Doctor Who ‘Planet of the Dead’ Review

Posted: April 23, 2009 in Review
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Doctor Who ‘Planet of the Dead’ Review

As concepts go, putting a double-decker London bus on a sand-covered alien planet is pretty high. As episodes of Doctor Who go, this is one of the lamest.

Opening with a horrendously clichéd thief-takes-valuable-item scene (with guards that don’t look at the object they’re monitoring), the episode moves on to what is writer Russell T Davis’ only good idea for the story – getting The Doctor and a busload of forgettable misfits stranded in a desert.

From here on, roughly nothing happens. At all. Michelle Ryan’s expert thief Lady Christina proves to be bland, boring and contrived. The best part of her character is the magic backpack that holds out every useful item under the sun, like shovels and axes, which she so clearly needed for a rooftop theft.

The pace dies as Tennant’s Doctor tries to liven up scene after scene of boring character introductions and exposition, from explaining how they got to the planet (SPOILER: wormhole), to chatting up the Token Psychic Bus Passenger. Because there’s always a Token Psychic Bus Passenger when The Doctor needs warning about the upcoming Regeneration.

The episode goes from barely watchable to downright intolerable as The Doctor and Christina bump into the worst aliens since the fat penguins – flies in boiler suits. The only conceivable purpose of these characters is to have a crashed ship containing the Token Plot Device Crystal that is needed to get the bus back to earth.

It’s here that a much more interesting story is discovered, discarded and forgotten. There is a storm approaching the bus – a storm made of metal manta rays. If they get through the wormhole, they will turn the earth into a desert, just like they did to the planet they now fly around. Wouldn’t it be a much more interesting episode if the bus turned up in the middle of the city being eaten alive by the manta rays? Why must we be forced to watch this dross instead?

The episode then staggers to its climax, featuring three manta rays escaping to earth behind a terrible CGI flying bus and being shot down by an unusually bloody-minded UNIT. Lee Evans makes a cameo appearance as a comedy bumbling scientist and The Doctor helps Christina escape, for no real reason.

All in all, a very bad start to the year of special episodes. The only saving grace is that Catherine Tate isn’t in it.


  1. Alex says:

    I AGREE.

    Basically I could only add that there seems to be a slight malaise forming on this Doctor, this could be part of the planned character arc for this doctor, in that he becomes miserable then dies….or it could be that David Tennant is not as committed to the role as he was when he had good plots and good companions. Or both really. His cheerful /”unstopableness” is waning and if it is a character device methinks it isnt a clever one as it makes the Doctor, in my opinion the best Doctor of all, less watchable and surely thats a bad thing moving towards a big finish for DT’s hugely popular run.

    If they have copped out with the diminishing of the old lead before a new lead takes over, never the mark of quality for a production, that is very sad, and I think very foolish.

  2. Sophie says:

    I’m getting sick of the totally horned up David Tennant Doctor. I reckon Russel T has constantly had the horn recently. The doctor used to be almost asexual, and it took a whole 2 series for rose to break him. But NOW he flirts with any guest assistant under the sun, it all started going horribly downhill with kylie.

  3. Alex says:

    That is true. I think that had a certain psychological authenticity in a way in that Rose broke the seal and changed him. Though that wasn’t the most interesting way to go. Then picked up Donna. The crusty she-bag which you deny ever having taken home. I re-read an RTD interview where he said after the Special in which she first appeared and he said “as a regular companion she’d get on your nerves”…

    I hope to God the next one is better, is that the one in which he regenerates?

    I hope its good.

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