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.

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