doctor (DM)
“Jackson, you’ve got your son. You’ve got a reason to live.” – The Doctor (DT)
“And you haven’t? [They exchange a knowing and pained look] God save you, Doctor.” – Next Doctor (DM). ~ The Next Doctor (David Tennant and David Morrissey), BBC

Again, that pure angst of suggesting that The Doctor, our Doctor, has been through almost too much is palatable. But the Doctor saunters on, as always, and wins, destroying the Cyber King. Or, more precisely causing it to destroy itself.

So there is much more going on it this, the most fun and the lightest of the five specials for David Tennant’s swan song as the Doctor. I highly, highly recommend it.

The Next Doctor is available on DVD both by itself and as part of  “The Specials” collection, which also includes:  Planet of the DeadWaters of Mars, and parts 1 and 2 of The End of Time.

The Next Doctor DVD contains Doctor Who Confidential Special for The Next Doctor.  It’s the full-length version, which is a nice change from the cut-down versions usually available on NTSC discs of Doctor Who.

The Next Doctor DVD also contains Doctor Who at the Proms, which is a concert of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Chorus at the Royal Albert Hall of music from the new series of Doctor Who, written by Murray Gold. Besides hearing a full philharmonic orchestra play wonderful Doctor Who music, there’s big screens with scenes from the series timed to the music and actors in full costume. It’s wonderful to watch.  And the amazing thing is the kids – there are several shots of the kids in the audience and they are completely enthralled by what they are seeing. Some of them look to be as young as four or five years old, and here they are, at a symphony! And completely and totally enjoying it too! Wow!