DVD Extras include:
Michelle Ryan's character of Lady Christina is rich and exciting, and easily far more suitable and interesting for the Doctor to start traveling with than Rose ever was. Nice one. Combined with the situation that unfolds, the parallels to the character of Kate on "Lost" are huge. Ryan does great work portraying the character. Had she continued on to travel with the Doctor as I'd hoped, he would have had his most attractive companion of the New Millennium so far.
The police presence at the end of the show really heightens the question of whether or not he'd allow himself to accept a wanted criminal as a companion, one who stole for no reason other than self-satisfaction. And can the Doctor really stand on high ground for saying no considering that he admits to stealing the TARDIS long before the show started while no one really knows what his motives or circumstances were? Tough choice. But this doesn't seem to be his consideration at the moment of decision. Instead he says he can't handle the inevitable loss later on. Huh? As presented in the story, it sounds wimpy, although Russell T. Davies gives a much better defense of this stance on the extras. And the story takes too long toying around with Christina's fate, making you wish they'd just make up their minds and end the show already.
After declaring that the setting just isn't as alien as I'd hoped, I'm now floored to learn from the extras that they actually went to the enormous expense of shipping the cast, crew, and a double-decker bus all the way to Dubai to shoot this. Holy waste of money! Seriously, we got just as good an effect when "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" (story no. 155) gave us a bus in a quarry, while also delivering better action surrounding it, and a more interesting cultured alien planet to boot. In fact, the Season Two William Hartnell story "The Chase" (story no. 16) also gave us a very similar looking desert and a better story to boot without shooting very much outside of the studio. Perhaps this is why the extras on the "Planet of the Dead" DVD can go on just as long as the show itself - it is almost more interesting to learn how this story was made than to watch the story itself. Writers Davies and Gareth Roberts (not to mention executive producer Julie Gardner) would be better off focusing on story than on production stunts. There is nothing wrong with your local English quarries, guys. Just get the stories right.
Perhaps emphasizing that the story is too Earthly, UNIT is called in to occupy a major quantity of screen time. We can be thankful that the crew finally saw enough of the light to bring back a UNIT character that had appeared on the show before, settling on Noma Dumezweni's Captain Magambo who had previously worked with Rose in "Turn Left". Good move. While I might have preferred Colonel Mace and/or Captain Price, Dumezweni begins here to add the odd touches of humour and flavour to help bring Magambo to life to a greater degree than was managed when the role was smaller in "Turn Left". Her entrance is actually quite unendearing however, scripted as she is to be such a poor listener to the man who requested UNIT's presence in the first place. NOT the move of a wise leader at all.
But of course, amongst the UNIT ranks, the completely new character of Malcolm Taylor steals the show, thanks to a constantly inventive performance from actor Lee Evans. Fans may well be demanding his return in future stories, and with good reason. The character takes command of an entire plot strand and leads the story through many important beats, while being thoroughly entertaining at the same time. I think we have to acknowledge the work of director James Strong and his editor(s) here, in picking just enough of the right moments of Evans' performance to make the humour and the story work best, because judging by Evans' appearance in the extras, he's constantly being over-the-top jokey and giving more than one could tastefully use in the program. A very good collaboration in the end!
If I had to single out only one other character to talk about, it would have to be Carmen, the woman aboard the bus with the amazing psychic abilities. She becomes a very useful tool for the scriptwriters in creating and maintaining tension and anticipation during this story, because let's face it, there are long sections in this tale where not much happens, and the characters who interact with each other are all really on the same side. This story needs Carmen badly, and it's great to see that she worked so well. Ellen Thomas plays the role with absolute sincerity and makes her easy to believe in.
One of my favourite bits of this story are all the visuals brought up on the Tritovore ship's screens and the story points behind them, including the identification of the planet as San Helios, within the Scorpion Nebula, and the visuals of what the place looked like a year previous when its civilization thrived. Great stuff. In fact, that's where and when the TARDIS should have taken us, were we exploring the universe properly as we should. By the way, how long is the San Helian / Tritovorian year, by which we're measuring the age of this recording?
The real mastermind(s) / villains behind this tale turn out to be pure CGI creations that fuel equally few interesting character interactions. While I don't really have any problem with what they are or their simplicity, my point is that they are less than what many of the Doctor's and Carmen's monologues led us to anticipate, which is formula for disappointment. A difficult problem for writing science fiction, as characters explore the unknown and speculate on what they might find, there should be room for them to be wrong in both directions.
Story structure is actually fairly good for a Davies script, given what elements we're working with, suggesting perhaps that his collaboration with Gareth Roberts brought some benefits. While the first 2/3 of the story is drawn along quite strongly by exploring places and ideas, although not as many interesting character points as would be ideal, the final third is a fairly logical escalation of several successful action sequences. Sadly this last third offers few surprises and is quite predictable. As such, some of it seems to go on too long. I'm particularly surprised that so much expensive CGI footage of the flying bus was ordered up. You'd think it would just rise, get through the hole as quickly as possible, and set down again. But no, the Doctor seems to want to fly around in it as much as possible without any good reason, while there are lots of other good things he could be applying his expertise to. But it's not bad. Everyone has their own good thing to do, with the Doctor owning the most important actions. Predictable and decent.
What would have held my interest far better would have been a solution that could have saved San Helios, its population, its civilization and architecture. That would have been a cool ending. We need to see the Doctor saving other planets and civilizations for a change. Threatening the Earth, yet again, is not going to keep us on the edge of our seats, or make us believe that there's much chance of the enemy force winning the day. That's part of the benefit of truly going to alien planets - not being able to predict what the ending will bring, because absolutely any outcome is possible.
And now it looks like David Tennant's era will be coming to a close soon. Too soon for me, I think. But, perhaps the best of all is yet to come....
"Planet of the Dead" has become available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and is the first Doctor Who story shot in high definition for the Blu-Ray format.
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