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Doctor Who - Planet Of The Dead (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Doctor Who - Planet Of The Dead (DVD)
Advantages: Good special effects on the ray creatures
Disadvantages: Dull, unoriginal plot, completely lacking in tension
Planet of the Dead sees the Doctor and several passengers on a London double decker bus transported through a wormhole and to a barren desert planet. The Doctor needs to get his fellow passengers to work together so that they can get back to Earth; a problem made more pressing since a swarm of creatures that devour everything in their path is heading their way. If the Doctor fails, not only will he and the other passengers die, but the creatures will be free to pass through the wormhole and devour everything on Earth.
Planet of the Dead suffers from a number of problems that make it so much less than you hope for. First of all the plot feels unoriginal and hackneyed. It comes across as a sort of hybrid of the Stephen King novella, The Langoliers and Vin Diesel's breakout film Pitch Black. Unfortunately, it's not as good as either of these and will also contain no surprises to anyone who has read/watched them. There are plenty of other parallels in there too, the opening sequences recalling Entrapment or Mission Impossible. Aping a popular book or film is always dangerous and contributes to this episode's downfall. The simple fact is that if you are going to *ahem* "pay homage" to something you need to pull out all the stops to make sure you do it better. Unfortunately, in pretty much every respect, Planet of the Dead is inferior to the source material which inspired it and so simply comes as across as unoriginal.
The plot is just too insubstantial to support the hour long format (it would have struggled even in the 45 minute format). It's not that interesting or exciting to start with and there's really not enough action or adventure to keep the viewer entertained. Despite the on-rushing threat of the creatures, there's no real sense of danger or panic until right near the end; no real tension to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. Even when the aliens attack, it's somehow devoid of much sense of excitement. The whole episode comes across as plodding and pedestrian.
This lack of urgency comes across in the acting, too. Most of the cast are simply there to make up the numbers, to die or sit around hoping The Doctor will get them out of trouble. As such, they are pretty bland. This leaves the entire episode resting on the shoulders of David Tennant and guest star Michelle Ryan, as the mysterious Lady Christina de Souza. Unfortunately, neither proves up to the task. Even the normally reliable David Tennant looks bored with the whole thing and lacks his usual exuberance. It's as though he recognises that this is a weak episode and that it isn't worth expending too much energy on it.
Michelle Ryan shows a few moments of promise, but on the whole, her delivery is stilted and awkward and she appears a little uncomfortable at times with the sci-fi nature of the show. She does at least develop some sort of a relationship with The Doctor and some of their banter is good. Unfortunately, this element of the plot is underdeveloped and underplayed - with a little more emphasis on this, it could have been a lightweight but fun episode; as it is, it's rather a dull one.
The tradition of dragging big names into the holiday specials continues with the introduction of Lee Evans as a geek whose help The Doctor enlists to help him get back home. Normally I can't stand Evans or his style of comedy, but actually, he's probably the brightest spot in this episode. His bumbling buffoon of a scientist might be clichéd, but it's pretty amusing in small doses and proves to be one of the episode's (few) highlights.
As well as problems with the plotting and the cast, Planet of the Dead also feels like a really cheap episode. The previous adventure - The Next Doctor - suggested that these specials would be given a reasonable budget to play with, resulting in some terrific special effects. Unfortunately, that pattern has not been continued over into this episode. It smacks of the old style 1970s Who where episodes were cheap and sets wobbly. It's basically a double decker bus plonked in the middle of a desert - and that's it! This limited location could have worked (a la Alien) had there been any sense of terror or tension, but without that, it flops badly. It feels as though this episode was written and filmed after all the other specials and had to make do with whatever money was left over in the budget. In fairness, the effects on the ray-like aliens are pretty good, but you have to balance that against the ridiculous "Fly People" who appear halfway through the episode and recall the bad old days of the Man-in-Monster-Suit Who.
If you're a Who completist and own all the other episodes in the series, then there's no reason not to buy this and it can be picked up pretty cheap (£3 delivered from Amazon), so it's not going to break the bank. If you're an occasional Who fan who dips into it now and again, then there are far better adventures for your consideration and I'd save your money for those.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Easily the weakest of the 2009 Specials
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