Doctor Who – Planet of the Dead

“I’m the Doctor. Happy Easter!”

Pretty good. Not bad. Inoffensive.

It certainly doesn’t set my world on fire, engage me mentally, or indeed manage to escape a slight feeling of weariness. Even Tennant is merely good. There’s nothing very sparkling or characterful or inventive — nothing on the order of a Stephen Moffatt script. Instead it’s as if several prior episodes were placed in the blender and then reassembled in a different order, so much so that the script even feels the need to nod at ‘Midnight’. The Doctor gets to reassure people in distress, make overblown promises about saving them, Officially Notice his new companion in waiting, snog said companion…. check, check, check. It’s just not that invigorating by now. If we leave aside the cat burglar overtones, all the licks with Michelle Ryan and the Doctor sparring are pretty much de rigeur for a new companion introduction. (I know she turns out not to be the new companion, but that’s the slot she fills in the story). There’s not even a huge amount of plot, so the pacing feels slack. The only new elements are superficial in the main: a desert, a flying bus, Lee Evans and Michelle Ryan as Lara Croft. Oh, and the reasonably cool Pitch Black style alien monsters. (But even they are offset by yet another set of blokes in overalls with the heads of Earth creatures)

The production values are undeniably excellent, although a lot of the desert stuff feels so unreal that it may as well be effects work. Michelle Ryan is sparky enough as a sidekick. The moral ambiguity of the Doctor siding with a thief is odd; I liked it when he rejected her, then was less sure when it was all about Donna Angst, and even less sure when he freed her from the police. The reminder that the Doctor stole his Tardis is interesting, but surely we can equate that more closely with stealing a flying bus than wilfully staging Pink Panther-esque thefts of multi-million pound historical artefacts.

What I will say in its favour that it avoids the Total Bollocks Overdrive of most of the Christmas specials, and feels instead like an extended season opener. That’s very welcome. It’s the most controlled special since ‘The Christmas Invasion’, and certainly a better opener than ‘Partners in Crime’. I like the use of UNIT, and even Lee Evans’ performance is not gratingly annoying (for some reason, even though I normally dislike him and he’s playing a very particular stereotype). I also like, in principle, the “your song is ending” foreshadowing, even though the execution is about as subtle as a brick.

It passes the time amiably, and I’m starved of Who enough that I enjoyed it while it was on. But when the best thing about the whole special is the preview of the next one (which looks great), that’s probably not good.

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