TV REVIEW Doctor Who "Planet Of The Dead"

Sun, sand and swarms

Written by: Russell T Davies, Gareth Roberts

Directed by: James Strong

Rating:

Easter is all about rebirth but we're going to have to wait until Christmas for the Doctor's regeneration. The only thing remotely Eastery about the latest Doctor Who special was the Doctor scoffing a chocolate egg and the fact that it seemed to reference a whole host of Bank Holiday film favourites – Indiana Jones, Mission Impossible, Harry Potter, The Italian Job and Carry On Abroad. Not to mention Holiday On The Buses.

"Planet Of The Dead", despite the crew's jolly to Dubai, didn't feel like the slightly over-rich five-course banquets we've come to expect from Doctor Who Christmas Specials. It felt more like a light lunch. But sometimes, a nourishing snack is better than a gut-busting gorge-fest, and while "Dead" felt a little flimsy and inconsequential, what it did offer was pretty damned tasty.

And we don't just mean Michelle Ryan.

The plot was, to be fair, serviceable at best, and didn't really provide any great surprises or stunning new SF concepts. There were lots of now-familiar RTD dramatic devices: it was another disaster movie scenario pimped Who-style; the Doctor gives a rousing speech; ordinary people are heroes; yadda, yadda, yadda. There's also that slightly annoying feeling that the Doctor has become trapped in a bus on an alien planet with the handiest people to be trapped in a bus on an alien planet with. You half expected some big revelation about how they had all been brought together on purpose. But no. The only thing that could have been more handy would have been a totally expendable alien race – possibly with a strange language and dodgy eating habits for extra comedy value – with a crashed spaceship full of salvageable what-nots...

Ah.

But spurious plotting aside, "Dead" was just tremendous fun. Hell, even Lee Evans was funny, and nobody was expecting that. The sizzling script as full of great one-liners ("Did you just salute?"), tension and gutsy action sequences. Okay, the FX often didn't match the ambition, but the virtuoso direction and acting papered over the cracks. Tennant was in fine form and Ryan, adding "posh" to her catalogue of accents, was just fab as this special's faux-companion. The alien threat felt vivid and suitably world threatening, and you wonder if this is the last we'll see of the swarm – potentially they could be the biggest threat the universe has ever seen, and a more chilling sequel (and improved FX) could secure them a place amongst Who's greatest monsters. Borg? Pah!

A few moments misfired, including the bus swatting the alien swarm creature (bad idea, badly executed) and Lee Evans with the fire extinguisher. But overall, this was a tight, economical adventure, which made the most of the fact that it wasn't trying too hard to impress. There may have been no big surprise present inside this Easter Egg, but it was still scrummy. But, like Easter eggs, too much of this kind of Who might leave you feeling a bit squiffy.

MUSING
Why did the Tritovores have internal communication devices that fitted human ears perfectly, but didn't look like the Tritovores themselves could use them?

UPDATE
Okay, I'm going to admit it. Since the original review - written in the post episode sugar rush (see how I've carried on the ridiculously extended metaphor there?) - I've decided that four stars was perhaps a little generous. Personally I still think it was a blast, but with time to reflect (and keeping it more in line with the comments in my review) I've rescored it to a three-and-half star romp.

Dave Golder

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